Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Sahara Desert: Part I

27th May - 31th May

The bus ride from Azrou to the Sahara desert was long, bumpy and hot, as we watched the canyons grow on either side and the dust settle behind us. And then, as if the dusty mountains could hear us, an oasis appeared from nowhere, stretching for miles down the Oeud Ziz.

Eight hours later (after the bus broke down twice), we drove into Rossani, which is the largest town situated near the desert.

We arrived ignorant of the bad news: our destination, Merzouga, had experienced a catastrophic amount of rainfall during the night and was consequently flooded. With no other choice we accepted an invitation from a young local, Hassan, to come to his kasbah (a citadel-type hotel common in the desert). As our taxi drove off to the kasbah, we sighed with relief at the thought of a shower and a bed. Unfortunately, our taxi could not make it in the mud and eventually died, 500m away from its final destination. We took up our bags and walked toward the lights of the kasbah. The below picture is the end result. Additional feet were provided by Koen, a Dutch guy, and Barbara and Daniel, a Swiss couple we met on our bus.

Ladies and gentlemen...The Sahara Desert.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


May 22nd - 26th

So we decided to escape the ever welcoming clutches of Kareem in Meknes and head south to the small town of Azrou. Azrou is set in the hills of the Middle Atlas, surrounded by Cedar forests which are inhabited by Barbary Apes (which are actually monkeys). Luckily we arrived in time for the weekly souk which covers about 2sq. Km just out of town. We skillfully managed to dodge the carpet sellers and zhenia practiced her french/arabic while picking up some tasty melon and tomatoes.

Back at the hotel we made friends with Mohammad Kellal, a local ex-mountain guide now residing in California selling steak. He gave us loads of advice and recommended (at our request) his friend, Jaouad, to take us up into the mountains the next day.

Our 23km trek took us up to the 2000m summit for lunch and down through the Cedar forest hunting for monkeys. We also had fun turning rocks looking for scorpions with some success. Jaouad turned out to be a really great, funny mountain man and now good friend. He didn't ask for any money but we paid him well and gave him the novel zhenia had finished with so he could practice his english.

Over the next few days we did very little, Enjoying the relaxed, genuinely hassle free enviroment that only comes when everyone in town recognizes you. We ate THE BEST kefta we've ever tasted and even took tomatoes from the market to be grilled with the meat. We spent a lot of the time drinking mint tea while hustling tourists to go into the mountains with Jaouad. Had dinner at Mohammad's family home eating fabulous Cous Cous with a bunch of grumpy french monkey nerd film makers. And hung out with DJ roubla "Number 1 DJ in the world". We also went to the Hammam, the Moroccan version of turkish baths. We got a serious scrubbing down, i mean an almost naked (or completely naked in zhenia's case), complete no holds barred scrub down.

Unfortunately, the road was beckoning us south so we said farewell to our new friends and caught the bus towards the desert.

P.S. I grew this fabulous moustache but zhenia wouldn't come near my advances so it had to go.....

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


21st May-Day Trip

The abandoned Roman city of Volubilis is a quiet day trip destination for most that cross Meknes. We hired a Grand Taxi (every one is an old beaten up merc) to Mouley Idriss and then another one onto Volubilis. They cram 6 passengers into these things and lock the windows shut because "the wind is bad for your health." So the thing becomes one big rolling sweat box but you make friends fast despite the language barrier.

The 2,000 year old city was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998 and retains many artifacts of a once prosperous culture.

We hired a guide between five people and had a good laugh when he blurted out english phrases like "shake a leg", etc. Here's Zhenia "Berber Lady" Nagorny with our guide.


19th May - 22nd May

We arrived for the ferry that would take us to Tangier at 9 a.m. and the ride across the shore into Morocco couldn't be more beautiful with the crisp morning air and the rough waters of the Mediterranean Sea. We skipped Tangier entirely and took a train to Meknes, considered Morocco's fifth largest city, meeting Peter of Seattle en route. After taking a brief nap, we had a great meal at the family-run Restaurant Oumnia. Tom had the traditional tajine and I had the cous cous with beef. Peter took the below pic of us...

Feeling a bit unprepared and lost, we decided to hire a guide to provide us a local introduction. Akbal took us to the imperial city, the mouseleum and the mosque of Mouley Ismael, a monarch who ruled from 1672 to 1727 and whose legacy is the foundation of modern Morocco.

Inside the moseleum.

These water vendors can be found around the imperial city and many squares across Morocco. They carry a goatskin pouch and golden cups. The water is considered clean to drink but tastes a little leatherish.

The souqs (or markets) inside the medina have everything one can imagine from berber rugs, the latest fashionable and traditional clothes, heaps of spices and minerals, pulse of every variety, freshly slaughtered beef and lamb, etc. and the price is never clear. The object is to haggle, haggle, haggle.

Men and women are often separated in public places and you often find men holding hands with other men as women do as well. On our second night in Meknes, we (with Peter) were invited to the house next door to celebrate the birth of Kareem's (our host for the night) first son. Zhenia was quickly scheewed to the women's room, where she ended up giggling and dancing the entire night while Tom and Peter were honored with snuff (which made them cry and nearly throw up) and very strong hashish followed by wine and awkward staring-at-the-wall-moments while stoned. We finally managed to make our excuses and go to bed at 1 a.m., well fed from mutton stew. Here, Peter and Tom cling to Faruk, who is one of the King's personal guard.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Tarifa to Morocco

15th May - 19th May

It takes us 13 hours to get from Lagoa to Tarifa, a coastal town with ferries to Morocco. After two bus rides and a 3 hour stop at Huelva Bus Station we arrived at night, hungry and grumpy. After finding a cheap room, we took a short walk into the old part of town and found a great tapas restaurant called Au Carrio where all the walls are covered in newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and photographs of famous toreros and their bullfights.

Decided to save a bit of money and to finally use our tent and sleeping bags for a couple of nights. Caught a bus (nearly had to haggle the busdriver to stop at our destination which was 10 km away) and realized pretty fast that we were as stuck as stuck can be, not to mention that there no restaurants in sight and the tiny market has nothing and charges 4 times the price.

Our anniversary, which was May 17th and fell on the camping fiasco, was undeniably pathetic: cheap wine, white bread with cocktail sausages (that came through the other end this morning) and a can of corn. Hey but we used the tent and saved like 20 euros or something stupid like that.

The good part was that the beach was completely empty so we took's Tom admiring the scenery....

On day 3 at 9 a.m. we said "TO HELL with THIS", packed up our bags and left. Had to hitchhike for a ride back to town. Tonight we're gonna paint the town red and tomorrow we set off for Morocco for what we hope to be at least a 2 week excursion down the Atlantic Coast towns (Tangiers, Rabat, Fes, Casablanca, Marrakesh and Essaouira).

Friday, May 12, 2006

Lagoa, Portugal

9th May - 15th May

Portugal didn’t seem much of a sight when we arrived to the southern coast town of Lagoa at 8:30 p.m. on Monday night. Sally, Tom’s aunt, and John, her hot lover, picked us up from the bus station and took us to a hotspot of a restaurant where we enjoyed a local favorite of steamed clams with pork cooked in a catapuna pot. Sally and John live in a villa, Casa Laranja, situated on a hillside surrounded by olive, lemon and orange trees. A nightingale made an appearance every night and in the afternoon we took a dip in the pond (not a swimming pool but an actual pond) to cool off from the heat.
The villa is a paradise and we did not want to outstay our welcome - so to pay for our lodging (since Sally refuses to take our money), We painted the front of their car port and fixed John's bicycle (Zhenia did most of the painting). Sally and John are great hosts, so are their 6 dogs, 3 cats, 2 ducks, 2 hens and the budgie.

The coast is breathtaking, especially when a cool wind blows past you and the smell of the sea is all around.

The sea hasn’t had time to warm up so the water was freezing. That didn’t stop us from running in head first.

One of the highlights was the rising of the full moon up the mountain stairs. The three white scratches in the picture are the highway lights.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


5th May - 8th May

Granada felt a bit cooler (temperature-wise) than its eastern partner, Sevilla, but as soon as we unloaded our bags into our new home and headed out to see the city, the mother of all rainbow appeared across the sky.

Alexis, a friend from New York, who is currently living and loving Granada, took us on a tour from sightseeing to tapas. First stop: Plaza Mirador del San Nicholas, a lookout point that extends to the periphery of the Sierra Nevada and provides a magical view of The Alhambra.

History note: The Moors ruled Spain for 800 years, leaving behind a culture that still stands out in these modern bohemian times. The Alhambra was first constructed as a fortress city and later, with the expulsion of the Moors, became a royal palace for the Spanish monarchy. Visited daily by 6000 visitors, it stands high and golden brown and entertains the most vivid sunsets.

Due to the large number of visitors, the tickets to see the Alhambra were hard to come by. The committed begin to queue at 6 a.m., but we left it to luck and managed to scout two tickets. Tom is hiding in one of many gardens that surround the palace.

Zhenia smiles in a row of lush roses in the garden.

On a bright afternoon, we took a stroll through Sacromonte, situated in the north of the city. Known as the central settlement of the gypsies that arrived about 600 years ago in Granada, they settled in the caves of the mountain and as you walk on the hillside, you can actually see the caverns inside the rock. The mixture of Arabic influence combined with the particular lifestyle and temperament of the gypsies is said to have created Flamenco.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Before arriving to sunny and luscious Sevilla on Sunday morning, Tom and I decided that we would have an an all-nighter (for old times sake) with Rick. What followed was a long 4 a.m. bus journey to the airport, sitting in front of a VERY loud and chatty Pole (Tom and I had attempted to shut him up by giving him a bit of NYC sassy attitude, quickly realizing that our efforts were futile. So we gave up and went back to sleep). The airport was an easy breeze, though we were still on about 15 minutes of sleep and then a turbulent, stiff neck Ryanair flight into Sevilla. Just the sight of the sun (after a rather cloudy and dreary 17 days in England), straightened us out and put a big ol' smile on our faces.

There is nothing like sun shining all day on tiny cobblestone alleyways, terraces with overhanging greenery, warm-hearted and open-armed Spaniards who prefer to eat all day and drink all night.

Tom bought a hat and I cut my hair. At the family-owned pension that I stayed in 5 years ago, some family members have welcomed us into their lives again.

Instead of buying a guide, we decided to invest in a Spanish phrasebook/dictionary. Tom is getting more and more confident in conversation as the days go by (as he didn't speak a lick of Spanish), while my Spanish is slowly waking up. We are having a blast confusing the locals!

The Carboneria is a family owned garden and what now has become a hot tourist spot for the young (I believe it has recently been added to the guides), where locals and amateurs come to perform flamenco.

Hmmm....Sevilla. There is nothing like a fully lit square where everyone mingles around the food, the wine, the romance and the largest turd you´ve ever seen...


Once in London, the lovely english countryside turned into apartment districts with supermarkets and off-licenses, where alcohol is sold to just about anyone. The sun disappeared for most of our stay but there was no time to waste as Tom and I made plans to see old friends for lunches and dinners and more lunches and more dinners. Here are a few moments....

After the Silver Jews gig, Rick wanted to show off some of his newly learnt skills.

Dinner with Jonjo, Daryoush (who has since got new teeth) and Berry in Islington.

On Saturday, we went to visit Matt White and the new addition to his empire; Mr. George Cosmo White.

What seemed like a freak accident, Tom and I walked right by the Finsbury Town Hall where we were married nearly 4 years ago. Unfortunately, the Town Hall is currently undergoing serious construction and will soon probably become apartments for rent!!!