Marrakech, Morocco x December 2017: Day Two

(Let me put this out there before anything)

A day (and even a few hours) prior to our flight, we had been hearing stories about how the place we were headed to can get dangerous – warnings about strikes, etc. I was even sent a screenshot of a travel advisory for tourists about visiting Morocco.

Now that we are back in the United Kingdom, all I can say is: I am just so glad we still went on that trip. No regrets.

Our second day (or our first full day) started early. As agreed on, we were picked up at 0900 and brought to La Jardin Majorelle – which was one of the places I suggested to be put on our itinerary as it was highly recommended on Pinterest (tip: Pinterest is a lifesaver in ways I have never imagined before).

Though it did not seem as wide as other botanic gardens we had been to before, La Jardin Majorelle boasted of many planted treasures – cactus and palm trees included. For most part of the garden, there seemed to be a tug-of-war of blues (as most of the structures were painted such) and greens – totally making it photo-worthy.

We decided to pay for admission to the gardens only (70dh) but if you are keen on visiting the Berber Museum as well, you could with another 30dh.

It took us about two hours to roam around the place, bask in the warmth of the sun which was peeking through the rows of tall cacti and palm trees, and take photos.

There were friendly staff around too. Funnily enough, while I was taking turns with two other friends to take photos of each other, one of the staff approached us and ‘choreographed’ our shots. In total, he took about ten or more photos of us three in different angles and locations around the garden. ūüėÖ

Apart from the garden, this famous tourist spot is also home to Berber Museum, an Yves Saint Laurent art gallery, and a cafe. Plus, clean toilets!!

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hich was Marrakech's main square located within the old walled part of the city known as the medina. Our eyes were swarmed with cafes (most of them having rooftop terraces), vendors selling a variety of things, locals carrying around monkeys and offering tattoos, an array of palm trees, kalesas, and the souk (marketplace). As soon as we were dropped off, our first order of business was to have our money changed to dirhams.

We barely made it halfway through the center of the main square when a woman approached one of our friends and started talking. The next thing we knew, her arm was being tattooed despite her refusing a couple of times. Ironically, this was the same friend who warned us just a few minutes before to watch out for locals who would just grab your hand and sell you their business.

Unfortunately, we made the mistake of waiting for our friend in the middle of the square where there was another woman who came to us. And this time, she got me. At first, she seemed to be very friendly asking us where we came from and if we wanted tattoos. I did not want to be rude so I thought she would leave if I said we needed to have lunch first – oops, wrong move. Little did I know she grabbed my arm as well and started drawing on it and claiming it is for ‘good career, good husband, good luck’. Plus, she added it was for free.

As soon as she was done though, I knew I got ripped off. She charged me 300dh and kept on saying, ‘if you happy, i’m happy’. To be honest, I was not happy. I had a list of things I wanted to experience while on this holiday but I did not have this particular one in mind – and for a price so unreasonable (we found out later from our driver that it was only supposed to cost 30dh!!).

But then again, it was already there. There were places to go and food to eat and I did not want this incident to ruin the rest of the day for us.

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We went to the nearest cafe we saw which served Moroccan food. The Moroccan menu revolved mainly around tajine which is named after the pot where the food is cooked – it can either be beef, chicken, or a mix of vegetables with spices and marinade thrown in. <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
ices are a staple – all of which are made fresh. By the end of our trip, our tummies had enough of orange and/or mixed fruit juices.

When it was time to pay the bill, we were told off by our waiter for not giving enough tip. He said it took some effort to kept going upstairs to serve our order so we had to double what we initially gave him. To be fair though, we did pick a table located in the rooftop terrace as it offered a view overlooking the main square (tip: be more generous with tips, I guess?).

The next thing we decided to visit was the marketplace, more famously know as the souk. This reminded us of the local markets back home – selling everything from traditional Moroccan wear to herbs and oils and stones to scarves and souvenirs to take home.

Looking back now, I didn’t think it was a good idea to get inside the souk after we overspent on our handpaint. But then again, it might just be me. I was in a hurry to get out because when we gave the stalls even as much as a glance, the local vendors immediately thought we were going to buy something right away.

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then found our feet leading us to Marrakech Museum after we found our way out of the souk. Though not as massive as other museums, this place was well-kept and had a certain artsy vibe which I liked. However, most of the art descriptions were in French and did not have English translations so the place was more of a feast to our eyes than anything.

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one of the corners of the museum, you can buy a tiny piece of art where you choose which art (styles including Moroccan woman/man, a landscape of Marrakech, camels, among others) you want and they paint your name on the same card in Arabic for 10-20 dirhams. I just had to get mine done as well.

Probably a few hours later, we went back to the main square (through the souk) where food stalls and juice stands were starting to open. I read previously that the main square gets busy at around late afternoon until the evening for this very reason: food – glorious street food!! We already had our sight on the seafood and the mixed skewers but we decided to go up to one of the cafe terraces (for the second time that day) to witness the Moroccan sunset. However, when we got there (some place called Agana where they served coffee, hot drinks, and desserts and was flocked by other tourists), the Sun had already set and the place was packed that we didn't really get to appreciate this beauty of nature. But we appreciated their WiFi for sure, teehee.< em><<
ttle did we know, this was some of the first of the many mixed skewers and handheld bread we would be feasting on for the duration of the trip. I personally loved the chicken skewers and the calamares but was not much of a fan of their rice and bread. Tip: be extra vigilant with your order. When our food was being served, they brought something else we didn’t remember ordering. The good thing, though, is you can completely be blunt and refuse the order so you don’t have to pay for something you didn’t want in the first place.

Tip #2: the main square at night is not for the faint of heart. Locals manning the food stalls will try all they can (and I mean all) to lure you into their stall. Be brave and be firm. They are friendly, don’t get me wrong, but if you don’t intend to eat… learn to shake your head (again and again and again).

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Marrakech, Morocco x December 2017: Day One

It is 00:59 as I am typing this and my friends and I are on a midnight coach that is going to take us back home.

For some reason, I could not sleep. I did not get even just a power nap on the three-hour flight earlier from Marrakech Menara Airport to London Luton – which is why I have decided to just start on this travel entry. As promised to a few friends.

Five days ago, my friends and I escaped the harsh British weather (that is just getting meaner by the minute, by the way) and basked under the warmth of the Moroccan sun (man, I just feel so giddy saying that I’ve been to Morocco already!!!).

It was a trip that we had in mind for a couple of months to celebrate two of our birthdays. Also, it was a trip that, for a number of times, we were not too sure if it will push through – there were concerns about Visa requirements, passport expiry, and budget.

For the record, Philippine passport holders do not require Visa to enter Morocco. We had to contact our airline and their consulate to make sure of this.

As soon as that was sorted, we booked our tickets with Ryanair, our BnB, and our coach tickets for a four-hour trip from home to London Luton. As it was the first time for majority of us to be outside the United Kingdom (since we got here), we were also advised to get single travel insurances for the trip – which we did, at Sainsbury’s (¬£10-ish).

On the day of the trip, we hopped on an early morning coach to give us enough time to check in our luggage for our 1505 flight at London Luton. Thankfully, everything went smoothly – from the security check to boarding.

On the plane, my designated seat was right in the emergency exit lane while the rest of my friends were seated in the front rows. Maybe it was just my anxiety kicking in but, for the duration of the trip, it seemed like too much was going on. The plane engine was too loud and passengers kept on standing and swapping seats.

Four hours later, we arrived at Marrakech Menara Airport! Much to my relief, nothing happened during the flight as opposed to what I kept on imagining (teehee).

I have to say we were at awe at the design of the airport. On our last day, we were told by our hired driver/tour guide that part of this airport is “old”. Honestly, I cannot see what he was talking about as none of it looked old to me.

*Our BnB host arranged for us to be picked up by a local driver. As soon as we got on his van, we tried to find out if he we could hire him for transport for the next few days as we did not know how to go around and we did not want to be ripped off by taxi drivers.

We were brought to our Bnb… which again, much to my relief, did not disappoint. Since our first trip to Belfast, I had gotten used to be the one to take on the task of finding suitable accomodations for us. Trust me, I would rather find us homes than take charge of the budget or the itinerary.

Our Bnb was located inside a compound of some sorts. From the moment we got inside the bab (“gate”), we knew we would not have problems with our safety (+++) as they checked each of our passports and gave us cards which we presumed will be our IDs for the duration of our stay.

Our place was a three-storey house (with a rooftop terrace) with an open ceiling. It was well-kept just like how we saw it in the app and well-lit and very comfortable. There was a tiny problem with the heating system (so we had to make do with sharing one bathroom) and the Wifi was not as fast as how we were used to but the rest of the place made up for that.

Since it was already late when we arrived, we thought it best just to have a quick dinner by one of the cafes located inside the compound. There were stores there as well from where we got our supplies of canned goods, eggs, and water for the next days.

First order of business: pastries from Aldi (lol just kidding). Moroccan patisserie (10dh).

Tip (from an amateur, I might add): it is best to download the offline versions of Google Translate and Google Maps when visiting cities such as this one. The former will do you good especially when looking through the menus of restaurants/cafes. It did us well especially because most of the locals speak very limited (or no) English.

After dinner, we headed back to our Bnb as we had to be picked up by our driver (yep, the same driver who agreed to be our ‘tour guide’ as well) to see the rest of the city at 0900 the next day.

Begin Again

Most of my blogger friends would know (and would have probably gotten used to) me as a person who enjoys starting a new blog, religiously updating for the first couple of days or weeks, getting sidetracked with life,¬†then completely forgetting and moving on to a newer blog a few months after. For the record, I’ve lost count of the number of blogs I used to have before alwaysthepungirl. So far though, I haven’t had the urge yet to wrap this up and start a new one – which perhaps is good, for a change.

So yes, I’ve decided to begin again… on the same page.

I honestly don’t know how to restart blogging (if you can call it that). I’ve been gone for too long and the only form of writing I ever get to do these past couple of months has been confined to my nursing notes, to-do lists, and tweets (I guess I’ve even gotten past the phase of posting long, cheesy birthday dedications on people’s Facebook Walls). I might have, for more than once, fantasized on starting a vlog but thought against it every single time – I’m quite content with my IG stories for now, thank you very much).

There is no perfect excuse for this hiatus. I guess I’m just… living. That’s all.

Over the past couple of years, I can say my life had been more about surviving than living. This, whatever this state I’m in at the moment, is a breather. I’m living my life – and I don’t think I’m being selfish for doing so.

However, trust me when I say that this ‘living’ has not always been bright and going in my favor. I had my fair share of disappointments, heartbreaks, down moments ever since I decided to Live.¬†Sometimes, it even surprises me to see how I still get to find humor in things given what I’ve gone through. Ha, I can be a tough cookie after all.

But I guess it’s the disappointments, heartbreaks, down moments that have motivated me to continue living and, by saying that, to live better. Because naturally competitive as I am, I wouldn’t want these things to be the end of me.

 

 

Belfast x March 2017: Day One

If there’s one thing I will always remember about 2017 a few decades from now, it will be the fact that it was¬†when I finally started to see more of the world. It has just been a little more over a quarter of a year but I’ve been to places I¬†only used to imagine being in.

After our short February trip to London, my friends and I have been unstoppable at finding cheap tickets and coming up with lists about where to wander next. One of our first options was Edinburgh, Scotland but we thought it was best to save it for a future date (as fares were getting expensive) and a warmer month. Another one was Bath and Stonehenge – which, according to most people, looked better in summer. Northern Ireland was not anywhere near our list yet until one of our friends (who was also with us during the first trip) moved there for a few weeks which made us decide to pay him a visit.

It took us more than a few weeks to come up with an itinerary, book plane tickets, look for an affordable accommodation, and most importantly, make sure that this was a trip all five of us was game to be part of.  It took a few failed brainstorming sessions over dinner before we decided on a final date and I had to deal with a few additional hassles in my part as I was still supposed to have a shift on the day we were planning to go.

A day before the trip, I was still on a long day shift while the rest of them were on their annual leave already. I was doing my evening drug rounds but my mind was wandering. I couldn’t contain my excitement when it was finally time to leave the ward and I felt like a giddy little girl skipping all the way home. Seriously, I had to leap¬†home as I was only halfway through packing.

On the day of the trip, we woke up extremely early to get ready. However, contrary to what we agreed on the night before, we didn’t leave the house until we¬†literally had no extra minutes to spare and the taxi driver had to delay us for a few more (because he didn’t see I booked a taxi for five and we had to arrange to pay additional fare so he can drive us off).

As expected, we missed our train to Birmingham (where we were bound to ride the plane that would take us to Belfast). After a few heated exchange and calculations (not in my part though cos I know very well how much I suck at Math), we bought new tickets and started a marathon of some sorts all around Birmingham¬†International as soon as we got there. I wasn’t in my best running shoes nor were we¬†warned that the security and boarding gates were far from each other (not that we needed to be warned because it was our fault we had to rush anyway). To add to the panic, two of us were stopped at the security x-ray and had to present our bags for a further search. To keep the long story short, we boarded the plane at the last minute and spent the first few minutes up in the air catching our breaths. Talk about morning rush.

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More or less an hour and some attempts at recording 4K videos later, we landed in Belfast, Northern Ireland. We rode the bus which took us to the city centre which was about more than half an hour from the airport. From there, we had to¬†hail a taxi to take us to the BnB we’ve booked.

The house was located in the middle of a peaceful neighbourhood and we were warmly welcomed by our host with milk and cookies. We fell in love with it right away Рit was small but newly renovated and very cozy. It was my first time to use AirBnB and I had a few doubts in mind days before we arrived at Belfast because the reviews seemed too good to be true. What if it turned out otherwise? I was the one who found and booked it so imagine the pressure I was feeling.

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Thankfully, the BnB did not disappoint. It was probably one of the most hassle-free accommodations I’ve ever arranged¬†– from the booking down to actually spending three days and four nights there.

After dumping our bags, we were ready to see Belfast! We decided it would be best to avail the Daysaver on the bus as we had a lot of places listed on the itinerary. Since navigating is one more thing I’m not good at (aside from Math), I let my friends lead the way while I busied myself dropping my jaw at how clean the city is and how genuinely polite the Irish¬†seem to be. Our first stop, of course, was lunch.

We had nothing particular in mind for lunch when we got there so it was a good thing our host left us a list of must-try restaurants located nearby.  Our empty stomachs eventually led us to Mourne Seafood Bar which turned out to be a tiny yet promising food gem in the heart of the city. For £15, we were able to enjoy their savory Seafood Platter which included smoked mackerel, hake, crab claws, langoustine, and mussels (which were my absolute favorite). The best part was the fact it was good for sharing. And oh, their chowder is to die for as well.

17475013_120300002733814043_276449497_o After lunch, we toured around the city. For some reason, Belfast seemed to offer a more laid-back lifestyle than England. The people walking along its streets were walking, not rushing; most of them looked very calm and poised, not haggard and storming off somewhere. They seemed to be the kind of people who will most likely be up for a short chat in the middle of the street anytime of the day.  In short, it was my kind of city. It reminded me of my hometown.  How did I notice these things? Well, funnily enough, we seemed to be the only tourists in the place and almost everything I saw I took in with awe and fascination.

Our feet led us to Belfast City Hall which was strategically standing in all its glory in the middle of the city so nobody would ever have to miss it. We also had the chance to see the Albert Memorial Clock which, according to the tour guide we had the next day, is Belfast’s very own Leaning Tower of Pisa. We went inside Victoria Square – a shopping center which had a lift that took us on the top floor where you can oversee the city. And just an hour before it closes, we visited the Ulster Museum which did not disappoint at storytelling Northern Ireland’s history – if only we had a few more hours to spare. Our last stop for the day was the Botanic Garden which was a short walk away from Ulster Museum. The only bummer, aside from the fact that I brought a camera we couldn’t use cos it wasn’t charged (hehe sorry about this, guys), was that we weren’t able to get in the Palm House as it was already closed.

The day ended with grocery shopping at Tesco. Since our BnB had a fully equipped kitchen, we agreed to make home-cooked meals for our dinners to cut on the costs. Plus, it was one of our friend’s birthday so we just had to celebrate it with cake… and adobo!

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The cake which he didn’t get to blow because we forgot to buy match sticks or lighter.

 

London x February 2017

Exactly three months after arriving in the United Kingdom, I had the chance to see the rest of the country that is not Wolverhampton or West Midlands or Birmingham. ¬†To be finally somewhere else after several¬†weeks of stress in all forms¬†indeed felt like a breath of fresh air. And I couldn’t be more thankful to share that experience with close relatives and newfound friends.

Two months today

It’s been two months since I left home in search for ‘greener pastures’. So much has happened in those two months, I must say. Nothing was easy but there was so much to be thankful for. There is so much to be thankful for. It still feels surreal some days but I’m trying to get used to that feeling while making sure it does not completely blind me from reality.

In those two months, I’ve learned how to trust and to not trust people. I’ve learned that the only person I can ever completely¬†trust is myself. While not everyone is out to get me, I also cannot expect everyone to be true to me. I’ve learned to depend on myself even if it was the last thing I thought would be possible for me to do.

But while it was good to keep some things to myself, in those two months, I’ve also learned to open up to very few people. I’ve put some walls up but I’ve saved a door open for those whom I think are worthy of it. Most of these are those who I came with here, who were as clueless as I was of what would await us.

In those two months, I’ve learned to be prouder of the University I graduated from. I used to think that all the talk about it being one of the top performing Nursing schools in the Philippines was pure hype but it turned out it was not. Four years of vigorous training paid off on the days leading to the exam and on the exam day itself. It definitely felt rewarding.

In those two months, I’ve officially become a United Kingdom Registered Nurse. While this part here has not fully dawn into me yet as it only happened a few days ago, it has definitely redefined my purpose to wake up every morning. A month ago, I used to wake up to nerves, anxiety, and impending doom. After the results were out, everything that used to be greyscale felt more real and alive. My dreams (and Wency’s) are out there and I finally have means to chase them.

In those two months, I’ve learned to look after myself. I’ve done chores I never bothered doing back home and yes, I cook now. While I know it was inevitable, it still surprises me to remember how I’ve been cooking for more than a week now – not just for myself too!

In those two months, I’ve learned to be more open to my family and closest friends back home. It was difficult to have to reply to every single message I received in the first few days but I eventually got used to it. Though I don’t get to talk to my brother or my parents everyday, I try to make sure I get to see them (or to let them see me lol) once in a while just so they know I’m okay – and eating well.

In those two months, I’ve learned to get to know myself better. I’ve learned I can be alone without feeling lonely. I’ve learned I can do things if I put my heart to it one hundred percent. I’ve learned I can meet strangers and eventually treat them as friends. I’ve learned I can let go of people who have long let go of me. I’ve learned of my capabilities – some I never really got to explore when I used to be in the comfort of my own home. I’ve learned I can actually achieve something more worthwhile than the awards I used to get in school and I can discover my purpose this early on in life. I’ve learned I can be generous and grateful because really, we learn to share if our hearts swell with gratitude. I’ve learned to become a better person.

And I’m still learning.

It’s only been two months today and while I don’t know what to expect in the next few days, weeks, and months, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that, as I start with the first few days of the rest of my life, I will continue learning.

Happy Birthday, Mart!

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Hello, girl. Today, I went to the German Market which is a twenty-minute tram ride from our place just so I can have¬†a bratwurst (which is one of your favorites, right? Hehe) on your birthday. If I haven’t said it yet, I really am impressed with your good taste. This sausage was very savory¬†I swear I kept closing my eyes as I was taking it in and couldn’t get enough of it. I’m sure you do too every time you eat this sausage (or any kind of sausage for that matter).

But anyway, since our friendship is not solely¬†based on what we put in our mouths, I’ll try to make this birthday message more meaningful for you.

Happy Birthday, Mart! We’ve gone a long (even longer than this sausage) way from our Multiply days and I’m grateful that, despite the few misunderstandings we had during the early years of this friendship (aka that time you pointed me to the street kids who were begging for our take out hehe), we’ve stuck with each other. You are obviously one of my constants and I’m not sure how I would have¬†kept my sanity in check in the last few years (especially last year) without you regularly updating me on Viber and reminding me of things I was not capable of figuring out on my own (eg like how the hell two people are just friends if they talk or message each other on a daily basis hehe). I know we don’t get to spend as much time deciphering screenshots and decoding people’s words and actions to the extremes as we used to¬†because life has gotten in the way but please know I’m always online (as in talaga, girl) for whatever work-related or friend-related rants you need to let out. I’m also proud of how you’re chasing after your dreams and I have no doubt that you’ll get ¬†wherever you intend to go soon (with us, in Brazil hehe).

Enjoy today, girl! Love you! Miss you!