About Me

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I am a 22 year old with a passion for travel, music and fashion and throughout the next year or two I am planning on working my way around as much of the world as possible :) I'll also be writing about the places I've already visited with maybe the odd bit of music or fashion thrown in! Please note my profile picture is from www.pamhough.com

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Las Vegas: Indescribable.. but I'll give it a go!

Firstly, I must apologise for the huge gap between updates (I've been trying to make some definite plans for the next while) and say a big thank you to those following me as I'm still deciding whether I want to show this blog to family/friends etc and I wasn't really expecting anybody to be interested but it's great that you are :)

So before I arrived in Las Vegas in July 2009, I expected it to be quite tacky and a bit mad, and I wasn't sure at all if it would be my type of place. In fact going there at all was a spur of the moment decision made by myself and my best friend when a group of our other friends invited us (and we may have been under the influence of alcohol at the time), and on the 7 hour bus journey through the desert straight after a 4 hour flight from Chicago to L.A (and we had stayed up the night before packing) I was beginning to have second thoughts... but I must admit that as soon as the bus pulled into Vegas, the over-the-top crazyness of the place won me over instantly. All my tiredness evaporated, being replaced by excitement and curiosity, and I was bouncing off the walls in my eagerness to explore.

We stayed in 'The Mirage', http://www.mirage.com/ , with nine of us sneakily sharing two rooms, which I would recommend doing as the rooms and beds are very spacious and it actually worked out very cheap (about 20 dollars each for two nights at the time). We stayed for two and a half days and two nights and I think that while we might have liked another day or two it wouldn't be advisable to go for more than 5 days to a week, unless of course you are extremely into gambling and/or drinking, although then maybe you should avoid the place altogether for your own good!!

The Mirage

One of our hotel rooms (there was also another smaller bed)

If you wanted to, I think you could easily spend your entire time within your own hotel, as all the big hotels have multiple restaurants, bars, nightclubs, shops, gambling facilities (of course :P) and much more. Also, it is VERY easy to get lost inside them and the staff are extremely vague with their directions towards the exits, which are never signposted (surely a fire hazard?). 

However, I would definitely suggest that you at least take a walk up the strip and call into a few of the other main ones as well as your own. The first evening, after watching the volcano show outside The Mirage, we decided to take a walk around looking for somewhere to eat and exploring Caesar's Palace, which includes a huge shopping centre as well as all the other 'basics'. 

Volcano show at 'The Mirage'

More of the amazing volcano show

Caesar's Palace

Shops in Caesar's Palace

Out of all the hotels, on our trip we unfortunately only had time to see the inside of The Bellagio and Caesars Palace, as we spent one day in the discount shopping malls outside the main strip and also visited Madam Tussaud's http://www.madametussauds.com/LasVegas/Default.aspx
I would definitely recommend a visit as it's quite reasonably priced compared to Madam Tussaud's in other locations and we got some great pictures there. At the time I think we paid $18 each, however the website says the walk up price is now $26 and the online price is $20. 

The discount malls are good if you are looking for cheaper designer labels, however if you're on a budget as we were, they may not be worth your time. There are some shopping centres on the strip which may be more suitable to those in search of a lower price range, and of course, there are many interesting sights to be seen when taking a walk along the strip. Here are but a few... :)

Surprisingly (as I am a complete foodie), I can't remember any of the food I had in Vegas, apart from the fact that it was fairly overpriced, although we got a decent enough three course set menu in one of the restaurants in The Mirage! An important thing to know in relation to this actually, is that all the atms inside of the main hotels/casinos will not allow you to take out less than $100 so be prepared for this! 

Despite having every intention of doing so when i arrived in Las Vegas, I didn't gamble a single penny. I think I was too overwhelmed by all the different games/machines/etc to even think about which one i would try. However, if you are looking for cheap drink, apparently if you sit at the machines, waiters come around with trays of free drinks even if you're only using the very cheap slot machines. Obviously, this combined with the high availability of atms with a large minimum withdrawal amount can lead to disaster so keep that in mind.

As for nightlife, if you are looking for a crazy, memorable (or completely impossible to remember) night 'The Hangover' style, you won't be disappointed!! The first night we went to one of the smaller clubs in the hotel 'Revolution' for a quiet few and headed to bed relatively early and relatively sober, but the next night, wow did we make up for it!!

View from our hotel room

More of the view

The second night, we started off in 'Jet', the bigger club in 'The Mirage'. During the day people approach you on the street offering to put you on guestlists especially if you are in a group (and girls) and it's definitely worth saying yes to all of them as you will get to skip the queue and also usually some drink vouchers. In the club, we met some people staying in the penthouse of Caesars Palace who invited us to come back later for an afterparty, but in the meantime we decided to head over to 'The Palms' http://www.palms.com/ which we had also gotten on the guestlist for. We ended up in the club up 55 floors, with a smoking area balcony which overlooked the whole of Vegas, a seriously amazing sight!

Even pictures can't capture it accurately!!
Then, we were invited to sit at a VIP table with three music producers, and a large amount of free drink (again it is beneficial to go in a group of girls), and from there we went back to Caesars Palace to the suite party!! Pictures and stories from this night will have to stay private I'm afraid but suffice it to say that 'The Hangover' really is awfully close to how Las Vegas really is so be prepared for some madness!!

VIP table!!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Marrakech: a beautiful city and a terrible tragedy

My Dad called me a couple of days ago to tell me about the bomb which exploded in Marrakech, but it was only yesterday evening that I did some googling and realised that I was in that very same cafe just over a year ago. Makes you think...

In light of this terrible tragedy, which is understandably predicted to have a very negative impact on the tourism industry in Morocco, I felt that I should write about all the amazing things this city has to offer and encourage people to add it to their list of 'places to visit', even if they don't plan to go there in the immediate future.

Last March, I travelled to Morocco with my then-boyfriend and immediately fell in love (with the country that is)! We stayed in the Amani Residence hotel in Marrakech, booked here: http://www.booking.com/hotel/ma/amani-residence.en.html, and it was a reasonably priced hotel, with breakfast included and very helpful staff. It was slightly outside of the main area however this meant it was not a noisy area, and it was only a short walk away (or the equivalent of 1-2 euro in a taxi). One of my favourite things about the hotel was the roof terrace, where I got my first real taste of Morocco

It is difficult to explain just how different absolutely everything was there from anywhere else I had ever been. The traffic is crazy with motorbikes carrying 3 or 4 people, taxis carrying about 7 people and mules piled high with goods and people all zooming along. It will most likely take some time to adjust, and may be a bit of a culture shock to those who are a little bit set in the ways of their own countries.

Our first night there, we went exploring the medina or main square, jemaa el fna, and I was fascinated by all the makeshift shops. Of course, being completely unused to the area, we managed to get hopelessly lost deep within the winding maze of tiny lanes and streets filled with shops selling everything and anything you can imagine. Now this might not have been too bad, if it wasn't for my dad, warning me numerous times before I travelled here how the Moroccans were dodgy and would rob you if they ever got the chance (and I would like to point out here that they are actually lovely, helpful people and that the only way they will try and rob you is by charging you what to them is a ridiculously high price and to us is still relatively cheap), and so we were wandering around the streets getting more and more anxious as we had very clearly left the touristy areas, and couldn't find our way back. Locals offered us directions but we had heard that this could be a scam where they lead you astray and then demand money so we avoided offers of help as much as possible. Eventually we came across a small road with taxis and jumped in, willing to pay anything at this stage. The driver was absolutely delighted that he could 'overcharge' us so much, but in reality it was a ten minute taxi journey for the equivalent of five euro, so I think everybody was happy at the end of the day!

The moral of this tale was that you need to keep at least a vague idea of the direction you have come from, and not just wander, unfortunately :)

The next day we went on a day trip to Essaouira, which is a lovely seaside town not all that far from Marrakech. Probably the most interesting part of this though was all that we got to see along the way. It would be easy to go to Marrakech and not really see a true picture of how the average Moroccans live, but on our journey we saw many little villages and towns and the people going about their business and, in some towns, the hustle and bustle of market day. Here are some of the pictures, as they can give you a better idea than I can.

Bringing the sheep to market

Carpet "shop"


Tree climbing goats!!
Along the way, we stopped at one of the cooperatives which make argan oil. If you want to know more about argan oil, and all its benefits and properties, of which there are many, please follow this link : http://www.arganoilmorocco.com/  (it's actually pretty interesting)

We got a little tour and saw the women hard at work. They work long hours and it's not easy work, but they are thankful for the job and the money, which is usually added to by tourists, as we all left small amounts of money for them.

We then got to sample some of the food and cosmetic products they produce, and had the opportunity to buy some. I would recommend visiting one of these coops if you wish to buy argan oil products, as the ones sold on the streets of Morocco often contain very little if any of the actual oil!!

The following are some pictures of Essaouira, so you can see for yourself how pretty and laid back it is. I would definitely recommend a trip there, but it might get a little boring if you spent your entire holiday there. On the other hand, the relaxing seaside atmosphere might be the idea of a perfect getaway for some people so I'll leave you to decide for yourselves...

Camel rides with the city of Essaouira in the backround

Seaside in Essaouira

again :)

Cats absolutely everywhere in Essaouira!

Be warned you may have to compete for a seat at the local internet cafe!

Our next day we had booked a package with http://www.marrakechbyair.com/en/index.php to go on a hot air balloon ride, a camel ride and take a tour of a typical berber house and eat a homemade berber breakfast. If you are interested in learning more about the berber tribe you can do so here :

We were collected at approx 6am from our hotel, and brought out into the desert, which ironically was quite green, as March is the period of growth just after their rainy season. We began the morning with some pastries and juice, before setting off in the hot air balloon. It was very relaxing and the views were great, and it doesn't go extremely high, in case anybody is nervous about heights.

Here are some of the views from the balloon :

After the balloon ride we enjoyed an absolutely delicious breakfast, with every ingredient produced on the farm, followed by a tour of the house and farm. As you will see from the pictures below, their standard of living is well below what we are accustomed to (and this would be one of the 'better off' families) but they are hard-working and cheerful nonetheless.

Amazing fresh breakfast



After all this, we were driven to another location for a short camel ride. The handler of the camels was very helpful taking pictures of us on the camels and chatting away, and so we gave him a tip which was the equivalent of 4-5 euro, and he absolutely thought we were the best people ever. It really makes you realise that what is so little to us is so much to some people!

That evening we ate dinner in the cafe which was the scene of the recent tragedy. It was a beautiful cafe overlooking the main square (medina), and we had an extremely enjoyable moroccan style dinner, including tagine (similar to stew), cous cous and moroccan bread, for a very reasonable price.
Now I'm not sure quite how appetizing it looks in this photo but it really was delicious!

View from the cafe

Our final day, we decided to take a wander around Marrakech for the day and evening. We visited the two palaces, palace Bahia and El Badi palace. Personally I found the palace Bahia a little boring, and although El Badi palace was a little more interesting, I would not be quick to recommend it either. Having said this, they are both very cheap to visit (around a euro) and so if you're curious then why not.

Local mosque
Carpet shop outside palace Bahia (think i have a little obsession with the carpets here)
Palace Bahia (1)
Palace Bahia (2)
Palace Bahia (3)
Palace Bahia (4)
El Badi Palace (1)
El Badi Palace (2)
El Badi Palace (3)
El Badi Palace (4)
After our sightseeing, we headed back to the main part of the city, as I had decided I absolutely had to get my picture taken holding one of the monkeys in the square. I had been warned that the owners will try and rip you off and that you really should avoid doing this, but of course I did not listen. I would strongly strongly pass on this warning but if anybody reading is like me, then you probably won't pay attention to it either. We had been told to agree on a price before the picture, which we did, but it makes no difference. He will insist that you owe him more (the equivalent of 10euro for just a picture that was taken on my own camera!!) and try and sell you sob stories about having to feed the monkey (who was ridiculously heavy, and definitely not underfed!), and in the end he was getting quite threatening. We ended up paying more than we had agreed but significantly less than what he wanted by 'showing' that that was all the money we had with us. It is very important that you should not try and just walk away before this is settled, because there is a large group of monkey owners and they may turn nasty. Stand there calmly discussing, and point out that you can wait all day but he is losing business (this worked for us). Also if you do not want a picture and they put the monkey on you, or try to (as happened to my then-boyfriend), a good idea is to shout that you are allergic and panic. This is one of the only things that will stop them insisting.

After this, it was definitely time for dinner, and I cannot recommend highly enough Cafe Arabe  http://www.cafearabe.com/ . It has beautiful decor, a lovely atmosphere, delicious food and amazing non-alcoholic cocktails (there are alcoholic drinks on the menu also). It is slightly more pricy than other places nearby, but still not anyway outrageous and so so worth it. It is somewhat difficult to find, located within the maze that is the medina, however if you are buying something in one of the shops, the owners should be able to help you find it, and if you stop at the shop of the man who chisels wooden ornaments using his feet and a blade, you really must buy something. I bought a set of camels made from rosewood and the beautiful scent still remains on them, and also the quality was far superior to many other shops products. Of course I may be a little biased, seeing as we haggled for so long that he compared me to a berber man for haggling (which I take as a great compliment!)
On that note I must stress the importance of haggling. The initial price that they tell you will be as much as four or five times what they are actually willing to sell it for, and trust me it's very enjoyable once you get into it :)

I hope that this will encourage people to visit Marrakech, as it is one of my very favourite places that I've been to so far, and I honestly can't recommend it enough. Any questions please feel free to ask and please don't use any of my photos without crediting.. thank you :)