TRAVELLING IN THE WINTER: Don’t wait for the weather to be good!

It’s very easy to find places to go in the summer. But who wants to wait this long to go somewhere? Here are a few ideas of places to visit this winter:

1. Go to a big city

The big European capitals have a lot to offer, so it’s easy to find something to do indoors. Berlin is a good option, as you can spend a lot of time in museums and cafes, but there are also good Christmas markets around.

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2. Escape the cold

You don’t need to travel halfway across the globe to find somewhere warmer. Morocco and Egypt are quite warm during the winter, and can be reached within 3-4 hours.

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3. Discover somewhere new

Last December we went to Ljubljana just because we wanted to go somewhere – it was great! Very cold, but a great little trip.

There’s still time to go somewhere this winter!

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THE 5-MINUTE TRIP PLANNER: A weekend in Paris

I love Paris! I’ve been many times and will go back again in February.

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There are lots of things to see and do, and you can easily spend a month getting lost in the many different areas of the city.

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But Paris is also perfect for a long weekend, as it’s so close to London.

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: Hop on the Eurostar after work and arrive right at the centre of Paris. The journey takes only a little over 2 hours, and if you book in advance it’s also the cheapest way to go.
  • Sleep: Staying in Paris can be really expensive, but if you do your research there are good budget options around. I’m staying at Le Rocroy, but there are lots of good options around Montmartre as well.
  • Do: Spend a whole day in the Louvre or catch the latest exhibition at the Grand Palais; get lost in Montmartre; go for a meal and drinks around le Marais; discover a little cafe around the corner… there’s really no way to get it wrong in Paris!

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The 5-minute trip planner: Planning a short trip in no time.

IN PICTURES: 5 of my favourite travel photos

1. The tiny frog, Amazon

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I took this picture during a walk in the Brazilian jungle. This tiny frog seemed at home on my boyfriend’s back. You can also see our guide in the background.

2. Rock bridge, Wadi Rum

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I took loads of pictures in Wadi Rum as the place was absolutely stunning. This photo was taken by our guide, who climbed up a nearby rock to capture us on the top of this natural bridge.

3. Catch the sun, Chile

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I’ve had lots of attempts at taking a good picture of the sun. This has always been my favourite. I especially like it nowadays as it was published on National Geographic Traveller.

4. Chasing rainbows, French-Swiss border

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My friends and I saw this amazing double rainbow and stopped to take some photos. I got back into the car just in time to get this shot of them – I love it!

5. Red phone boxes, London

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I took this picture with my Diana Mini. You never know what you’re gonna get with analogue photos, but this perfectly captures this iconic British symbol.

THE ARTS BIENNALE IN VENICE

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Sometimes when you want something for a long time you forget that you can simply do it.

I always wanted to go to the arts Biennale in Venice. So last year I bought tickets and actually did it!

There are exhibits all over the city, but there are two main venues: Giardini (with individual pavilions for different countries) and Arsenale (one large pavilion with many exhibits).

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We bought a day ticket, but really you need at least one day for each venue.

There was so much to see, it was amazing! Art in all forms and media from all over the world in a very impressive set up. We liked it so much that we’re going again next year!

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: There are lots of flights from London and the journey takes only a little over 2h, so this is a great option for a weekend away.
  • Tickets: You can buy tickets to the Biennale here. A day ticket costs 23.50€.
  • Stay: Venice is an expensive city, so book in advance to get good prices. We stayed at San Geremia, which was a good option at a good location.
  • Do: Apart from the Biennale, there’s lots to do in Venice. Explore the canals, buy Carnival masks and marvel at the Doge’s Palace. But also take some time to go around San Polo district, where you can see a more authentic side of Venice.

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Why not start planning your trip to somewhere you always wanted to visit?

WISHLIST: Have you heard about Philae recently?

Philae has been all over the news recently because it’s the name of the spacecraft that successfully landed on a comet.

But Philae is also this amazing island in Egypt:

Photo by Ivan Marcialis (https://www.flickr.com/photos/marcialis)

It is a Unesco Heritage site, which was relocated in the 70s because of the construction of a dam.

I had never heard of it before the comet landing, but now this place is definitely on my list!

HAVING FUN IN THE SOUKS: Tips on shopping in Marrakech

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I don’t normally think about shopping when I travel, but haggling in the souks is a part of everyone’s time in Marrakech.

There is so much amazing local handicraft on offer (and at great prices), that somehow everyone ends up buying a few (or lots of) things to bring back home.

Getting lost in the souks is part of the fun, and you can easily spend hours trying to find your way around amid all the tapestry, silverware, ceramics and stalls selling all sorts of products.

Not everyone likes haggling, but that’s not really optional in the souks. I actually quite enjoy the process! So here are my tips on how to survive the souks:

  • Start by doing some window-shopping at a fixed-price shop. L’Emsemble Artisanal is a good place to visit before hitting the souks. There you can check what is on offer and see how much everything costs. Prices are higher than in the souks, but money goes straight to the producers.
  • Decide how much you want to pay for things. In the souks everything is worth what the parties agree, so decide on a price and start with an offer somewhat lower than that.
  • Don’t be afraid to start low. Sometimes you end up buying an item for a third of the price originally suggested by the seller, so don’t be afraid to start low. On the other hand, if the asking price is not much higher than what you want to pay, there’s no need to ask for an even lower price.
  • Speak French. This may not be possible for everyone, but speaking French makes a MASSIVE difference.
  • Tell stories. Stall-holders in the souks will always tell you stories: ‘you’re the first client of the day’, ‘you’re the last client of the day’, ‘I have a cousin/brother/friend who lives in England’. Make sure you have your own repertoire: ‘this is my last day here’, ‘it doesn’t fit in the suitcase’, etc.
  • Be happy with what you got. You may not always get what you want because sometimes you may not agree on a price with the seller. That is fine – what you do get, normally comes with a good story alongside it!

Get shopping!

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4 DAYS IN MARRAKESH: returning to one of my favourite places

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I’m mostly an urban soul, but inexplicably Marrakech resonates with me like almost nowhere else. This was my fourth time there and I loved it all over again – it’s only a few hours from London but it’s a completely different place.

There were five of us, so we rented a whole riad just for ourselves. This place was amazing: three ensuite double bedrooms, a tree growing in the middle of the living room, a terrace with views over the Koutoubia mosque… perfect!

This was also the first time I stayed around Mouassine/Bab Laksour, an area of the Medina that I really liked.

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Djemaa El Fna:

Marrakech’s main square is a Unesco Heritage site due to its amazing atmosphere. The place is always packed with locals and tourists, with anything from serpent charmers during the day to live Berber music in the evenings. It’s easy to spend hours around the many cafes and restaurants simply watching the world go by.

Jardin Marjorelle:

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We took a taxi from the Medina and headed to Jardin Marjorelle. Taking taxis in Marrakech can be a painful experience which involves taxi drivers trying to overcharge you in a range of different ways.

But these gardens really are worth a visit. The place was owned by Yves Saint Laurent, but have been open to the public since his death.

The place is beautifully decorated with plant pots in vibrant colours.

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Bab Agnaou / Saadian Tombs:

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I had never been to Bab Agnaou before. This is a very impressive gate in one of the walls of the Medina, and the area around it was also nice.

Nearby are the opulent Saadian Tombs, a mausoleum beautifully decorated. A short walk away is Badi Palace, with its many stork nests. This is also the area of the Kasbah, with its narrow streets and terracota buildings.

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House of Photography:

La Maison de la Photographie was another place we visited on this trip. This is a nice museum in the Medina. There is a wide range of early photographs of Morocco, and you can see how much and how little the country has changed over the past hundred years.

Food:

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The local food is one of my favourite things in Morocco, with lots of options and great prices. I always stock up on dates, pistachio nuts, olives, pomegranate and other local delicacy.

I also love the local restaurants. Earth Cafe is an old favourite, a veggie place with amazing flavours. Chegrouni at Djemaa El Fna has great food and is perfect for people watching.

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Other great places I visited this time were Souk Kafe (great atmosphere), Le Jardin (same owners as the popular Terrasse des Epices), Dar Cherifa (in a beautifully restored riad), Kosy Bar (great local white wine) and Dar Tazi (right next to the Maison de la Photographie). But it’s always good to ask for recommendations, as many amazing places are hidden behind unassuming doors.

But really Marrakech has so much variety and so many options that you’re spoilt for choice.

Day trip to the Atlas mountains:

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We decided to take a day trip to the Atlas mountains, and arranged it at the riad where we were staying.

We left Marrakech at 9.30. Our first stop was a cooperative where women produce Argan oil. We then stopped at a market town, which didn’t have a particularly good market AND we were massively harassed the whole time we were there.

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We quickly left that behind and drove through dry valleys to reach Asni, a small town in the foothills of the Atlas mountains, where we stopped for a hike. Our local guide took us through Berber villages and the scenic countryside.

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After a couple of hours we reached Chez Momo, a guest house ideally located which served a very nice vegetable couscous.

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We hit the road back to Marrakech through a different route, stopping to take pictures of the views along the way.

Our driver dropped us back at the riad at around 5pm. The trip cost 120€ for all 5 of us, plus 250 dirhams for the guided hike. Lunch at Chez Momo cost around 15€ per person.

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: flights from London take about 3h30. They’re not as cheap as they used to be – return tickets with Easyjet cost around £150.
  • Stay: staying in a riad hugely improves your Moroccan experience. These buildings often have sunny terraces and beautiful courtyard fountains. Expect to pay around 60€ for a double room in a nice riad – but cheaper places are available from as little as 20€ for a room. After this experience, I recommend staying around Mouassine, which is a great area – close to Djemaa El Fna but quieter than other areas. We stayed at this riad which we booked through Airbnb and is a great place if you’re travelling with a group of people.

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Every time I go to Marrakech I discover something new – there’s so much to see and do! I’m already planning what I want to do next time I’m around. I’ve only just left but can’t wait to go back!