Morocco: The Sahara

Typing this is bittersweet but we are on to the final part of my Morocco series. The past few blog posts have been some of my favourite to write as I remember one of my favourite trips. I hope I’ve been able to impart at least some of my love for Morocco onto you and that you might consider Morocco for a future trip! If you do, let me know and I’m happy to talk to you about it, give you even more recommendations and hell, even go with you. Despite all my love for Morocco and the incredible time I had there, the fourth and final part of my week in Morocco is a little different in that I don’t have 100% positive things to say about it. I will preface what I’m about to tell you with the fact that none of that is Morocco’s fault. It comes down to trying to see as much as I could in the limited amount of time that I had and maybe pushing things a little far.

With all that out of the way, and as you can probably tell from the title, I spent my last few days on a trip to the Sahara desert! This was something that Hiba and I had decided on together as it would be something new for her as well. We looked at a couple of places but we were limited by the amount of time I had. When we were planning the trip, I only really had one night to spare for a trip to the Sahara if I was to fit in everything else that I wanted to do. This ruled out a few places such as Merzouga, a town deeper into the desert close to the Algerian border. We considered Ouarzazate, known as the Hollywood of Africa but it’s only really on the edge of the Sahara and we wanted something more immersive (more on Ouarzazate later though).

We had originally booked something through Tripadvisor but when we got to our riad in Marrakesh, Hiba and Rania got chatting to the guy checking us in who was able to get us a similar trip as we had booked but for a bit cheaper. I think we were reassured by being able to talk to someone about it, someone who was really welcoming to us in the riad and had already been super helpful. We were also able to see some pictures of the camp. We decided to go for it because we were getting good vibes from him and I’m all about listening to people in the place, in the hotel or hostel because they’re the ones that know. I’m sure he got something out of it as well but I can’t blame him for seizing the opportunity!

So Thursday rolls around, five days since I arrived in Morocco, and we had an early start – 6am to be exact. We had spoken to the guys in the riad the day before and they had said someone would be up to prepare breakfast for us and then take us out to meet the trip organisers. After a slightly stressful start because our contact in the riad overslept after a late check in the night before, we made it to our tour van and met our driver and the other people on the trip. It was a very German heavy group but there was also a French mother and daughter couple, a Portuguese and French couple, a half-Belgian half-Moroccan guy and an Argentinian plus this Scot and my two Moroccan companions.

We were heading out of Marrakesh by 8am and drove for a few hours until our first stop. By the time we stopped we were in the Atlas mountains, a mountain range that stretches for 2,500km across Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. It was obviously a popular spot because there were a lot of other tour buses there but not much about other than a little cafe and a balcony with a gorgeous view. I took advantage of it because as soon as we were back off in the bus I was incapable of staying awake. I think the last few days were catching up with me and a year of travelling on chicken buses through Central America means that I’m pretty adept at falling asleep in moving vehicles, however uncomfortable. After another couple of hours of driving, we had another brief stop to stretch our legs at Tizi n ‘Tichka, a well known mountain pass that is 2,212m above sea level. Apparently Tizi n ‘Tichka means ‘difficult mountain pasture’ in Berber which is a fair enough designation. It had absolutely spectacular views though.

Around 12.30pm, so four and a half hours into the journey, we reached our first proper stop. Aït Benhaddou has been a filming location for many films and TV series including most recently Game of Thrones but also Lawrence of Arabia, Asterix and Obelix, Gladiator, The Mummy and Indiana Jones. At one point it was also a stop along the caravan route from the Sahara to Marrakesh. Traders would spend a few nights there before going on to traverse the Atlas Mountains via the mountain pass of Tizi n ‘Tichka, where we had passed through earlier. Nowadays the ksar (a fortified village) still has a few families that live there, benefiting from the tourism related to the film industry. The old village lies across the dried up bed of the Ounila river, across from the new town where most people live now. Included in the price of our tour to Zagora was a guide to take us around Aït Benhaddou. He spoke incredible English, French and Spanish as well as Arabic and some Berber, all of which we heard on our tour. We were taken into a traditional Berber house and able to look around and also stopped in at an artisan’s workshop. He was using saffron and tea to paint a barely visible scene onto the paper. This is then heated over a flame, bringing out and fixing the colours onto the paper. The pictures often depict kasbahs or ksars, desert scenery and camels. If you bought one you could also have your name added in Berber.

Aït Benhaddou

I’ve mentioned Berber a few times in the past few blogs, most notably when we visited the Berber museum in the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh. Berbers are the indigenous people of the Maghreb region in North Africa, covering what is now Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, They are also known as the Amazigh as is their language. The Berber language is actually a collection of languages that is written using the Tifinagh script. An interesting crossover is that the indigenous people of the Canary Islands (where you’ll find Tenerife, 100 km west of Morocco), the Guanches, are believed to have spoken a now extinct branch of the Berber languages. Morocco has the largest number of Berber speakers with an estimated 24% of the population speaking at least one Berber language. Berber suffered during the post-independence years as Morocco and other North African countries tried to replace the influence of France and the French language with a policy of ‘Arabisation’ during which time all forms of Berber were oppressed. Berber is now an official language of Morocco. To give you an idea of what Berber looks like written down, this means ‘Morocco’ in Standard Moroccan Berber, also known as Standard Moroccan Amazigh or Tamazight – ⵜⴰⴳⵍⴷⵉⵜ ⵏ ⵍⵎⵖⵔⵉⴱ.

After Aït Benhaddou we carried on to Ouarzazate which we would come back to the next day. For now it was only a quick lunch stop. It wasn’t the best food that I had in Morocco, a bit of a tourist trap judging by the high price and lower quality than I expected. I did get to try couscous though and tick that off my Moroccan food list although I’ve eaten it before and it wasn’t my favourite, I have to say. After a quick lunch it was back in the van and a race to our final destination before sunset.

Moroccan couscous

We were running a little behind so we only saw the sunset from the van and arrived at Zagora in the light of twilight. I personally hadn’t realised this but the final stage of our journey was going to be made by camel! We could only take what we could carry so just what we needed overnight. We were able to leave our bigger bags in the van with our driver who wasn’t coming to the camp and would look after them. If you are going to do something like this, I would probably recommend leaving your bigger bags back at your riad or hotel in Marrakesh, especially if you are going back to the same place like we were. Everything was perfectly safe the way we did it but we had been given the option to leave it at our riad and I think that would have been easier in the end.

Here I have to admit that I’m not the biggest animal person. I have slowly come around to cats in the last few years after our wee girl Anna wormed her way into my heart and anyone that knows me or follows me on Instagram knows that I’m OBSESSED with my dog (and all dogs) but aside from them, most animals make me a little nervous. Enter a two metre tall Dromedary camel that was going to carry me to our camp. Getting on them was fine but the lurching movement when they stood up almost had me calling the whole thing off. The movement of the camel once we started moving was actually very jarring, nothing like what I remember riding a horse to be like from my (admittedly limited) experience. Juggling my hastily packed assortment of tote bags also proved difficult and I almost dropped them several times. In the growing darkness, I feel like that would have been the last time I would have seen them. I was so uncomfortable, borderline in pain, and then I heard someone ask how long it would take to get to camp and I genuinely thought it must be a joke when they replied an hour! No joke, but I was finally able to get my bags in a better position. Comfortable might be taking it too far but I was definitely more at ease.

We finally reached the camp after passing several others on the way, my hopes rising each time a collection of lights grew larger and then sinking again as we passed them and continued on. Finally we did approach our camp and we were able to get off the bloody camels. One of my knees had started hurting from just hanging there and my inner thighs were screaming from having to grip on. One of the things going through my head during the journey was that, for me, riding a camel was really a once in a lifetime experience – as in, I was only going to do this once in my life because there was no way I was ever going to get back on a camel ever again!

Our camp was simple but homely, a circle of tents for sleeping, a larger one for eating and a few carpets laid out in the middle where we could gather. The toilets were just outside of the circle. The group from our van were joining up with another tour group in the camp that were already sitting having some tea. We joined them and got to know each other a bit more as well as meeting the hosts of the camp. It was already 8pm by the time we arrived so it wasn’t long before we were all taken into the dining tent for some food. A Moroccan classic, we had soup to start followed by chicken and olive tagine with potatoes, vegetable and of course some bread. I’ll speak for myself, Hiba and Rania but after a 12 hour day, at least 8 of which were driving or riding a camel, we were very tired and getting a bit delirious. I won’t say it wasn’t fun, as we broke down in laughter over the smallest thing, the way only very fatigued minds and very close friends are able to. I was on the verge of going to bed when instead we were ushered outside to a bonfire and our hosts with their musical instruments. We enjoyed the music for a while and danced a bit before we got to have a go on the drums as well! We had a little walk outside of the camp to look at the stars away from the light before calling it a night.

Obviously it gets quite cold at night in the desert, at least compared to during the day, but I wasn’t too bad. I slept just in a t-shirt and shorts but still wrapped up in a big blanket and I was fine! I started to get cold just before we had to get up at 7am but I pulled on some trousers and a jumper and it was all good! Our group had breakfast, a little spread of bread, jam, cheese, boiled eggs, coffee and tea before packing ourselves up. Now the night before I had thought that I would never, ever get on a camel again but sleep had made the pain and discomfort more distant. We had been promised that the ride out of camp would be half the length of the night before, so only half an hour, and when else am I going to get to ride a camel? This time though, there was a camel with panniers where I was able to tuck one of my wee bags so that I could arrange myself more comfortably. I’ve already said that I would recommend leaving any big bags or suitcases in Marrakesh but for the bag you bring with you, make sure it’s a backpack! You need something that doesn’t require any hands to hold on to, unlike a tote bag, so you can focus all your energy on not falling off! Most people had had the same change of heart as me, after feeling the same as me the day before, although there were a couple of people that decided to take the journey on foot.

We rode back out to meet our driver and the van, ready to start the 8 hours of driving back to Marrakesh. We left around 8am again and were going for several hours with just a few short bathroom breaks before arriving back in Ouarzazate around 12.30. This time we got to see a little bit more during a short walking tour with a guide. Ouarzazate is known as the ‘Hollywood of Morocco’ because it is home to a number of film studios. It acts as a base for productions filming in Aït Ben Haddou for example. It also has the nickname of the Door of the Desert because of its position at the far edges of the Sahara and 70% of the population speaks Berber. It is a popular tourist destination, is known for the Ouazgita carpets made by Berber women and plays host to the ‘marathon des sables’, a gruelling 6 day, 250km race across the desert.

We wandered through the medina where the guide talked to us about the castle and the old town. We stopped in a women’s artisan association as well and had some tea. After our tea and being entertained by an absolutely adorable cat, we went down into the shop and got to see some of the carpet designs. Carpet weaving is a traditional Berber art made by the women. It takes hours and hours especially because they only do a couple of hours at a time because it’s bad for their eyes. I did think it was interesting that even in an association of and for women, the only woman we saw was the one that brought us tea. It was men that showed us the carpets and explained them to us. We had a look around the shop and the carpets were gorgeous and they had some really nice earrings as well but it was all pretty expensive.

It was back in the car and another hour or two before we arrived at our lunch spot. It was the same kind of place as the day before, definitely made to serve these bus trips with a set menu price. However it was a little better in terms of quality than the other place. Between the three of us we split a mixed kebab plate and a kefta plate. The kebab plate had two chicken skewers and some keftas which are basically little beef meatballs with chips and salad. Not the best and not the worst thing I ate during my trip. We were back in the bus with a few more toilet stops before getting back to Marrakesh around 7.30pm, about 36 hours after we left. We got dropped off first and hobbled our way back to Riad Chennaoui. After hours and hours in the van and with aching muscles from the camel riding, all we wanted was to lie down. It was our last night in Marrakesh and my last night in Morocco so we felt like we needed to make the most of it but once we got back, there was no way we were leaving again. Instead we ordered a pizza and called it a night.

In all honesty, I’m torn about whether this trip to Zagora was worth it. The experience of being in the camp in the desert and the stops we had in Aït Benhaddou and Ouarzazate were a lot of fun and very interesting. On the other hand, the journey on either side was SO. LONG. We left Marrakesh at 8am and arrived at camp at 8pm. We had stops but at least 8 of those hours were driving or on camel. And then the same to get back to Marrakesh. It was a lot. I think if we had stayed a day in the camp before going back it would have been better. There was also the option of going to Merzouga which is 300km or 4 hours further into the Sahara but that was a multi-day trip which I didn’t have time for. I already know that I’ll be back to Morocco and maybe then I can do a longer trip at a slower pace but I don’t think that trying to fit it into one night away really did it justice.

Sara in the Sahara!

After one more night in Marrakesh, it was time to go home. I had a slightly rushed final morning as I wanted to nip out and get a few souvenirs before my taxi to the airport that the riad had helped me organise. It was sad to say goodbye to Hiba and Rania because we’d had such an amazing week. It was so nice that me and Hiba were able to pick up where we left off and then me and Rania have formed such a good friendship in such a short amount of time.

My return journey was via London with a pretty long layover but it was surprisingly nice to be back in an English speaking country, however briefly. I arrived back in Paris around 10.30pm so it wasn’t possible for me to get back to Mulhouse on the same day but luckily I have a very lovely friend, Lizzie, who has a very lovely couch that I was able to crash on. It was nice to catch up with someone else, even if I was barely there for 12 hours, before finally arriving back in Mulhouse the Sunday after I left.

I can’t believe that everything included in the last four blogs all happened within a week. Despite how much I’ve enjoyed writing them, I worry that I haven’t and won’t ever be able to fully convey how incredible and special this week was. It wasn’t just that the food was delicious (maybe more so than I expected) or that the history was fascinating, the culture was rich and vibrant, the people were some of the most welcoming that I’ve ever met. It was so much more than that. I had been thinking about this trip for three years since I met my friends in China in 2019. A lot has changed in the world since then but I’m so glad to have met them and be able to pick up where we left off as well as have them show me around their home. Reconnecting with Cheima, Aymen and particularly Hiba, my beautiful, kind, generous and funny tour guide for the week, as well as becoming fast friends with Rania was the heart and soul of this trip and to me is really what drives me to travel as much as I do. It’s all about making, and then sustaining, these connections. As I look forward to the travelling that is to come in 2023, a lot more of what I have planned is built around people rather than places and I’m thrilled about that.

I have this philosophy when it comes to saying goodbye. I used to get really upset or emotional when saying goodbye to something, somewhere or someone that means a lot to me. The first time I remember this was at the end of a month-long trip to Costa Rica when I was 17, a trip that was a catalyst for pretty much everything that has happened since. I was distraught at the thought of leaving when so much had changed since I had been there, when I had changed so much since I had been there. Now, that is a rare thing to happen. I usually don’t get upset or even vaguely teary eyed because I’m at the stage where if somewhere or someone is important enough to me that I might get upset at the thought of leaving them, then I know I will see them again. I know that I will be back to Morocco. There’s so much more to see! And whether they like it or not, these people are stuck with me for life.

Morocco: Marrakesh

Is everyone sitting comfortably? Have you got a cup of tea? (Preferably mint with lots of sugar?) Settle in because this is going to be a long one but a good one. I’m onto the two days that I spent in Marrakesh, the most touristy of the cities I visited in Morocco but also potentially my favourite. There was so much to see and do, so many sides and personalities and it felt welcoming to tourists while at the same time having held onto space for its own people. It can be a hard balance to strike in a place as popular as Marrakesh.

Despite the fantastic time I had here, we didn’t get off to the best start. Hiba was joining me for a few days in Marrakesh as well as Rania, Hiba’s friend who had come to Rabat with us the day before. We were getting the train from Casablanca to Marrakesh, the reverse of the journey that I had made a few days earlier. Unfortunately our train was delayed by an hour which we only found out once we had arrived at the station. We did eventually make it to Marrakesh with no further problems and found our riad, tucked away in the pedestrianised streets of the medina near Place des Ferblantiers and Bahia Palace. Once again, I have nothing but good things to say about Riad Chennaoui. We were given a lovely room with a grand double bed and three single beds (one extra) plus a small ensuite bathroom. Our room was right off the main courtyard but we never had any problems with noise or disruption. It came with breakfast included which was a piece of m’semen, beghrir (a semolina pancake with a honeycomb pattern) and a little pastry or muffin with honey, jam and butter plus coffee and orange juice on the side. The staff were also lovely and really helpful!

After we got settled in and refreshed a little, we headed out to explore the city. Just a few minutes away, outside the walls of the pedestrianised medina, is the Bahia Palace. Construction started in 1866 by Si Musa, a grand vizier of sultan Muhammad ibn Abd al-Rahman, and it was added to the collection of royal palaces in 1900 after the death of his son, Ba Ahmed. Nowadays the palace is one of Morocco’s most popular tourist attractions but is also still occasionally used by the king to host foreign dignitaries and hold events. The palace covers 37100m² and has 5 hectares of green spaces. The palace is loosely a series of courtyards with a number of rooms off to the sides. The final one is the Grand Riad, a garden within the walls of the palace and the oldest part of the palace, accessed through the Grand Courtyard. There isn’t a clear path through the palace because of the way that it was added to over the years, which can be a but confusing but also means that there are rooms to discover tucked around each corner. The tile work, the ceilings, the stonework, the paintings, the building were just beautiful. We actually saw some of the intricate patterns on the doors being repainted. It was in the Bahia Palace that I decided that one day I’ll come back to Morocco with my mum because I think it’s the kind of place that she would love, for the people, the energy and the beautiful buildings.

Just outside of the Bahia Palace compound but before Place des Ferblantiers is the Mellah market. The Mellah was the Jewish neighbourhood of Marrakesh (as well as in other Moroccan cities) although there is not now a large Jewish population there. At the entrance of the Mellah market is the spice souk with great towers of spices. You can also find tea merchants, fabric shops and even see argan oil being made.

From the Mellah market we walked further into the streets of Marrakesh, passing through Jemaa el-Fnaa which is one of the main squares of Marrakesh that comes alive in the evening with food sellers and other things. It was only mid-afternoon so things were still being set up but we had plans to come back later. Instead we were heading to one of Hiba’s favourite spots, Café des Épices. The food there is a little less traditional although there are still some Moroccan dishes and influences on the menu. I tried harira, a soup with tomato broth, rice, fava beans, lentils and chickpeas but the stand-out was the fresh strawberry juice. If none of that appeals to you, Café des Épices has a stunning rooftop where you can sit enjoying your food or drinks. After we had eaten, we relaxed there for a while because our morning of travel had caught up with us a bit. We were there around sunset which was the perfect time, watching the golden light spread over the rooftops of Marrakesh.

Feeling recharged, we headed back to Jemaa el-Fnaa for the night market which was in full swing by this point. Having already eaten, we weren’t looking at the food stalls too much but Hiba did spot one dish that she wanted me to try – the Moroccan version of escargot, snail soup. Now, the only bit I really like in escargot is the fact that it’s slathered in garlic butter. Not the case for babbouche. There are spices such as thyme, aniseed and mint involved but they don’t overpower the snails in the same way. Suffice to say I wasn’t a massive fan. Hiba also told me that she had a couple of other surprises for me but wouldn’t tell me what they were while we were walking around. There is so much energy in that square, so much hustle and bustle with sellers, henna artists, musicians, dancers and storytellers. All of a sudden, out of the incredible chaos, what appeared at my shoulder but a little monkey! Technically it was actually a Barbary ape and it wasn’t alone. You’ll find them and their handlers dotted around the square as well as snake charmers.

While doing some research I found out that Jemaa el-Fnaa is the reason for the creation of the UNESCO project ‘Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’. The presence of the musicians and storytellers was being threatened by development encroaching on the square. The project was created to preserve their legacy and acknowledge the importance of this kind of cultural space. Just walking around, even without knowing this, you can feel the energy permeating throughout the square. The name of the square could have many translations ranging from ‘the gathering or congregation area’, ‘the assembly of death’ (possibly referring to the fact that executions used to take place there) or ‘the mosque at the end of the world’ (referring to a destroyed mosque nearby).

Jemaa el-Fnaa

At Hiba’s suggestion we decided to do one of the carriage rides that leave from next Jemaa el-Fnaa as a way to see more of the city in a short period of time considering we only had a few days there. It took us into the area of Gueliz, the old French district whose name comes from the French word for church, église. It has a lot of upscale restaurants and bars, including some where you can drink alcohol, as well as a large casino and some famous hotels including La Mamounia where a lot of celebrities and dignitaries stay when visiting Marrakesh.

After we finished our tour we ended our night by going back to Gueliz to a place called Sky Bar, next to the famous Cafe Atlas, one of the oldest cafes in Marrakesh which has been open since 1940. Sky Bar is one of the limited places in Marrakesh and Morocco in general where you can drink alcohol. Alcohol is only allowed in certain licensed bars and drinking in public is illegal. We enjoyed a couple of drinks there, looking out over the lights of Marrakesh with some good music playing in the background. It was a nice chilled end to a busy day. It was lovely to get to know Hiba’s friend Rania more during the day but especially while we were at Sky Bar. After one day together it already felt like I’d known her for much longer. I knew that I would get along with Rania just by virtue of her being best friends with Hiba. Hiba is someone who attracts good people and keeps the best around her. I’m honoured and flattered to be one of them.

Sky Bar

I was excited for day two in Morocco because we had the full day to explore the city and, as you’ll see, we made the most out of it. Our first stop was another of Marrakesh’s most popular attractions that also happened to be just a few minutes away from our riad – El Badi Palace. The name means the ‘Palace of Wonder or Brilliance’. The palace was where many celebrations and official events were held and was meant to show off the wealth of the sultan. It was built in the 16th century but fell into ruin just after the start of the 17th century after the death of sultan Ahmad al-Mansur, its creator. The palace is built around a large central courtyard containing four sunken pools that now contain orange orchards that you can smell while walking around which adds something a little special to the experience. The design of the palace was inspired by the Alambra in Granada, Spain. It was very different from the Bahia Palace that we visited the day before but really interesting. The space is often an exhibition space and notably has the Minbar of Kutubiyya Mosque, a piece of furniture similar to a pulpit, on display. It was very impressive! As you walk through various parts of the palace, you might notice that some of the walls have a system of square holes over them. Like many older buildings in Morocco, they are built with rammed earth, also known as pisé, which need scaffolding to support the building process. The holes are leftovers from the construction and used for renovation as well.

At this point I’m going to interrupt with a note about clothing. You might notice a bit of a difference between the outfits I wore in Casablanca and Rabat versus what I wore in Marrakesh. One thing in common is that all my clothes were light. Even though it was the start of November, temperatures were in the high 20s or low 30s. Saying that, it is better to go for bit more coverage even in the heat. Moroccans are genuinely more conservative in the way they dress, particularly in less touristy areas like Casablanca and Rabat. I wore long trousers both days and when I was wearing a sleeveless top, I also had a light linen shirt to put on top. In Marrakesh, it’s a bit of a different story. Because of the amount of tourists, it’s more common and accepted to see people, particularly women, in shorts, crop tops, lower necklines and with their arms and legs uncovered. Even Hiba and Rania, Moroccans themselves, dress differently when visiting Marrakesh than at home in Casablanca so it’s not just for tourists.

After the Bahia Palace we were going to go to the Saadian Tomb, a royal necropolis, but there was a fairly long line so we decided to skip it. I have to leave some things to come back for right? Instead we headed to the Menara gardens. It’s a big park on the edge of Marrakesh filled with olive trees and a pool with a small pavilion next to it that is considered an iconic image of the city. The Colombian singer Maluma and French rapper Gims actually filmed the video for their song ‘Hola Señorita’ here with a few jet skis in the pool!

We made a slightly unorthodox detour after the Menara Gardens to visit the Four Seasons hotel that is just a couple of hundred metres down the road. While we were in El Badi Palace, Hiba got a phone call from them inviting her for a job interview that afternoon. It just so happened that she was in Marrakesh and could do it in person! Rania and I were perfectly happy to relax in the shade on the cafe terrace, looking out on the most aesthetic pool I’ve ever seen. It was a great chance to get to know each other better while pretending to fit in at the fanciest hotel I’ve ever been to. Even better, the interview went well!

Four Seasons Marrakesh

It was finally time for lunch and we went to a place that Hiba knows to eat tangia, one of the last dishes I had to check off my Moroccan cuisine checklist. Tangia is a dish that is closely associated with Marrakesh. Like ‘tagine‘, the word refers to the terracotta cooking pot and the dish itself. It’s made of lamb shank, candied lemon, spices, garlic and water, left to cook for hours in the embers of a wood fire. They brought it out and poured it from the dish in front of us with a bit of a fanfare. It was some of the most tender meat I’ve ever eaten and really did melt in your mouth! We also had some wee salads and chips, bread of course and these amazing curried lentils. It was really good but a bit heavy, oily and greasy but in the best way. Having a smaller portion of the tangia with the sides to lighten things up is the way to go I think.

Last but not least, one of Marrakesh’s most well known attractions and one of the ones I was looking forward to the most. Even if you don’t recognise the name Jardin Majorelle, the Yves Saint-Laurent museum or some of the photos might ring a bell. The Jardin Majorelle is a small botanical garden created by Jacques Majorelle in 1923. It took 40 years to complete and also has the cubist villa in the iconic majorelle blue designed by Paul Sinoir. In the 1980’s the garden was bought by fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé. They lived in the villa for many years until Yves Saint-Laurent’s death in 2008. His ashes were scattered in the gardens and there is a memorial there as well. There are a couple of museums on site, one in the old painting studio and villa dedicated to the culture of the Berber ethnic group and then the actual Yves Saint Laurent museum. Unfortunately it is closed on Wednesdays (when we were there) so something else to come back for. I would definitely recommend getting the combined ticket to visit the garden and the Berber museum, it was so interesting to learn about a different side of Moroccan culture. In general, it was absolutely stunning, definitely a must see in Marrakesh and Morocco at large. It was so peaceful just walking around the garden, enjoying the peace and quiet that permeates despite the large number of people visiting. Watch out for some little turtles swimming about the pool and sometimes wandering down the paths!

At this point, the three of us were flagging a bit. We had evening plans so we decided to head back to our riad for a little pit stop. Hiba had booked us a table at a pretty fancy bar for the evening to watch a live band. It also just so happened that a friend of mine that I met while volunteering in a hostel in Tenerife during the summer was also in Morocco! Syahira had been doing the same thing in hostels around Morocco but was on her last few days there and decided to spend one of her last evenings with us.

Épicurean is a bar and restaurant in Marrakesh’s casino. To reserve a table you have to be eating but it’s also a bit expensive so our plan involved a pre-reservation burger at McDonalds and then to share some starters and sides while watching the band. However, when we got there at 10pm we found out that the band wouldn’t be on for another two hours! Hiba, Rania and I had to be up early the next morning for the next and final part of our trip so after enjoying a drink at Épicurean we decided to head back to Sky Bar, where we had been the night before. Even if it wasn’t what we had originally planned, I had a great night catching up with Syahira who also immediately got along with Hiba and Rania. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, one of the best feelings is when your friends get along with each other.

And with that, part three of the Morocco series comes to an end. I’ll keep saying but I had such an incredible time. As much as I enjoyed seeing Casablanca and Rabat, the less touristy sides of Morocco, I understand Marrakesh’s appeal and charm. It definitely is touristy, full of people visiting from all over the world, which can be a bit overwhelming, but maybe part of the reason I liked it was seeing the contrast with where I’d already been. Even better, the next stop on the trip is somewhere else completely different as well!

Morocco: Rabat

After a fantastic first day in Morocco exploring my friend Hiba’s home city of Casablanca, day two brought a different city. The plan was to head to the nearby capital of Rabat, partly just to see it because why not and partly to visit another friend from China who lives there. While I was in Casablanca I was staying in her family home which was a really lovely experience. I already felt very welcomed in Morocco just by virtue of how warm and friendly the people are but there’s something about being in a family environment that adds an extra element to that. This is where I was really glad to be able to speak French as her parents don’t speak English and I obviously don’t speak Arabic (although I made an effort during the week to learn a few words). Hiba and her mum prepared us a lovely breakfast of bread, m’semen (the Moroccan pancakes), mini pastries and madeleines, eggs, coffee and orange juice.

Rabat is two hours from Casablanca by train (40-50 dirhams or about £4, 1 hour if you get the express train) so we went for a day trip from Casablanca. Rabat is the capital of Morocco (not Marrakesh like many people think, myself included). From 1912, Rabat was the administrative centre of the French protectorate and has been the capital since the country achieved its independence in 1955. It is further north along the coast from Casablanca but isn’t a particularly important port, relying more on tourism and the fact that all of Morocco’s embassies are situated there for its importance. It is also one of the four imperial cities in Morocco, the historical capitals of the country, along with Marrakesh, Fez and Meknes.

Bab er-Rouah

Our first stop was the Kasbah des Oudayas which is an old military fortress and the oldest part of the city built in the 12th century. It is now a residential district that overlooks the mouth of the Bou Regreg river which also acts as the division between Rabat and the neighbouring city of Salé. There are houses, shops, a gallery, food spots and a popular cafe within the walls and all the buildings are painted white and blue. Like elsewhere in Morocco, there are also cats roaming everywhere you look! We wandered through the streets, admiring the cute nooks and crannies and beautifully painted doors. Our aim was to find Cafe Maure, a well known spot where you can enjoy the panoramic views across the river. It is decorated in an Andalusian style and was renovated in 2021. The cafe is a little difficult to find, being tucked away in a corner of the Kasbah but it is well worth it. Just ask someone as you make your way through the streets or follow anyone who you think looks like a tourist and has a better sense of direction than you! Hiba and I were joined for our cup of very sweet mint tea by an equally sweet black cat that reminded me of my own. We had some biscuits with our tea, a selection of traditional Moroccan styles including cornes de gazelles or gazelle horns. These are crescent shaped parcels filled with cinnamon, almonds and orange blossom water and Hiba’s personal favourite. I don’t know what they were called but my favourites were some more lemony ones covered in icing sugar. After a while enjoying the view from Cafe Maure, we walked back out of the Kasbah via Bab er-Rouah, a gorgeous decorative gate whose name translates to ‘Gate of the Winds’ after the Atlantic winds that sweep through Rabat.

View of the Bou Regreg river and out to the Atlantic

The Kasbah des Oudayas is right next to the medina where we headed next. The medina in Rabat is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site. A friend from Rabat had been to a really interesting art exhibition the day before that we were trying to find. One of the streets at the edge of the medina had been transformed into Gal•Rue, a play on the French words ‘galerie‘ and ‘rue‘ which means street. There had been beautiful carpets laid down and the sides of the street were lined with a range of artwork displayed on easels. We walked from there, down through a market that was quieter than the one I had seen in Casablanca, and arrived at the marché central.

We wanted to go to Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, both contained within the same courtyard at the top of Rabat with guards on horses at the entrances and lots of flags lining the walls. Hassan Tower is the minaret of an incomplete mosque started near the end of the 12th century. The tower was intended to be the tallest minaret in the world and the mosque would have been the largest in the western Muslim world at the time. Instead the tower stands at 44m and only a few walls and 348 columns were constructed for the mosque. Apparently the beginnings of the mosque used to be a little more visible until the courtyard around them was built. On the other side of the courtyard from Hassan Tower is the Mausoleum of Mohammed V containing the tomb of King Mohammed V (1909-1961) and his two sons, including the previous king, Hassan II (1929-1999). It was designed by Vietnamese architect Cong Vo Toan and pays tribute to traditional Moroccan styles and techniques as well as Mohammed V’s efforts to promote this craftsmanship as part of Morocco’s sense of identity. We took some silly pictures with the tower and had a little peek into the mosque and then went in search of a taxi.

We had a quick stop at St Peter’s Cathedral, an art deco cathedral from the start of the 20th century in the centre of Rabat. We did a lap around the inside where we could hear a choir practising which was kind of surreal. The cathedral is right next to one of Rabat’s tram lines so we hopped on there to head to lunch in the Agdal neighbourhood. We were meeting another friend that Hiba and I know from our time in China, Cheima. She had suggested Dar Naji, a restaurant with traditional Moroccan food. One of Hiba’s friends, Rania, joined us from Casablanca for lunch and the rest of the afternoon as well. She would also be coming with us for the rest of the week’s adventures in Marrakesh and to the desert. It was great to see Cheima and catch up after a few years. On top of that, as soon as I met Rania I knew that we were going to get along and have a lot of fun over the next few days. I decided to order another Moroccan dish that I hadn’t tried yet, rfissa prestige. This was possibly my favourite dish that I tried in the whole week! It was chicken on shredded m’semen (the Moroccan pancake) with onions, boiled eggs, figs, prunes and a broth of ginger, coriander, saffron and ras el hanout, a common spice blend in North Africa. It was far too big a portion for me but I powered through as much as I could because it was so delicious!

With Hiba and Cheima

After a lovely lunch and a good catch up with Cheima, Hiba, Rania and I headed to our final stop of the day, the Chellah. A medieval, fortified, Muslim necropolis on the edge of the city, the Chellah was built in the first century BC by the Phoenicians of modern day Lebanon to serve as a trading post. It was later the Roman colony Sala Colonia and finally occupied by the Marinid Sultanate from the 13th century until it was abandoned in the 15th century. It was damaged by an earthquake in the 18th century and was left untouched until archaeological excavations uncovered the town in the 20th century. Today you can see the forum, the mosque, Roman baths and a cemetery.

It turns out that the Chellah has been closed since before covid so it’s no longer possible to enter the walls and have a look around. Hiba and Rania found this out by talking to one of the security guards and he told us that even if we couldn’t go into the compound, he could show us a spot around the back where we would be able to at least see within the walls. Once again, it’s one of those situations that’s not nearly as dodgy as it sounds. Hussein, the security guard, was actually lovely and as well as taking us around to the viewpoint and telling us some bits of history, he also insisted on being our photographer! He was directing, stopping us at all the best spots and taking multiple pictures. The walk up the hill was a little steep but not too long and definitely worthwhile seeing as you can’t see the Chellah properly. Hussein also pointed out quite a few stork nests around the site which I thought was a funny Alsace-Morocco crossover as storks are also a symbol of the region I live in in France!

At this point, we had been out all day and done lots of walking in the heat. The temperature was high 20s, low 30s most of the time I was in Morocco, slightly cooler in Casablanca and Rabat on the coast but at least Marrakesh wasn’t so humid if a bit hotter! Still, it all built up to the point that we were very tired. We got the train back to Casablanca and had dinner at Hiba’s, some soup and sausages, before buying our train tickets to Marrakesh the next day and crashing out to sleep!

This is a slightly shorter blog post by my standards although I’m still glad that I split it from the Casablanca post or that would have been an almost 5000 word behemoth! As a result I want to take this chance to talk a little bit about the language. I’ve already said that I don’t speak Arabic (I haven’t quite gotten around to it on my list of languages to learn!) but I obviously speak French pretty well at this point. Saying that, I didn’t have to use it that much. Seeing as I spent almost all my time with Hiba, other than getting myself from the airport into Marrakesh and Marrakesh to Casablanca, I relied on her Arabic to get me around which was actually a nice change from being the one in charge of the organisation and leading the trip. At the same time, I don’t like to go anywhere without being able to say a few words in the local language because I think not making the effort shows a lack of respect for where you are.

Now, if you know anything about Arabic you’ll know that as widely spoken as Arabic is, there is a lot of variation among its many speakers. Moroccan Arabic, more commonly known by Moroccans as Darija, is a particularly distinct form of Arabic. Because it is so different from standard Arabic, speakers from other countries tend to have more difficulty understanding Darija than most other versions of Arabic, although Moroccans don’t have the same problem understanding others. Much of Darija’s vocabulary is influenced by classical Arabic, Berber or Amazigh languages as well as some French and Spanish.

Now here’s a few words for you in Darija so that you are ready for when (not if) you go to Morocco!

Salam – hi/hello (سلام)

Besslama – goodbye (بسلامة)

3afak – please (عفاك)

  • The three is used to represent the letter ع which doesn’t have an equivalent in English. The sound it makes is similar to a nasal A or E. Other numbers are used for other letters that don’t have an English equivalent.

Chokran – thank you (شكرا)

Bezzaf – a lot (بزاف)

  • Chokran bezzaf – thank you very much

Ahh – yes (اه)

La – no (لا)

Bghit – I want (breet) (بغيت)

Atay – Moroccan tea (very important word in Morocco!) (اتاي)

Bghiti atay? – Do you want tea? (breeti) (بغيت اتاي)

I couldn’t believe how much we packed into each day when I was there but looking back and writing these blogs, I don’t know how my feet didn’t fall off! To be fair, I did finish these first two days pretty exhausted but so very, very happy. I felt a real attachment to Morocco from the moment I arrived. I have no doubt that much of that was to do with the people I met, those I knew as well as those I didn’t, but it also has this incredible energy that I loved! It’s a little chaotic, it’s not pristine, but it’s interesting and exciting! Hopefully that’s coming across in what I’ve written and what I’ve still got to share. Next up – Marrakesh!

Morocco: Casablanca

I barely know where to start when it comes to writing about the incredible week I spent in Morocco. Even though I was only there for a short amount of time I packed it full, managing to visit three cities and even the Sahara desert. Because of how busy I was and how much I have to write about, I decided to split the trip into bite size pieces so that you’re not sat for hours reading one blog about it. This first blog will cover the first city I visited – Casablanca.

Before we dive in, a little background about this trip. This trip has been in the works for a long time and most likely would have happened much sooner if it weren’t for covid. I have desperately wanted to visit Morocco for three years, ever since 2019 when I lived in China as part of my university degree. This may seem like a strange link but it is all to do with some of the friends that I made there. At least in my city, the northwesterly city of Dalian, there was a large number of Moroccans within the international student community due to the high number of scholarships that were available for them to go to China, particularly to study masters degrees. When I arrived in China, I only knew one person, another student from Edinburgh University who had also chosen Dalian for his study abroad city. Because of this, I was keen to meet as many people as possible. One of my first weekends there I headed out to a party at a bar with a few of the friends I had made in my class and it was here that I met Hiba. She had also just arrived in Dalian, a Moroccan student there for her masters. I originally messaged her to meet up because she had said that she would help me practise my French which I didn’t want to lose while in China. We hit it off and the rest is history. She became one of my closest friends while I was in Dalian and has stayed one of them since we parted ways. Through Hiba, I got to know a larger group of Moroccans, some of whom also became very good friends of mine.

With Hiba and Aymen in China

Unfortunately, the initial onset of covid meant that we all had to leave China, and each other, many months before we wanted or had planned but from the beginning it had always been my plan to visit my friends in their own country one day. I had other trips that fell into place during my holidays last year, as well as them being more accessible during the pandemic but I knew I would get to Morocco eventually. I had my eyes set on my October holiday this year as a good time to make it happen, with the temperature being slightly lower and more bearable for me at that time of the year and with covid restrictions being more relaxed this year than last. I contacted Hiba, found some flights and that was it! I was actually supposed to go with my friend Hannah but unfortunately the week we were supposed to leave, she was taken really unwell to the point that it would have been a really bad idea to travel. I was gutted that I wasn’t going to be able to share the experience with her as we’d really been looking forward to going but I guess it just means I’ll have to go back with her!

My journey to Morocco actually started with travelling to Paris as that’s where my flight was leaving from. Flights ended up being a bit of a pain to find. They were either €400+ for a direct return flight or a more affordable €100-200 but with a 13 hour layover somewhere in both directions. In the end I succeeded in finding two single flights in an affordable price range, direct from Paris Beauvais to Marrakesh and with a five hour layover in London Heathrow on the way back to Charles de Gaulle – not ideal but the best I could do. I had a little time to kill between my train to Paris and getting out to the airport so I was able to grab lunch with a friend that lives nearby.

I have only ever flown into Paris Beauvais, known for being the worst of the Paris airports, due to the fact that you can barely describe it as being in Paris and that the airport itself is as budget as the airlines that use it. I am of the opinion that flying into it is fine – the shuttle into the centre of Paris takes about as long as it would to get from CDG into the city and because it’s so small, pretty much only one flight arrives at a time meaning luggage and passport control queues are minimal. However, flying out of it was a nightmare and is something I will try to avoid as much as I can in the future. It was just chaotic with not enough space for all the people waiting and a very disorganised queue through passport control and security. To top it off, my flight was delayed by 50 minutes, meaning that my already late arrival time of 11.30pm local time was pushed back to 00.45am. Hiba had arranged a lot of the accommodation during my trip, including this first night in Marrakesh and thankfully I was able to arrange a €20 airport transfer through the riad I was staying in. Normally I’m all for using public transport to get from an airport into the city but not so much when it’s the middle of the night and I’m arriving by myself into an unfamiliar place. On Hiba’s recommendation, I also picked up a local sim card in the airport as my French one wouldn’t work in Morocco and we needed to be able to keep in touch until we met up. I would 100% recommend doing this as I got 20GB for €20, more than enough for my week-long stay and having access to internet data just makes everything easier, especially when travelling.

Despite the fact that it was the middle of the night, the streets of Marrakesh were surprisingly animated! I was dropped off by my driver as close to my riad as he could get. At the heart of Marrakesh is the medina, what could be considered the old, residential part of many north African cities. Marrakesh’s medina is pedestrianised, as are many others, so the small twisty streets can only be accessed by foot, bicycle or motorcycle. The owner of my riad, a French man called Bruno, met me where the driver dropped me off and walked me the final few minutes. But what actually is a riad? A riad is a house of several stories surrounding a central courtyard that is open to the fresh air. They were and still can be family homes but are also a popular, and slightly cheaper, alternative to hotels.

I was only there for a total of seven hours but I have nothing but kind words to say about Bruno’s Le Nid Bleu Riad. It was clean and comfortable and from what I could tell fairly well located although I wasn’t there long enough to go exploring. I was leaving the next day to head straight to Casablanca to find my friends but I felt so welcome. Bruno helped me arrange my airport transfer, met me on the street at 2am to walk me to the riad (nowhere near as dodgy as it sounds) and told me where to go for breakfast in the morning. I was served a lovely fresh breakfast of m’semen (a flat, square pancake) and honey, butter, jam, soft cheese, fruit, coffee and orange juice. I had already talked to Bruno about arranging a taxi to the station but I needed to get some cash out to pay him beforehand. Morocco has what is called a closed currency meaning that dirhams are not available outside of its own borders. In places like the airport or for my airport transfer I was able to use euros or you might be able to find a cash machine at the airport, I just didn’t look for one as it was already late enough. Bruno was kind enough to order me a taxi to the nearest cash machine, walk me there and even bought me a cup of Moroccan mint tea to drink together while we waited.

Breakfast at Le Nid Bleu

Even though Bruno himself isn’t Moroccan, he has been living there for a number of years and has a love for the country that was clear to me even in the short time that I spent with him. He told me that he just wants to help other people do the same and he definitely got me off on the right track. In just the short time that I was in Marrakesh (for now), I could already tell that the people are what make Morocco special (but let’s be real, I already knew that).

I got my taxi to the train station and had a very easy two and a half hour journey from Marrakesh to Casablanca. There is a pretty good train network that connects the major cities in Morocco. This trip cost 110 dirhams or about €11. Casablanca is on the coast of Morocco and is the largest city and economic centre of the country. Hiba met me at the station and it was like no time had passed since we last saw each other almost three years ago, eating ma la tang in Dalian. Those are my favourite kinds of friends, the ones who you pick up your conversation like no time has passed, even if lots has. Those are the friendships that last in my opinion and they are the friendships worth nourishing so that they do last.

The plan for the day was to try and see as much of Casablanca as possible. Hiba’s mum had driven her to the station and so drove us around a little to start with. Our first stop was potentially Casablanca’s most popular tourist attraction, certainly the biggest – Hassan II Mosque. The mosque is the second largest functioning mosque in Africa and the seventh biggest in the world. It has a capacity of 105,000 people, 25,000 inside and another 80,000 in the courtyard area outside. The minaret is 210m tall making it the second tallest in the world. There is a laser at the top that points towards Mecca! It was completed in 1993 after the king at the time acknowledged the lack of cultural or architectural landmarks in Casablanca. It was built by artisans from all over Morocco and funded in part by every family in Morocco. Hassan II Mosque is also one of the few mosques in Morocco that non-Muslims can visit but can only be done via a prearranged guided tour. At the moment, the area around the mosque is mostly closed but we happened to arrive right before prayer so we were able to walk around a little and even peer in. My favourite part was the fact that it is built half over the ocean!

On our way to our second stop we passed through an area of Casablanca called the Corniche. This is an area along the beach that has seen a lot of development in the last few years. It is now laden with resorts, luxury hotels, clubs and restaurants. It also features El Hank lighthouse, the tallest in Morocco. It played an important role in the mid-20th century in improving access to the previously dangerous harbour and therefore allowing Casablanca to develop into Morocco’s chief port. You used to be able to climb the 256 steps to the top of the lighthouse but it has been closed since before covid to preserve the stairs from further degradation. At the other end of the Corniche was our destination – Morocco Mall, the largest shopping mall in Africa! We stopped here for a bite to eat, choosing a Chinese place! Not the most traditional Moroccan food but it was a nice homage to where Hiba and I met.

We had a couple of short stops to see a few more things, passing through the United Nations Square and the Bab Marrakesh market filled with kaftans, shoes (traditional and fake designer), vases and wooden creations. Possibly the most unpleasant experience of the day was Mohamed V Square. It’s nickname might give you a clue as to why, it is known as Pigeon Square… Much more pleasant was Arab League Park. Previously a rather dirty and dangerous area of Casablanca, the park was recently renovated to the tune of €10 million and reopened in 2020. It’s like a little oasis inside the bustling city. We just had a little wander around, enjoying the coolness from the trees (even at the end of October it was around 30º most of the time I was there) but there is a lot to do in the surrounding area. On one corner of the park you’ll find the Sacred Heart Cathedral as well as a number of art museums.

We also met up with another dear friend, Aymen, that I met through Hiba while we were in China. He also lives in Rabat so joined us for the rest of the afternoon. Together we got a taxi to Quartier Habous, one of the older neighbourhoods of Casablanca. A quick note of gratitude to all my friends but particularly Hiba who handled all the taxis for my trip. Taxis in Morocco don’t often use meters although there is still an unofficial price guide depending on the city you are in, how far you are going and whether you have a big or small car. This of course doesn’t really apply to tourists who are less likely to have this information and less likely to be able to communicate with the drivers and so they often get ripped off. Having Hiba and Aymen, locals and Arabic speakers was invaluable and I had nothing to do except occasionally force Hiba to take some money to cover the taxi costs that she kept paying for.

Back to Quartier Habous, it was built in 1916 during the French occupation to be a new medina (the historical part of the city, usually walled with a maze of narrow streets). You can find a bustling bazaar with leather goods and carpets as well as a lot of bookshops specialising in Arabic books nestled amongst the twists and turns. There are also a lot of olive and spice stalls as well as the well known Patisserie Bennis Habous which has been open since 1930! We bought a mixed box of biscuits and took them round the corner to Cafe Imperial where you can enjoy them with a cup of Moroccan tea. I’m not the biggest tea drinker but I drank a lot of the very sweet, slightly bitter mint Moroccan tea over the week I was there. The traditional tea is green tea served with spearmint leaves and quite a lot of sugar. The further south you go, the stronger the tea is made by leaving it on the stove for longer.You’ll often see tea being poured into the glass from a great and ever increasing height as well. As well as being very impressive, this is done to add bubbles to the tea to improve the texture and flavour. It’s an important social custom and a big part of the culture. We happily sat in this cafe for ages, chatting, joking and laughing a lot, reminiscing about China and catching up on everything that’s happened since.

Just up the road from Cafe Imperial is the Makhma du Pacha, a building that used to be used by the king to meet with his people and hear their concerns. It was completed in 1952 and is a great example of the outstanding work of Moroccan craftsmen with carved wooden ceilings, intricate stonework and gorgeous tiles. As well as a parliamentary reception hall, the palace has also been a courthouse, a jail and the residence of the pasha (governor). I think it has been closed since covid but when we stuck our heads in, the guards let us have a little poke around. Hiba actually grew up a few streets away but had never visited it before.

It was nearing the end of the day so we started thinking about dinner. Hiba wanted to go to one of her favourite restaurants in Casablanca, Sqala. The restaurant is hidden away inside the ramparts of the old medina near the Casa Port train station. This is where I had my first taste of both Morocco’s most famous dish, tagine. The word tagine actually has two meanings, referring both to the clay or ceramic cooking pot, a round dish at the bottom and a cone at the top, and the type of dish that is cooked inside it. Tagine (the dish) is almost like a stew, usually made with meat or fish and some vegetables, although there are vegetarian tagines as well. The shape of the pot means that only a little water is needed to cook the meat or vegetables as the steam gathers in the cone and condenses back into the dish. It makes it a very practical cooking method in areas where water is in short supply. I tried a lamb tagine with artichokes and peas and we all shared a plate of briouates. These are small, triangular, puff pastry parcels filled with a variety of things, beef, octopus and chicken and almonds in our case. The chicken and almonds one in particular was a confusing but delicious combination. In a larger, round form, this is known as pastilla de poulet – extremely thin pastry called warqa filled with shredded chicken, ground almonds and cinnamon, dusted in icing sugar.

That pretty much brings us to the end of my first full day in Morocco! Originally my plan was to combine Casablanca and Rabat into the same blog post but we’re already sitting around three thousand words so I think we’ll leave it there. It just means more Morocco posts for you to enjoy! For now, I’ll finish with a few thoughts I had over my first few days in Morocco. First of all, I could barely believe that I was actually there! Being in Morocco also gave me a similar feeling to being in Honduras which might sound weird seeing as the two countries don’t have a lot in common on the surface. It was somewhere very different to a lot of the places I’m used to and I felt both out of place yet comfortable in the chaos and uncertainty at the same time. This trip really has been a long time in the making. I remember multiple conversations that Hiba, Aymen and I had together in China, envisioning this day three years ago and thousands of miles away! I feel so lucky to have found these people on the other side of the world, to have made such a strong connection with them and then be able to pick up as if we never left off, three years later, in their home and in a world that has been irrevocably changed since we first met. 

All that just from the first day and a bit! Lots more to come.

Reflections on Summer 2022

I’ve been back in Mulhouse for a couple of weeks now and it feels like life is back to normal. I’m back in the same apartment as last year, I’ve started teaching again and I’m back into a routine. There are some changes this year and some exciting things coming which I will fill you in on in due course but now I want to take some time to look back on the last few months. I had such an incredible time over the summer, with my travels, my time in Tenerife and being at home. I want to take a moment to reflect on that, the things I’ve learned and the things I’ve gained from it.

First of all I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to spend my summer in the way that I did. Not everybody has the chance to potter about Europe in the way that I have, whether it is because of time, money or a whole host of other reasons. The perks of working at a university means that I benefit from the long holidays at Christmas and over summer. The benefit of being a lowly lectrice means that I don’t have to spend those holidays doing research or planning entire courses so I am free to use them exactly how I want to.

In terms of the cost of my travels here, there and everywhere, I have shared some spending breakdowns on various blogs (here for two weeks in Germany and Austria and here for seven weeks doing Workaway in Tenerife). I try to keep things pretty cheap, saving money wherever I can and having a bit of a budget. I didn’t always stick to the budget but things like staying in hostels, choosing free activities and cooking for myself instead of eating out all the time are some of the ways that I kept my costs down. All this was how I managed to afford this summer while I was on the go but how did I afford it in the first place? I’m not going to lie and pretend that I earn a ton of money as a lectrice. Don’t get me wrong, it’s enough to live comfortably on and is fair for the number of hours that I work but doesn’t leave a lot left over at the end of the month. With that in mind, I would say that I am a saver rather than a spender and always have been. I try to put aside a chunk of each of my paychecks and don’t spend a lot of money on myself. I would much rather save it and put it towards a future trip. Over time, this builds up!

Goofy outtakes with my sisters and cousins

I had a great time across the whole summer, chilling at home as well as spending a couple of weeks travelling in Germany and Austria but my favourite part was by far my time in Tenerife. I’ve spoken at length about how incredible it was working in La Tortuga through Workaway and after being on the road for almost three weeks before I got there, it was nice to slow down once I arrived. Overall I found it much more fulfilling being somewhere for longer and getting to know it better. It also felt like a more sustainable way to travel for me. Moving around places and cities every few days can be exciting but also exhausting!

Tenerife also added to my collection of friends around the world. I feel incredibly lucky to have made the connections that I have over the years with the people I meet along the way. Whether it’s my second family in Honduras, the friends I made while studying in China that I’m visiting in Morocco next month or my fellow volunteers and the guests from La Tortuga, I have met some very special people. The more people I meet, the more places I want to go so I can visit them!


Spending almost two months on a Spanish island was great not just because of the amazing things I got to do or the people that I met, but because I got to speak my favourite language. I’m really pleased with how much my French has improved since moving to France and Chinese is special to me because of how much effort I have put into it but I’ve always had a soft spot for Spanish as it was when I started learning it that my passion for languages really took off. It was also the first language I learnt fluently and is attached to so many memories that I hold close to my heart. It was great to be able to stretch those muscles again after five years without using them for more than a random conversation here and a long weekend away there. I also got to add to my very eclectic collection of vocabulary and phrasing that has its roots in Honduras and has influences now from mainland Spain, Chile, Argentina and a mish mash of other places. I love that my Spanish doesn’t conform to one regional accent or dictionary but instead is a patchwork of the people and places that have taught me.

I also feel more intrigued by Spain than I ever have before. Most of my interest in Spanish has been related to my time in Honduras and Central America and other than a week here and there I haven’t spent a lot of time in Spain. I will say here that although Tenerife is a Spanish island, the local culture is much more Canarian than Spanish. Saying that, it’s still the first time that I have felt drawn to Spain in this way. I will always feel pulled back to Tenerife now but I am also more intrigued by mainland Spain now. Who knows when it might happen but maybe I’ll end up living in Spain for longer than a couple of months at some point?

Ten weeks after leaving my home in Mulhouse, I finally made it back home-home. That is to say that I made it back to Scotland and back to Dunblane. I have previously written about my complicated feelings about coming home to Dunblane in general and specifically after a period of travels or living elsewhere. The concept of home and the feelings attached to it are often complex, and not just for me. I’m always happy to be back and able to see the people that I’ve missed more than anything but without those people in Dunblane I wouldn’t be going back to visit. There are other places in Scotland that I feel much more attached to, in particular Edinburgh.

For the first time, however, I had a real desire to be at home in Dunblane. Not just to visit my family and friends but to actually be at home, in that environment that I know so well, that feels familiar, that I grew up in. I hadn’t felt this before, even after a whole year in Honduras, even after being the furthest I’ve been from home while in China, even when I was last at home in February after missing Christmas because I got covid. It was an intense feeling and a new one for me. I still don’t know exactly what caused me to feel like that. I’ve always come away from an extended period living somewhere else wanting to stay longer but something felt a little different. As much as I loved my time in Tenerife, I was ready to come home at the end of it. As much as I enjoyed my first year in France, I was longing to go back to Scotland.

At this point I knew that I was coming back to France for a second year as a lectrice. I’m still not entirely sure why but lecteurs and lectrices can only stay in their position for a maximum of two years. I had decided not long after arriving in France and getting started that I wanted to stay a second year. I enjoyed the work, I like Mulhouse and I’d set up a nice life for myself there. I also wasn’t sure what it would look like if I didn’t stay for a second year. I graduated university with this idea that I wanted to move to France and get my French to the level that I wanted it. There was also an element of taking back what the pandemic had denied me because I didn’t get to spend any time in France during my year abroad. When I arrived, I had a vague idea that I might want to go to China after I finished my time in France for similar reasons. While I would still like to go back to China one day, I don’t think now is the time. There are still a lot of covid restrictions in place that make it hard to get a visa and that restrict life and travel once you are there. I also don’t want to continue being an English teacher (which I’ll expand on later) but I think that would be the easiest way to get back to China in the near future.

The combination of this desire to be back home in Scotland and the uncertainty of where I’m going after my second year in France is done had and still has me considering whether I want to move back to Scotland. I have always felt like a restless soul and have never seen settling down in one place as something I would do until much further in the future. Saying that, I’ve always had the feeling that if and when I do choose somewhere more permanently, it would most likely be in Scotland because that is my home. I’m not saying I’m ready to take that plunge and be in Scotland for the rest of my life. Even just in this blog post I’ve talked about potentially wanting to live in Spain at some point. But maybe the way I was feeling was a sign that moving home, even temporarily, should be in my future?

What made this more complicated was that when I first arrived back in Scotland just after the start of July, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to going back to France. Like I’ve already said, I don’t know where I’ll be after this second year in Mulhouse but it most likely won’t be France. I like the life that I’ve built here but it was never supposed to be long term in the first place. It’s not that I didn’t want to go back at all, I knew what I had signed up to when I agreed to stay on for a second year. I knew that all I needed was some time at home. I just needed to fill myself up again from being around my friends and family and also having some time to do nothing. Sure enough, after a couple of weeks I was already starting to look upon my return to France with more excitement.

HebCelt 2022

Another thing playing on my mind was my choice of job. I don’t and have never wanted to be an English teacher. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy what I do and I actually think I’m quite good at it but it’s not my passion. I have been involved in teaching for years, ever since I became a swimming instructor at the age of 16, through my year teaching English in a primary school in Honduras, back into the pool through university and now finally in Mulhouse. At the same time, an unavoidable question when you choose to study languages as a degree is ‘So are you going to be a translator or a teacher?’. I have known since I first embarked on that path that I didn’t want to do either. I’m still not exactly sure what it is that I do want to do but I know it’s not English teaching. Knowing all this, and with all these other questions swirling around my head about what the future might hold, had me questioning what I was even doing going back for another year. I felt like it would be a waste of time.

I’ve since knocked myself out of that spiral. I think a lot of these thoughts came at a point where I was just feeling a little bit lost. I still don’t know where I’m headed but I’m secure in the knowledge of where I am. Yes, I don’t want to be an English teacher for the rest of my life but I am grateful for what this job has given me, allowed me to do and taught me. I enjoy teaching, I enjoy interacting with my students and I share their passion for languages, just for different languages. It’s not a waste of time at all because there are things to be learnt from any experience and it is what you make of it. For now, I’m focusing on giving my all while I’m still here and making the most of it. I’m sure there will be more updates down the line as I (hopefully) get closer to figuring out what I’m doing with my life!

Hiking in Tenerife

As a Brit, hiking is certainly not the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Tenerife. It’s definitely known more for resort holidays and Brits abroad. While this type of holiday or tourist dominates the south of the island, it is still possible to found pockets of hiking. Elsewhere on the island you are much more likely to find people that have come to Tenerife for outdoor adventures. For example 3 million people visit the volcano each year. The north of the island is also a hotspot for hiking because of the Anaga rural park. This part of the island is particularly popular among Germans to the point that you will find a lot of the signs in Anaga in Spanish, English and German. While hiking isn’t the top of my list of activities, I did a fair bit while I was in Tenerife and enjoyed it a lot! I’m here to share some of my wisdom, both from personal experience and from what I picked up while working in the hostel. For example, I didn’t climb Mount Teide in my time on the island but I gathered lots of information from the people that did.

Mount Teide

The view of Teide from the foot of Montaña Guajara

Mount Teide is the dormant volcano at the centre of the island of Tenerife. It is the highest point in Spain and also the highest point in the islands of the Atlantic. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007. It is the most visited natural attraction in all of Spain as well as the most visited national park in Spain and Europe and the eighth most visited in the world! It’s a popular place! Because of that there are certain restrictions around climbing to the peak that I’ll get into. There are also some controversial plans to restrict entry to the national park as a whole. The aim is to improve conservation by restricting cars and instead implementing guided tours by bus, similar to the situation in Timanfaya national park in Lanzarote. However, there is some resistance which I think is very valid, especially when it comes to restricting access for Canarians instead of just tourists.

The main Mount Teide hike via Montaña Blanca is just under 9km long and takes most people 5-6 hours. It has some very steep stretches but the main difficulty comes from the altitude change, starting from 1,367m and finishing at 3,718m. There are a couple of different options when it comes to climbing Mount Teide.

Teide with the Boca Tauce lava field in the foreground

By day: 

  • Mount Teide is in a national park and for conservation reasons the number of people allowed to summit per day is limited to 200. Because of this you need a permit to reach the very top between the hours of 9am and 5pm. It is free to reserve but needs to be applied for 2-3 months in advance as slots fill up fast.
  • You can still climb Teide without a permit but will have to stop 200m from the peak. There are a lot of hiking trails around here so if you want to hike the volcano but don’t have the permit it can still be worthwhile, as long as you don’t mind missing out on the last little bit!
  • Climbing by day in the summer can be very hot and the sun is very intense without many areas of shade during the ascent. 

By night: 

  • Because of the permit needed to summit during the day, many people choose to climb Teide by night. Starting around 2am will get you to the summit for around 7am in time to watch the sunrise over the clouds, an incredible experience. 
  • Compared to hiking during the day, it gets very cold on the volcano at night. You will need lots of layers and a head torch to light your way. 
  • You must have left the summit by around 8am to start your descent. This is when you will get to actually enjoy the views now that there’s daylight to see them!
  • Some people will stay at Hotel Parador near the start of the trail so that they are nearby for starting to climb in the middle of the night. There is also the option of staying the night at the Refugio Altavista at an altitude of 3260m. You climb to this point the day before (the refuge opens at 5pm) and then set out for the summit in the morning. It takes less than two hours to reach the top from the refuge. Note that there is a kitchen but you must bring your own food and there are toilets but no showers.

Teide also has a cable car that will take you up to less than 200m below the peak. It starts from La Caldera de las Cañadas (the crater surrounding Teide) at 2356m. There is always the option of climbing up and taking the cable car down or vice versa, or taking it both ways if you want to maximise your time on the island. It takes 15 minutes and costs €38 for a return ticket. A few things to note when it comes to the cable car. If the wind is too strong, they will close the cable car. I have also heard of some people having more difficulty with the altitude when taking the cable car. Issues with altitude are something to be cautious about in general as it can make the climb more challenging than it would be otherwise but there is less time to acclimatise when taking the cable car.

A few notable attractions on Teide are its shadow and the observatory. The shadow that Teide casts on the sea is the largest of its kind in the world. It is projected more than 40km from the summit, reaching all the way to the islands of La Gomera in the morning and Gran Canaria in the evening. Because of Teide’s height and position above the clouds most days, it is also the perfect place to have an observatory. Teide is a great place in general for stargazing.

Montaña Guajara

Next up is an alternative to hiking Teide itself. Montaña Guajara is a much smaller mountain on the other side of La Caldera de las Cañadas that looks over to the volcano. It has some of the best panoramic views in all of the Teide national park, in my humble opinion. If Teide seems a bit intimidating, as it did to me, if you don’t have the time or if you have any other hesitation about hiking Teide, Montaña Guajara is a great option. Some of the other volunteers and I were looking for a hike to do near Teide and this was recommended to us by our all knowing receptionist Karen.

The full Montaña Guajara trail is a roughly 10km loop and takes 5-6 hours to complete. The hike is rated as medium difficulty but has some very steep sections and is generally covered in scree so can be a bit slippy. I wouldn’t say you need any fancy shoes though, even specific hiking shoes. I just had trainers and one of my friends did this hike in a pair of chunky Filas (not your average hiking shoes for anyone that doesn’t know). Montaña Guajara is a peak of 2,718m but the ascent starts from 2,100m at the Cañada Blanca visitor centre. There is very little chance for shade on your way up so take a hat, sunglasses and lots of suncream. Don’t forget to reapply! Also take more water than you think you’ll need, generally a good strategy for hiking in hot weather. There is a small cafe at the visitor centre but we brought our own picnic lunch of sandwiches and salad to keep us going.

Hiking buddies!

On the practical side of things, the easiest way to access this hike is if you have your own car. Drive up to the Cañada Blanca visitor centre and there is a car park there. This is also the place to head if you want to go to the Roques de Garcia, another popular area to hike around but not one I’ve been to. But fear not! If you have no car this is still very doable as I was in this situation. Coming from the south of the island, bus 342 leaves from Costa Adeje bus station at 9.15am and will take you up to the Teide national park. There is only one of these buses a day so be there a little early to make sure you get a seat. It will take about 1h40 to get to El Parador where you should get off, right by the Cañada Blanca visitor centre. There is also only one return bus that will reach El Parador around 15.40, giving you about three and a half hours to enjoy the hike. Unfortunately this isn’t long enough to complete the whole loop but we worked our way up, taking lots of breaks and stopping to eat and enjoy the view. We still made it to the ridge below the peak itself before we had to head back down and the views are unparalleled. It’s hard to imagine that they could get much better from further up.

I would recommend heading into the visitor centre before getting started. They are able to tell you exactly which trails you need to follow to get to Montaña Guajara. There are lots of routes that start from this same area so better to ask and be sure that you don’t start off on the wrong one. From what I remember (but take this with a pinch of salt), to go anti-clockwise round the loop you start on trail #4 (Siete Cañadas), join #31 briefly and then #5 will take you to the top. If you do want to carry on down the other side, follow #15. During the climb you will be able to see over to Teide in all her glory. Those with eagle eyes can spot the cable car, as well as the Roques de García below and the lava field at Boca Tauce off to the side. Depending on the weather you might also see the ‘sea of clouds’, when the cloud line sits at 1600m which is well below the altitude of Montaña Guajara. 


Looking down on the starting point of the Masca Gorge hike and the gorge itself

Possibly the most famous hike on the island other than Teide, the Barranco de Masca hike is another one that I have not personally done but gathered plenty of information on during my time on Tenerife. Masca is a hamlet with a current population of 90 nestled in the Teno hills on the north west coast of Tenerife. The town is a popular attraction in its own right and somewhere I visited more than once for its incredible scenery. It is known as the ‘lost’ or ‘forgotten’ village by some which you will understand when you see how well it has assimilates into the hillside. It is accessible by car down the treacherously steep and winding road down from Santiago del Teide or from Garachico in the north via Los Silos. Favoured by bus tours, it is best to visit the town earlier in the morning or late in the afternoon. 

Masca’s main attraction is the Barranco de Masca (Masca Gorge). The gorge is 5km long and descends to the ocean and then returns back to the town, a hike of 10km in total. In total it should take no more than 7 hours although it is possible in less. Previously you could hike down the trail to Masca beach and take a ferry to Los Gigantes, past the cliffs of the same name. I think this would be so cool and you would get the best of both worlds, the downhill part of the Masca hike and then the chance to see the incredible Los Gigantes cliffs from a new angle. Unfortunately this is no longer possible as the Masca jetty is currently closed to the public. It has been this way since the start of the pandemic but there is hope that it will be open in the near future!

If you want to hike the gorge, you will need to book a slot. Currently the barranco is only open on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays, from 8.30am to 11am March-Oct and 8.30am to 10.30am Oct-March. The trail closes at 6pm all year so you must have returned to the start point by this time. Because of the limited opening times, spaces book up well in advance. The trail can also be closed due to adverse weather in which case you can change the date of your reservation or get a refund. You will need to arrive 30 minutes before your reserved slot and have a piece of ID with you.

The hike has a fairly high difficulty with rocky ground and slippery sections along the narrow path which means there are certain restrictions for hikers before you are allowed to enter. You must wear closed toe hiking boots with ankle support and deep lugs, indentations that improve grip. If you arrive wearing normal trainers or open toed shoes you will be denied access to the trail. You will also be given a helmet by trail staff. Currently it is free to hike the Masca trail but soon tickets will be €8 for residents of Tenerife and €16 for visitors. The money will go to conservation and safety of the gorge. 

Barranco del Infierno

Last but not least, we have Barranco del Infierno. Just as Montaña Guajara is a good alternative to hiking Teide, this is a great and much less popular alternative to Masca. Barranco del Infierno means Hell’s Gorge and is located in the town of Adeje in the south of Tenerife. Adeje is an interesting town to visit because other than the barranco, there are no other tourist attractions so it’s filled with locals. If you want a slice of every day Tenerife, Adeje can give you some insight.

The total route there and back is about 6.5km with minimal ascent or descent. It takes about 2.5 hours to complete at a very leisurely pace or as little as 1 hour if you really pace it. Like Masca, you must reserve a slot in advance. However, because it is a less popular trail it is possible to do this the day before or even the day of. You can enter the trail between 8.30am and 11.30am and it closes at 2.30pm at which time you must have exited the trail. Barranco del Infierno is also a protected area so tickets cost €11 for visitors and €4.50 for residents. 

Made it to the waterfall!

Because the level of difficulty is low for this hike, you don’t need to have proper walking boots. Trainers are fine but they cannot be open-toed. You will also be given a helmet to wear. The hike ends at a waterfall but don’t hold your breath. It isn’t anything too impressive, especially in summer when it is rather dry. The real views are as you make your way down the gorge. A top insider tip, end your hike like I did at the Restaurante Otelo right next to the starting point. Try the chicken or the rabbit for some typical Canarian food! 

Bonus – Anaga Rural Park

This photo doesn’t do justice to the spectacular scenery in the park!

Anaga Rural Park makes up the most north eastern part of the island, what could be described as the panhandle if looking at Tenerife on a map. It is also the oldest part of the island, having been created 8 million years ago from a volcanic eruption. It is full of craggy peaks and deep valleys covered in lush green vegetation. This will really show you the stark differences between the north and the south. In the north you need jumpers and a rain jacket while the south is shorts and flip flops!

Because Anaga is the furthest point on the island from where I was staying down in Costa Adeje (still only an hour by car but closer to three by bus) I only got to visit once. It was combined with a visit to a nearby beach so I didn’t have a lot of time to spend there. Because of this I sought out a pretty short hike just to get a feel for Anaga. I was recommended to head to Cruz del Carmen which is a viewpoint with some trails around it. On a clear day you can see all the way to Teide as well as the towns of La Vega Lagunera and La Laguna. This is a good place to visit in general, not just for the views but also because there is a visitor centre where you can get a lot of information on the park.

The view from Cruz del Carmen

There is a trail loop that leaves from Cruz del Carmen called El Sendero de los Sentidos (the Trail of the Senses). There are a few options of different lengths and difficulties but I decided to do the longest one because it was still only supposed to take an hour. I say supposed to because, even with a group of six people, we could not figure out the right route to take. We ended up doing the same section two or three times thinking we were missing a turn to get on to the rest of the trail but that turned out to be all there was and it was just shorter than we expected! If you don’t have a lot of time to do one of the longer hikes in the park, this is a good option so that you can still get a taste for it.

El Sendero de los Sentidos

While I was in Anaga I also visited the viewpoint of Pico del Inglés that has a view across the capital of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the mountains of Anaga and of Mount Teide. Unfortunately, the clouds and rain had closed in the day I was there so you could not see very much at all! We also ventured down from the mountains to the northern coast with the aim of reaching Playa Benijo, supposedly one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. However, I was the one driving and being on the right hand side was difficult enough but then the road got a little too narrow and challenging for my liking! Instead we stopped by Playa Almaciga and ate in Casa Pepe where I had the best octopus I’ve ever had in my life. I still think about it to this day…

Anaga Rural Park covers 140km² so there is plenty more to discover. The town of Taganana, on the road down to Benijo, has preserved its traditional Canarian culture better than many towns on the island and is also home to Las Vueltas de Taganana, a hiking loop of moderate difficulty that takes just under 4 hours to complete. There is also a hiking loop that will take you from the hamlet of Taborno to Roque de Taborno, known as ‘Tenerife’s Matterhorn’, which takes about 2 hours. There is El Pijaral, Tenerife’s Enchanted Forest (Bosque Encantado), a laurisilva or laurel forest in the south of Anaga. It is a protected area so you will need a permit to enter and while it is free, only 45 people are allowed to enter each day so spaces fill up fast.

Hopefully this has shown you a new side to Tenerife and given you itchy feet to get out there and go hiking! As I’ve said, some of these hikes I have already done but the rest are still on my to do list!

Rijeka, Croatia

I’m taking a brief break from Tenerife related content to fill you in on my recent trip to Croatia! Now that we’ve covered the basics of how I found my Workaway and what it was like, I’ll be back soon with more specific posts on the island itself. Think beaches, think hiking, best activities and road trip itineraries. But for now we’re taking a brief holiday to Croatia, much like I did!

This trip really was miraculous. Not because where we went was breathtaking or because I had a great time amongst friends, even if both are true, but because it even managed to get out of the group chat phase in the first place. I took this trip with my university flatmates. We all met in halls in first year and then lived together for our remaining three years in a flat in Edinburgh. We have thrown out many ideas for trips or adventures over the years but very few have actually come to fruition. I don’t really know what was different this time but the idea for this group trip was thrown out and really gathered momentum.

We started by finding some dates that worked for everyone in our very mixed group. We have two people with ‘big boy jobs’ as I call them, proper 9-5s down in London, two students finishing their final year or masters and myself, the English teacher who would be floating around Europe all summer. We settled on the weekend straddling the end of July and the start of August that coincided with a bank holiday. Next we threw out places that we would be interested in. Croatia was in there from the beginning as was Budapest. Once we started looking at flights, we were actually quite fixed on Milan because we found flights for something ridiculous like €20! In the end we swerved away from that because Milan in the height of summer would be packed for one and boiling for another. We found slightly more expensive but still very cheap flights to Zagreb in Croatia and that was it! Zagreb is a city in the centre of Croatia and we wanted something on the coast so we decided on Rijeka as a final destination, just a couple of hours on the bus away from Zagreb.

The view over Rijeka

Because some of the group are working full time while others are students or on holidays, we made our way to Rijeka in dribs and drabs. I travelled from London with Lizzie, one of the students. Luckily we were both there already, Lizzie spending some time with her family while also doing research for her master’s thesis and me doing the rounds of my friends that are down there. Our flight was at silly o’clock in the morning but we were hoping that this would help us avoid the worst of the airport chaos that has been plaguing the British travel industry this summer.

Our journey was pretty plain sailing (or should it be flying) until we landed in Zagreb, if very crowded along the way. We made it out of the airport just in time for the 1pm shuttle bus from the airport to the bus station. It took about half an hour and cost 45 kuna. It had to be paid in cash but you could also use Euros which would come out at €7. The issue here was that we were booked on a bus to Rijeka at 1.30pm. We pulled into the bus station at exactly 1.30pm and then couldn’t find the right platform so no luck in trying to jump on our bus at the last minute. Luckily there was another one with the same company at 2.15pm that we were able to use our tickets on so just a short wait. It cost an extra 10 kuna to put our wee suitcases in the luggage area below the bus. After our early start I slept away most of the two hours to Rijeka but the glimpses that I caught of the Croatian countryside were beautiful.

At this point we all know that I’m a big fan of staying in hostels but we had booked an AirBnB for our stay so that we could make the most of our time all together again. The AirBnB was literally 30 seconds away from the bus station which was great because the last thing you want to do after a day of travelling is trek to your accommodation. The apartment was really nice, plenty of space for the five of us with a nice living room and most importantly – air con!

Because it was just the two of us for our first night, we had a pretty chill one. We grabbed some groceries and made pasta for dinner and then took a little siesta before heading out for a wander. We made our way down the main street of Korzo and found a cute square through the arch under the city clock tower. Fun fact, the clock face on the tower has remained unchanged since the 1600s! After an early start and a long day we decided to call it quits early.

The clock tower on Korzo

We were joined the next morning by Georgia who had already been travelling in the Balkans for a few weeks and arrived in Croatia on an overnight bus. After taking Georgia to the apartment and catching up a little we decided we wanted to spend the day at the beach until the last two arrived in the afternoon. We grabbed a taxi from the bus station to take us to Sablićevo beach, just outside the centre of Rijeka. We hadn’t done much research into good beaches in the area other than a quick Google search but it did the job. It was small and very crowded as well as pebbled which was a bit annoying but there was a cute little beach cafe and space to swim and lie in the sun. The water was so beautiful, bright blue, warm on top and then freezing down below. We chilled on the beach a little and then moved into the cafe for a beer and an ice cream. Classic holiday behaviour.

Dina and Pippa were arriving at the bus station at around 4pm so we walked back from the beach with plenty of time to spare, grabbing some groceries on the way. Finally all together, we celebrated by making pesto pasta and taking a collective nap. Just kidding, we did do that but we also sat around a lot, catching up and enjoying each other’s company. Speaking for myself, I’ve seen each of them since we finished university but this was the first time that we had the five of us all in the same place since we moved out of our apartment in Edinburgh in May 2021.

We headed out for a few more drinks that evening, back to one of the bars that Lizzie and I had found the night before and then onto a place Georgia discovered. Here I have to admit that the nightlife in Rijeka is not exactly the most lively. However we did stumble upon a cool spot by accident, Klub Mladih. It was a youth bar and we pretty much stuck there for the rest of the weekend. It boasted something like 60 cocktails so we had a great time sampling as many of them as we dared!

The next day we all gradually surfaced from the night before, starting the day at our own paces. Dina and I were up a little before some of the others and decided to go out in search of coffee. Me and Lizzie had found a cafe just around the corner the day before that was literally called a book cafe. Is there any better place? We sat there for a bit and then headed back to make a nice brunch of scrambled eggs and avocado on toast. The plan for this day was to explore a bit more of the actual city of Rijeka. We started wandering back down the main street of Korzo in the daylight this time and found ourselves by St Vitus Cathedral. This is one of the well known symbols of Rijeka and actually appears on the 100 kuna banknote! Just beyond the cathedral we stumbled upon a tunnel that was built by the Italian military in WW2 as an air raid shelter. It’s 330m long and snakes beneath the old town, coming out by a primary school back in the direction of our apartment. It was free entry so we decided to go on a little adventure, even just to enjoy the much cooler temperatures underground!

St Vitus Cathedral

Continuing on, we passed by the Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Coast and then carried on down towards the river. Our eventual aim was to walk up to Trsat Castle that sits above Rijeka but we stopped for a drink and a rest at a cute cafe called Bar Striga right by the river before embarking on the 128m climb. Now here I have a tip for you. If you follow Google Maps or even just the signs in Rijeka for the castle, you will be taken up a brutally steep set of stairs and you’ll be so dead by the time you get to the top that you won’t be able to enjoy it. Instead I suggest searching Križanićeva in maps and taking this windy road up the hill to the castle. Not only is it a much gentler incline but you will also be taken down this passageway filled with incredible street art. I mean, just look at that!

Bar Striga

About halfway up the more languorous route, you can actually cut onto the steps heading up which is what we did. Stairs in 30º+ heat are as bad as they sound but the views back down across Rijeka and out to the Adriatic sea are (maybe) worth it. Thankfully, you are welcomed to the top of the trek by a water fountain so you can replenish all the moisture you’ve just aggressively sweated out of your body. A couple of hundred metres more (along flat ground) will take you to the castle itself. Again entry is free which I think is good because it’s quite small and there’s not really much to see. The real benefit are the views, again back down over Rijeka and out to sea but also out the other side and over the hills that back the city. We had the obligatory photo shoot and then explored the parts of the ramparts that you can climb up before our stomachs demanded we find some food.

There are a selection of bars and restaurants at the entrance to the castle, and even one inside the main building, but none of them were serving food. We walked on a little more and tucked away next to sleeker, more modern establishments, we found Konoba Papalina. It was the rustic charm that drew us in and the warm welcome of the server that made us sit down. There were only a few specialty dishes on offer, no menu, and all fish or seafood. A couple of people went for the seafood risotto and a couple for the fresh mussels but I asked what our waiter would recommend. He refused to tell me but promised that it would be good so I sat back to wait for my surprise dish! It turned out to be the grilled sea bass served with blitza, a traditional Croatian side of chard and potatoes. The sea bass was delicious but I had to share with everyone because a whole fish proved to be a little too much for just me!

We headed back home, all ready for a shower and a nap, not necessarily in that order. We returned to our old faithful Klub Mladih where highlights of the night included a strawberry mojito and a dog! When you can pet a dog in the bar, a night out immediately gets better.

The plan for our last full day in Croatia was to head back to the beach! The initial plan was to head further afield to a new beach but after a later start than anticipated, we ended up back at Sablićevo. It was a great place to waste away the day. It was even more packed than Thursday, if that was even possible, but we marked out a spot and settled there. Rotating between lying on the beach and reading, a little swim and chilling in the shallows and chatting was exactly what we all needed. After a while, I had had my fill of sun and moved to the cafe again. I managed to get one of the deckchairs that faced out onto the water and sat there with a coke and a Nutella crepe – perfection. I even had a little kitten dancing around to keep me company. After we’d had enough of sun, sea and sand we got the bus back into town. We didn’t have it in us for another night on the town so we ended our time in Rijeka with a MacDonalds and a showing of Freaky Friday.

Monday morning meant that it was time to leave Rijeka. We weren’t actually leaving Croatia until the next day but our flight was from Zagreb and super early so we had decided to spend the night there. We got the bus again from Rijeka to Zagreb but all together this time. We had another AirBnB about 20 minutes from the bus station in Zagreb. We ended up chilling there for a while before heading into the centre of the city to explore a little and get dinner. The centre of Zagreb was cute, with some beautiful colourful buildings and churches. Dinner was ramen followed by ice cream for dessert, one last holiday treat. It was an early night because we had a taxi booked for 4am the next morning.

Main square in Zagreb

And now some final thoughts on Croatia. It’s a beautiful country that I definitely want to see more of. It seems like everyone I know was in Croatia this summer but in the more popular spots like Dubrovnik, Split or some of the islands. While I would definitely like to make it to those places one day, I’m glad that I avoided both the crowds and the heat for now. I think Croatia in the off-peak season is the way to go. Getting to know somewhere a little less popular like Rijeka was a nice taster. Even in that area, there’s now more places I want to go like the island of Krk or Pula, a town just around the coast known for ancient Roman buildings including the Pula Arena, one of the best preserved Roman amphitheaters.

Something I was so impressed with was the level of English everywhere. Even in a less touristy place like Rijeka, everyone we spoke to had a great level of English. We had attempted to learn a few words in Croatian, like hello and thank you, but there were limits on how much we could communicate. I really hate not being able to talk to people in their own language but I still felt really welcomed by everyone we spoke to, taxi drivers, waiters, people we met in a bar. It really made me think about how bad the British system is. It is impossible to learn a foreign language to fluency just through the British school system without some kind of outside help or experience yet it seems that in Croatia, the language skills do primarily come from school. It’s not just in Croatia that this is the case either.

Finally, just being amongst such good friends was so refreshing. I had been in London for a few days before we left and was really tired from that. I love visiting London because I have so many friends there that I love to catch up with but I find the city really draining. I was a little worried about going on a trip immediately after that as my social battery was already feeling depleted from a few days running across the city. I would describe myself as an extroverted introvert, in that I love being social and seeing friends and meeting new people but I then need to recharge with some alone time. Despite having lived together for four years, this was actually the first trip that the five of us had taken together and you never quite know how that many personalities are going to mesh together in a different situation like travelling. Despite all this, I came away from a busy five days feeling refreshed. My university flatmates are friends that feel like family and after being surrounded by them for a few days, they actually did fill my energy up again. Thank you ladies for a lovely few days!

Bonus Bratislava Blog

Welcome back to another travel blog, a little Brucey bonus for you! This wasn’t a blog I expected to be writing when I embarked on my travels but sometimes you never know where the journey is going to take you. When I first arrived in Vienna I was organising doing a walking tour with my friend Nic and he was telling me the day he spent in Bratislava, the nearby capital of Slovakia. I hadn’t realised quite how close they are but there’s only 80km between them. I thought it would be a great way to spend a day, adding another country into the mix. I convinced my roommate Hannah to join me on her last day, making it three countries in one day for her as she was moving on to Budapest in Hungary that evening.

Our plan was to get the 9.15 train from the central station so we left with plenty of time as Hannah had her big bag with her ready for her train to Budapest that evening. I went to buy the tickets while Hannah found the lockers and I discovered that there is a specific Bratislava ticket. It costs €16 for a day return and also covers public transport while you are there! A pretty good deal if you ask me.

It took just over an hour to arrive in Bratislava where we pointed our noses towards the castle. On our way down we must have been walking through Slovakia’s embassy district and we made a game out of guessing which country they were. It was another glorious day, probably the hottest of my stay, so the walk got a bit sweaty! When we arrived at the castle the views weren’t the best I’ve ever seen although you could see across the Danube and back into Austria. There were a lot of cranes in the way and I think we were looking out onto a bit of an industrial area. The castle itself however was very nice! It had lovely gardens to walk through and the views from those, looking into the old town, were much nicer.

We walked down from the castle to the city walls and came out by St Martin’s cathedral. From there we were on the edge of the old town and just wandering through the streets in the bright sunshine was lovely. Now that we weren’t climbing uphill like earlier it wasn’t that bad! We found the main square with the city hall and several of the statues that are littered throughout the city. One is a man tipping his hat to passersby, there is a Napoleonic soldier leaning on a bench in the main square and the most famous, the Man at Work (or Čumil, the watcher), a worker peeking out of the sewer while taking a rest. There is a legend that says if you touch him on his head and make a wish it will come true, as long as you keep it a secret forever!

We carried on and out the other side of the old town in search of one of Bratislava’s most popular sights, St Elizabeth’s church. It is a vibrant blue building that is an icon of Slovakia. It was really stunning but completely tucked away behind a school that it was originally built to serve. By this point we were both ready for some food so headed back to one of the streets we had walked down with lots of restaurants. We settled on a traditional Slovakian restaurant where I had a stroganoff with beef, bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms in a creamy sauce (€15 with a beer) and Hannah had goulash with bread dumplings. We had a drink to cool down after lunch (€2 for a beer) and picked up an ice cream (€2) as we were walking back to the train station.

Because Hannah was heading to Budapest in the evening we had given ourselves plenty of time to get to the station in time for our train, which in turn was supposed to get us back to Vienna in plenty of time for her next train. Emphasis on supposed to… When we got to the train station in Bratislava there was a delay which continued to get longer as we waited. Throw in getting on the wrong train when it pulled into our platform and a last minute platform change and the return journey wasn’t quite as easy as the outward journey. Saying all that, we did get back in time for Hannah to dash through the station, grab her bag and make her train!

Back in Vienna, I hopped on the subway back to the hostel because I was exhausted and sweaty and grabbed a few things in Hoefer (€6) before chilling in the hostel for the evening.

Buzzing about passing a Scottish pub, even closed!

I was really pleased to have the opportunity to visit a new and unexpected country for me. Bratislava was beautiful, a really cheery, charismatic place. Of course there is more to do than we were able to fit into 6 hours but at the same time, I think you can fit the essence of the city into a day trip. I’ve heard that the nightlife is very lively so if that’s your thing it would be nice to stay overnight but I would say that one night would be all you really need.

Throughout these travel posts I have been chronicling my spending and it’s time for the big roundup. Here is what I spent on two weeks travelling in Germany and Austria (and a little bit of Slovakia) –

Transport (Mulhouse to Munich to Innsbruck to Vienna) – €91.40 (£77.74)
Accommodation (15 nights in hostels) – €423.93 (£360.57)
Eating out – €220.65 (£187.67)
Groceries – €66.77 (£56.79)
Activities – €40.50 (£34.45)
Miscellaneous (trams, small souvenirs etc.)- €43.30 (£36.83)

And with that, it really is the end of the travelling series! Next stop: Tenerife!


Welcome back to the final instalment of this travel series! It’s taken a while to get here because I’ve been caught up doing some exciting things but you’ll just have to wait to read about those! (Or you can follow the blog on Instagram @sara_somewhere_ for more current updates!) My final stop was Vienna, the capital of Austria. Even though I was already in Austria, Innsbruck and Vienna are almost on opposite sides of the country from each other. Saying that, it only takes about four hours to get from one to the other by train. This was my last stop on my trip before flying to Dublin for a family party and quickly moving on to Tenerife to volunteer in a hostel through Workaway. Once again I will take you through what I got up to, day by day, including my costs for each day as well.

The Vienna Opera House

Monday 9 May

I started my journey to Vienna by leaving Innsbruck mid-morning. Now, here I have to admit to a rookie travel mistake. When I was booking all my trains for this trip, I acccidentally booked a train from Munich to Vienna instead of Innsbruck to Vienna. It was a non-refundable ticket so I looked at how much it would cost to book a new ticket from the right city but I also looked at the stops that the Munich to Vienna train would be making. One of these stops was Salzburg, a city just an hour and a half north-east of Innsbruck. I figured out that it would be cheaper to keep the wrong ticket, book one from Innsbruck to Salzburg and then hop on the original service there. Overall the two tickets cost me €53.65.

When I got to the train I saw that it was actually going to Vienna anyway, even though I only had a ticket to Salzburg. I asked the conductor if I could stay on to save me having to wait an hour in between trains and got an expected no but it’s always worth asking. I had one hour to waste in the station in Salzburg where I bought some food (€6) and then it was on to Vienna. The journey was easy, if a little longer than necessary, and I was welcomed to Vienna with some glorious weather. I set out towards my hostel, originally planning on getting the tram but by the time I figured out that I had missed the stop I was already halfway there.

A building along the Naschmarkt

I was staying in the same chain of hostels as I did in Munich, Wombat’s City Hostel. It was right by the Naschmarkt, a 1.5 km stretch of food stalls and restaurants that has been around for 500 years. It was originally a milk market until 1793 when authorities declared that any produce arriving in Vienna using a route other than the Danube river had to be traded here. The hostel was even nicer than the one in Munich, with a small coffee counter as you walk in, a bar tucked further into the back and a large dining space upstairs next to the kitchen. The location was great as well, like I said it was right next to the Naschmarkt that is lined with some really beautiful buildings and it was only a 15 minute walk into the city centre. For five nights in a six bed mixed dorm I paid €141.28.

As I was settling into my dorm room I got talking to some of my roommates. There was an American girl called Hannah who had actually been in the same hostel as me in Munich at the same time although we hadn’t crossed paths and a Honduran guy called Andres! What are the chances! Safe to say we had a good old chat about Honduras. The three of us went for dinner together to one of the restaurants in the Naschmarkt (€14.50) and then had some drinks in the hostel bar (€11.40). It was really fun getting to chat to a bunch of people, although sadly most of them were leaving the next day.

The delicious hummus and falafel I had in the Naschmarkt

My first day in Vienna, not including the transport and accommodation costs, came out at €31.90. You’ll see that my daily spending in Vienna goes up and down a bit more than it did in either Munich or Innsbruck, sometimes managing to stay below my initial budget of €20 a day and sometimes being over even the adjusted €30 a day budget.

Tuesday 10 May 

After only making it on to a walking tour on my last day in Munich, despite being of the opinion that these are great first day activities, I had come to Vienna more prepared and pre-booked a free walking tour for my first full day. I went with Nic, a guy I had met in my hostel in Munich who was in Vienna at the same time as me, as well as (a different) Hannah, a girl from Edinburgh that I had met in the hostel bar the night before. I picked up a quick breakfast from the Aldi next door (called Hoefer in Austria) before we left (€2 for a croissant and a banana plus a €2.20 espresso from the hostel coffee bar).

After a little bit of confusion over the meeting point for the tour we eventually found the guide, a German guy who has been living in Vienna for 10 years and is clearly a bit of a history buff. This tour was with Prime Tours who have a range of options across cities in Eastern Europe and even multiple versions of the tour in Vienna, including the classic one (which I did), one focusing on Hitler and Vienna around 1900 and a craft beer tour. Like with the one I did in Munich, reserving a place on the tour is free but at the end you are encouraged to leave a tip for the guide. You can leave as much as you want, depending on how much you enjoyed it, but I think it’s important to bear in mind that these tours often last a couple of hours and the guide puts a lot of work into them. Specifically in Austria, becoming a tour guide involves taking an intensive 8 month course or the more spread out two year option followed by THREE exams. It can be tempting to take the ‘free’ part of ‘free walking tour’ a bit too literally or just to chuck in a few euros at the end but that isn’t fair on the people that make it possible for us to get to know these amazing cities. Even without the official course and exams of Austria, tour guides everywhere spend years accumulating their knowledge and then present it to you in an understandable, engaging, two-hour package and they deserve to be fairly compensated for that.

The meeting point for this tour was next to the Albertina Museum (apparently one of the best museums in Vienna, if a little expensive), in a small square with a monument against fascism and war. Even though the tour was two hours long, we didn’t actually cover that much ground. We spent a long time working our way through the Hofburg, the imperial palace of the Hapsburg dynasty. You can see several different styles in the different wings that were added over the years and it was interesting to see the influence of the individual rulers who added to the complex. Just behind the Hofburg is Heldenplatz (Hero’s Square) where you can currently find some temporary offices for Austria’s parliamentarians while the actual parliament building is under renovation. You can also find two statues that give the square its name, one of Archduke Charles of Austria and the other of Prince Eugene of Savoy, both on horseback. Despite the fact both statues are meant to commemorate the men as heroes, both suffered crushing defeats either just before or just after the statues were unveiled!

We carried on past the residences of both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, through some very grand side streets, past Michaelerplatz with the Hofburg on one side and Roman excavations at its centre, finally arriving at Stephansplatz with the iconic St. Stephen’s cathedral. This is one of Vienna’s and even Austria’s most important symbols. This was the end of the tour and after giving the guide his tip (€10) I spent a bit of time recovering from all the walking by chilling in the sun in Burggarten, a cute little garden at the back of the Albertina museum.


After a busy morning out in the glorious weather I had a chill afternoon back at the hostel before going out into the Naschmarkt for dinner with Nic. It was very handy having it right on the doorstep of the hostel because as well as having lots of stalls and shops for buying ingredients there are plenty of restaurants too. We opted for pizza at a place that didn’t look too expensive (because there are some more bougie options around) and we were right because my pizza only cost €12. To top off the evening we went to the bar in the hostel and played some pool with Hannah from my dorm room and some new people we met.

St Michael’s Cathedral

With the €6.60 I spent on drinks in the bar and €3.78 on a few groceries, my total for today was €36.58. I was pushing it a little, even on the new extended budget but I tried not to get stressed about it. The budget was really more of a guideline so I didn’t blow through all my money too fast (or am I only saying that because I did blow through all my money today? You decide…).

Wednesday 11 May 

Waking up to my third day in Vienna, I didn’t really have any solid plans. After the walking tour yesterday, I felt like I had seen a lot of the centre of the city but I wanted to go back and see it again under my own steam. I retraced our footsteps from the day before but a little sped up. I was able to explore the areas I wanted to see a bit more, like Maria-Theresien-Platz where you can find the natural history museum and the fine arts museum. The very central area of Vienna is encased in a ring road that once marked the outer limits of the city. I followed this around to Volksgarten, another beautiful park, and sat there reading for a while. I also passed by the parliament building that is currently being renovated and the Rathaus (city hall).

Natural History Museum

I had the vague idea that I wanted to walk down to the river, for no particular reason, and while I didn’t actually make it there it did mean that I got to walk through some much quieter, less touristy neighbourhoods. On my way I passed by Central Cafe, another icon of Vienna for its beautiful interior and importance to Viennese intellectuals. I contemplated going in to sample a piece of Sachertorte, an Austrian staple, but all the luxury (and the prices!) seemed a bit beyond me! Sachertorte is a chocolate cake with apricot jam that was invented in the city. (Interestingly there is a dispute as to whether the original comes from Hotel Sacher or the Demel cafe. Eduard Sacher first made the cake while an apprentice in Demel and then set up his own establishment, Hotel Sacher.) Instead, I stumbled upon a great little place called Pickwick’s. It markets itself as an English speaking bar and restaurant but is also a bookshop and video store. It was covered in movie posters and had floor to ceiling bookshelves – my kind of place! I got a drink there (€4.30), taking the chance to shelter from the heat and sun for a while, plus it only felt right to get my book out again.


My wander through the city had taken me across the city centre and out the other side so when I was ready to go back to the hostel I was quite far away. I figured I had already gotten my steps in for the day so I gave my aching feet a rest and got the U-bahn (subway) back. I spent the evening chatting with Hannah from my dorm and arranging a day trip for the next day. It’s going to get its own bonus travel blog but if you’ve been to Vienna or know the geography of that area, you can probably guess. Hint: it’s the capital of a neighbouring country.

After a few days of upper or over budget spending, today came to a respectable €13.98. On top of my drink at Pickwick’s, I spent €4.08 on some groceries, €3.20 on a coffee and €2.40 on a U-bahn ticket. Not eating out today definitely contributed to lower spending. My normal habits were usually one meal out a day, often lunch while I was out and about, but while in Vienna I also made sandwiches to bring with me a couple of times to save a little more here and there.

Friday 13 May

After my day trip out of Vienna on Thursday (more on that here), for my final full day I had a nice surprise! One of my friends that I had visited in Innsbruck had decided to come through to Vienna for a night! Ciara had been thinking about it for a while and in the end booked a last minute train and hostel. She arrived around lunchtime and had a great suggestion of what we could do. You might remember that in Munich I spent one afternoon at the Müller’sches Volksbad, an art nouveau swimming pool. Ciara suggested that we visit Amalienbad, an art deco style swimming pool built around 1926 in the Vienna worker’s district. It is named after Amalie Pölzer, a social democratic councillor, at a time when most of the squares in the area were named after the royal family. Naming the pool after a worker represented the fact that the pool was built to bring the traditionally more bourgeois activity of bathing to the proletariat. The inside of the pool was stunning but very different to what I had seen in Müller’sches Volksbad. The interior would not look out of place in a Wes Anderson film with the brown and golden tones of the tiles and changing room doors contrasting beautifully with the bright blue of the pool. There were diving boards at one end and sun loungers lining the pool. It was a lovely, chilled way to spend an hour.


After we finished swimming, we got the tram over to Belvedere Palace. Because I was running about the city a bit more today, the pool being a bit further out, I bought a 24 hour tram ticket for €8. This was a pretty good price considering I could use it the next morning to get out to the airport as well. Belvedere, technically made up of two palaces, was the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy. It was one of the final places that I wanted to see in Vienna so I spent a bit of time wandering around the gardens while Ciara went to visit an exhibition of Black Austrian artists in Belvedere 21, a contemporary art museum in the gardens of the Belvedere. I didn’t have time to go and see the exhibition because I had to get back to the hostel and pack my suitcase but it turned out that it was only opening the day after anyway!

Belvedere Palace

I went back out in the evening to have dinner with Ciara. We met at Stephansplatz, by the cathedral, and wandered around a bit first, enjoying the nice evening light on all the beautiful buildings. We had nowhere in particular in mind for dinner so settled on a nice Italian place that we passed by where I had a pizza, some chips to share and a Hugo for €18.80. It was lovely to spend a little more time with Ciara and have a buddy for the day, even if it was short and sweet. I was leaving quite early the next morning but getting to the airport was super easy. I already had my 24 hour tram pass and I just needed to add on a city limits ticket for €1.80 that would allow me to take the S7 train out to the airport. There is the dedicated CAT train that leaves from Wien Mitte station and takes you directly to the airport in 16 minutes but the S-bahn is much cheaper and really not much longer or more hassle.

For my final day in Vienna I spent a grand total of €31.10. On top of my 24 hour tram pass and my dinner, I also spent €0.69 on a banana and a croissant for breakfast and €3.60 on a latte.


I was really happy with everything I got to do in Vienna but there’s always things left over. One of the big sights that I didn’t get to was Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Hapsburg family. It’s a little further out of the city centre and doesn’t really have anything else that I wanted to see around it so I couldn’t make it fit into my plans. From what I’ve seen, it reminds me a little of Schloss Nymphenburg in Munich. The palace(s) are one thing but then there’s also a massive garden where you could waste away a day. Another place still on my list is the Schmetterlinghaus (the Butterfly House). Multiple people recommended this to me when I was asking for things to do in Vienna. In the end I just didn’t have time but I loved Vienna so much that I already know I’ll be back. Finally, something Ciara was really keen to see but that I had never heard of was the Hundertwasserhaus. It was built by Friedensreich Hundertwasser and is a stunning mosaic of colours and shapes. Because I found out about it last minute and Ciara and I had already packed a lot into our day together, it’s just another thing I’ll have to see next time.

Vienna saw the end of my two weeks of travelling. When I left I headed to Dublin for a couple of days for my uncle’s delayed 50th (thanks covid!) and got to catch up with his family who I hadn’t seen in three years. I also got to see my mum and one of my sisters which was nice. In general I loved my two weeks on the road. Seeing new places and meeting new people energises me in a special way and collecting new experiences is always special. It’s tiring as well though! It was nice being amongst family for a few days because there’s an ease to the interactions there but at this point I was also looking forward to getting to Tenerife and staying there for a bit longer. I was pleased with my choices of where I visited and a lot of people I met were doing similar routes, sometimes in the opposite direction and often for longer. For many of them the next stop after Vienna was Budapest as it’s only a couple of hours on the train. Budapest is somewhere that’s always been on my radar and I do wish that I had thought about adding it when I was planning. I had five days in each place which was good because I had plenty of time to get to know each place but if I had shortened my stay by one day in each city, I definitely could have added in Budapest.


For now, there is one more bonus travel blog to come and then we are on to Tenerife, baby!

A final breakdown of my spending –
Transport (incorrect Munich to Vienna ticket and Innsbruck to Salzburg ticket) – €53.65
Accommodation (5 nights in a 6 bed mixed dorm room) – €141.28
Average daily spending – €31.91

Check out the bonus travel blog up next for a look at my overall spending for two weeks travelling in Central Europe!


Next stop on my trip was Innsbruck, Austria. Less than two hours away from Munich, Innsbruck is in the mountainous Tyrol region of Austria, nestled between the Alps. It is a well known destination for winter sports (you can read a little more about one in particular later on). This trip was actually planned around coming to Innsbruck which might surprise some people. The reason I wanted to visit was because I had some friends, Emily and Ciara, that were doing part of their Erasmus year there. I met them while they were in Mulhouse last semester to study French and this semester they have been in Innsbruck to study German. I knew I wanted to go to Innsbruck from the beginning and Munich was a nice stopover after leaving Mulhouse plus I figured that while I was in Austria I might as well visit the capital, Vienna!

I’m going to take you day by day through what I did in Innsbruck, like I did in Munich, although this is less of an itinerary. Innsbruck is obviously a perfect place to do some hiking or outdoor activities but after a little accident (I won’t keep you in suspense for too long, the story is coming next), I wasn’t able to do much of these. My main priority while in Innsbruck was also more to catch up with my friends than to see the city. However, I will still include my costs so you can continue to see my spending over the trip. If you are too impatient, you can also check out the blog on Instagram, @sara_somewhere_, where I’ve already posted a reel summarising my spending over the two week trip!

Thursday 5 May

As I said in the Munich blog, I got into Innsbruck at around half 5. What I didn’t mention is that the first thing I did after arriving was throw myself down the stairs in the train station. I somehow missed a step, lost my footing and just went down like a ton of bricks. My ankle got twisted pretty badly under me and so we had to take a few minutes before I could move. Everyone passing, people travelling or working in the station, were very nice and tried to help but all I really needed was a minute to gather myself. Thankfully, once I was back on my feet, I could still put weight on my ankle and therefore walk. Moving it or rotating it, however, was something different.

Our first stop was my hostel which was a little far from the centre of Innsbruck, about 20 minutes on the tram. It was a Hostelling International hostel so it was a bit more business-like and clean cut than the Wombat’s hostel that I had just come from. Saying that, the room was very nice. I was in a four bed dorm, much more compact than my room in Wombat’s but with enough space. It also was never full during my five nights stay and I even had one night by myself, an absolute luxury! We didn’t stay long, just long enough for me to make my bed and freshen up, and then we headed back into town. Even though the hostel was quite far from the centre of the city, any guests staying more than two nights are given a free public transport card so you can hop on and off the tram and buses as you please! Also included in this Welcome Card are various discounts for mountain cable cars and lots of activities with more becoming available the longer you stay. I didn’t use any of them as a lot of the activities required two working ankles but it would be a great thing if you were looking to get some adventures in during your stay!

Back in town we headed to what is probably the central plaza of Innsbruck, Maria-Theresien Strasse, where we were immediately tempted by an ice cream shop. Ice cream for dinner is not just acceptable but encouraged while on holiday. Shoutout to that ice cream shop which saw me three times in the five days I was there. Fully recommend the passion fruit flavour, fig and walnut and the mango sorbet. Our main destination was a cool bar called Tribe Haus where we wanted to get some food. Unfortunately it was packed so we just had a drink. Since arriving in France I have discovered and become obsessed with a Hugo (not a French boy but a popular apéro drink with the same vibe as an aperol spritz). There’s something about the combo of prosecco, elderflower syrup, lime and mint that is one of the most refreshing things you can drink. It was nice to catch up with Ciara and Emily and find out what they’ve been up to in Innsbruck and how much they miss us in Mulhouse!

It was a nice welcome evening (sprained ankle aside). My foot was feeling alright but a little tender and had definitely swollen a lot by the time I went to bed. This being a travel day, I included the costs at the end of the Munich blog so you can find them there if you haven’t read it already.

Friday 6 May

First priority today was to follow my doctor dad’s recommendation and find a brace to support my ankle. Thankfully I had my German translator with me (dankeschön Ciara) because ich spreche kein Deutsch (I’ll let you guess what that means). After trying a couple of places we finally found one and it gave me immediate relief. I said that my ankle wasn’t necessarily sore unless I rotated it but there was this uncomfortable pressure. I couldn’t actually fit my foot in my trainer in the morning so I was wearing this ankle brace with my Birkenstock sandals. Is that better or worse than socks and sandals? As this was an extraordinary expense I didn’t include it in my budget but we celebrated our success with a coffee and an ice cream (€7 in total plus another €2 for a cheeky supermarket sandwich).

Maria-Theresien Strasse

Emily joined us at this point and we headed out to our main attraction of the day, Bergisel. This is a ski jump overlooking the city that was used for the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976. We got the bus over, free thanks to my transport card from the hostel, and then had a short but steep walk up to a viewpoint where you can get a panoramic view over the city. Here you can also find the Tirol Panorama, a museum on the history of the Tyrol region, and the Kaiserjäger Museum, a museum on the Tyrolean Imperial Infantry. Another short but steep walk takes you to the bottom of the ski jump where a student ticket cost me €8 (€9.50 for an adult ticket).

You enter the grounds next to the stands that can hold 26,000 people and get an impressive and rather intimidating view up to the top of the jump. It is 455 steps up to the top of the jump but thankfully there is also a lift in case you are also down one ankle. The lift takes you to the top of the hill but you still aren’t at the top. Another lift takes you up to the top of the building where you get the most incredible view of the valley that Innsbruck sits in. One floor down is a restaurant and also the starting point for the skiers. You can go and stand at the top of the ramp, look down and question whether or not you would have it in you to jump. The ramp is 98 metres long and the landing slope is 37º steep in some places. The official record set here was a jump of 138m from Michael Hayböck.

After taking in the viewing and deciding that none of us had the guts to make that kind of jump, we decided to have a wee drink in the restaurant. I was again tempted by a Hugo that cost me €6. I headed back to my hostel to have some chill time before heading out again in the evening to have some drinks and meet some of Emily and Ciara’s other Erasmus friends. We went to an Irish bar because it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, there’s always an Irish bar called Limerick Bill’s and it always has good vibes. A couple of pints here cost me €15. One of the people I met was from Harrogate in the north of England and actually knew or knew of two of my university flatmates who are also from there! Small world eh?

I really enjoyed today because visiting the ski jump felt like a really random thing to do but was actually really cool and interesting. Because it sits atop such a high hill you can see it from many points in the city, including the tram back to my hostel, and it lights up at night so it’s very visible. In total I spent €38 today, the drinks and the paid activity really destroying my budget for the day. This might be the point where I saw my costs start to go up a bit more so I started aiming more for €30 a day if €20 didn’t feel possible.

Saturday 7 May

I wasn’t feeling great when I woke up this morning but thankfully not because of my ankle which was actually feeling better. I also realised this morning that my hostel came with a free continental breakfast! Emily and Ciara both had some work to do and because I wasn’t feeling great, I was quite happy to accompany them to a cafe and just do some work. It was a very chill day that I spent blogging, once I started to feel a bit better. Overall, not much to report from this day. I spent €6 on a sandwich and then €4.50 on a milkshake later in the afternoon, plus €12.90 on some groceries for my dinner and the next day for a total of €23.50, just slightly over budget.

Sunday 8 May

I was woken up nice and early this morning, in true hostel style, by the group in the other rooms on my floor who I suspect were some kind of teenage sports team with no concept of sharing the space with others. I was meeting Ciara for brunch later in the morning but I was awake so early that I still took advantage of the free breakfast.

We met around midday at a spot that Ciara had been wanting to try called the Breakfast Club. It must be some kind of law that every country must have somewhere with this name. I had an omelette with onion, cheese and bacon (€12.80) and Ciara had toast with this delicious looking almond and spinach spread. Both came with a wee glass of elderflower juice which is very common in this area. The weather was glorious after a few more cloudy days so after breakfast we decided to take a stroll. We walked by Triumphforte, a gate built to honour the marriage of Archduke Leopold to the Spanish princess Maria Luisa. Unfortunately, while the arch was being constructed Leopold’s father died unexpectedly so the south side commemorates the wedding and the north side is dedicated to the memory of his father. We also passed by what is considered the symbol of Innsbruck, the Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl). It was built by Emperor Maximilian I to celebrate his wedding to Blanca Maria Sforza in 1500.

The Golden Roof

It was such a nice day that it would have been rude not to get an ice cream (€3.40) before we visited one of the museums in the city. The Taxi Palais Kunsthalle Tirol is a contemporary art museum that shows up to four exhibitions per year. The exhibition when I was there was called GODDESSES and it included various works by four different artists that were installed gradually with performances by Ursula Beiler in between. The first section had paintings by Elizabeth von Samsonow, very abstract and using bright, almost neon, colours which I liked a lot. The second section by Tejal Shah had three or four short films or videos playing on a loop. My favourite part of this section was a poem that was spelled out letter by letter in Morse code. There was a film room showing a film by Karrabing Film Collective, an indigenous Australian grassroots collective, called Mermaids, or Aiden in Wonderland. Karrabing ‘refers to a form of collectivity outside of government-imposed structures of clanship or land ownership’. We came in halfway through so it was a bit confusing to start with but made more sense once we had watched it in its entirety. I say it made more sense but I still didn’t fully understand it, not that that was a bad thing because it meant that I was still thinking about it for a few days after seeing it. The final section of the exhibition was a room downstairs with large square pillows made from beautifully patterned material arranged within a circle of speakers playing choral music in Igbo. The installation, by Emeka Ogboh, was called Ámà (meaning village square in Igbo, the language of the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria) and is supposed to evoke that sense of gathering and community that a village square represents. It was a very tranquil and relaxing experience, lying down on the pillows and listening to the music. It was only €4 for a student ticket and because of the nature of the exhibit, that it was installed over time (though it was complete when we saw it), you could use the same ticket four times which is great value for money.

Austria is the same as France and Germany in that most things are closed on a Sunday, things like shops and supermarkets at least, so after leaving the museum we sought out the only supermarket that was still open. I spent €8 on a salad for dinner as well as a highly coveted can of Heinz tomato soup! It’s one of the things I sometimes missed in Mulhouse but couldn’t find anywhere so when I saw it in M. Preiss I knew I had to get it. After a lovely day, I headed back to my hostel for the last time to relax a bit before leaving the next morning. My total for the day was €28.20 so just under my new, adjusted budget of €30 a day.

There were definitely plenty of other things that I wanted to do in Innsbruck that I didn’t get the chance to. It would have been nice to get out into the mountains a bit, either using one of the many cable cars in the area or as a hike. Unfortunately my ankle stopped me from even considering that. It’s also a great place for winter sports, as evidenced by the Bergisel ski jump, so skiing here would be really cool. However, my intention was always to spend these few days catching up with my friends and I feel satisfied with the time I spent with them and the things we did together.

As for my final thoughts on Innsbruck, this was a great opportunity to visit a city that it’s unlikely I would have visited otherwise. For me, my highlight was the stunning scenery. Whether it was the sweeping vistas from the top of the Bergisel or the many vivid colours of the buildings, especially along the river, I had my breath taken away multiple times. It was also nice to see Emily and Ciara in their new environment, after seeing them on Erasmus in Mulhouse.

Last but not least, a breakdown of my costs –
Transport (train from Munich to Innsbruck) – €19.50
Accommodation (5 nights in a 4 bed female dorm) – €140
Average daily spending – €29.90