10 Ways to Navigate Marrakech if You’re Flying Solo.

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Marrakech is a major city in Morocco on the edge of the Sahara beneath the snow capped Atlas mountains. Picture that if you will. Not that it needs any introduction. It is surely Morocco’s most memorable experience. Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square, is a UNESCO heritage site. It’s densely populated and the locals are multi lingual – speaking a mixture of Arabic and French. The moment you touch down on this baked red city your senses will go into overdrive. So here are a few tips to help you get the best out of your time in Marrakech:

  1. Be respectful of local culture.

    Morocco is a Muslim country which follows Islamic traditions. I visited Marrakech during the holy month of Ramadan. Almost everyone I met was fasting. So, during my stay I did not eat and drink in public. When I had lunch, I sat inside a hotel or restaurant away from windows as a mark of respect for those who were fasting. Ramadan falls on the 9th month of the Islamic calendar (not the same as the lunar calendar). So, check your travel dates and be mindful if you are travelling during Ramadan or any other times of cultural significance.

  2. Carry a scarf.

    I found Marrakech to be liberal in terms of dress. However, if you’re a female traveller, carrying a scarf is a failsafe for many places in the world. It comes in handy when you least expect it. You do not need to cover your hair. I mostly use my scarf to protect my skin from the sun. In Marrakech I used it for covering my shoulders whilst out and about during the day. It’s a great way to communicate that you are aware of local culture which is always appreciated by locals. It also makes you look like less of a novice – useful for avoiding unwanted attention if you’re travelling alone.

  3. Download Citymapper.

    This is a brilliant app that works well inside the Medina (where you are most likely to get lost). Citymapper allows you to navigate walking routes via your smart phone. It also offers alternative routes to get to your destination. So if you like exploring on foot then this is a must and you will not be at the mercy of the locals to find your around.

  4. Remember landmarks.

    If you have no access to wifi or are unable to use apps for any other reason you can still navigate the city. It’s dotted with various distinctive landmarks. However, each narrow lane looks remarkably similar to the next. Try to remember names of particular hotels, a distinctive stall or a coffee shop and use them as landmarks to navigate your way through the medina and find your way back. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for directions – shop keepers are your best bet. Avoid faux guides who will offer to direct you as they will always expect to be paid for their trouble.

  5. Be Assertive – not rude.

    Some touts in Marrakech can be aggressive and aggressive begging is common. While 95% of locals are mild mannered and friendly a handful of touts were an annoyance. The three best ways to deal with aggressive touts are: a) Ignore them as you keep walking by. b) Don’t stop to talk as this will be taken as a show of interest. c) Always be polite but firm and avoid confrontation.

  6. Trust your instincts.

    Never follow anyone to a ”friend’s shop”, “best restaurant”, “cheap carpets/silver/leather”. Rule of thumb in travel is that if you follow someone to a place you don’t know, you will at best, have to buy something don’t need/want. At worst, this is too big a risk to your safety. No bargain in the world is worth this risk. If it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t – just don’t do it.

  7. Make friends with other travellers.

    I made friends with two solo female travellers whilst dining al fresco in Jemaa el-Fnaa. It meant that after dinner, instead of heading back to my hotel, I was able to stay out a little later than planned, soaking in the atmosphere. It’s a great way to get more out of a trip if you’re flying solo. You may also be able to go on join excursions making it safer and cheaper to travel.

  8. Let your hotel staff know your daily itinerary.

    Excursions should only be booked through an operator who has an agreement with the local authorities. They must be able to display an official badge. Leave the name and contact details of your guide AND details of the company with hotel staff / concierge. If you are braving the trip on your own be vigilant and keep your valuables safe. Also inform hotel staff of your itinerary and let them know that you are travelling alone and get their advice. However, trekking alone is not advisable and you should consider joining a group.

    Guides can be hired through most hotels and riads. A basic guideline of costs is approximately £12 for half a day and £30 for a full day. However, private operator and riad charges may range from £50 – £90.

  9. Write down your hotel’s telephone number, address and location in Arabic.

    English is widely spoken in Marrakech. As you venture a little further outside the city, it will definitely be useful to have the name and address of your hotel AND directions written down in Arabic in case of an emergency. Always carry this with you to make yourself understood in an unexpected situation. It is unlikely that people outside the medina will have heard of your hotel no matter how reputable a chain it may be.

  10. Relax and enjoy!

    Marrakech is a breathtakingly beautiful place. It has a magnetism and allure that is hard to describe. It will charm the most ardent traveller into a spell. So be prepared to soak in all this wonderful city has to offer. Over 600,000 Brits visit Morocco each year and most visits are trouble free. So be safe, relax and enjoy!

     

Arts and Culture in Qatar

The Fire Station Gallery, Doha.

A flourishing art scene may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of the Gulf state of Qatar. That however, is exactly what is happening in the Qatari capital of Doha. Artists, musicians and writers have come together in a converted fire station, in Wadi Al Sail, to work and collaborate.

In one gigantic acknowledgement of the role creativity and heritage plays in Qatar’s development, The Fire Station Gallery provides a contemporary space for resident artists to showcase their work.

My first stop on this cultural exploration of Doha was a visit to The Fire Station Gallery. At the time of my visit, it was host to the first exhibition of it’s kind in the Middle East; Over 120 works by Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti following the larger exhibition at the Musée National Picasso in Paris. It is an exceptional show in an avant-garde setting. Furthermore, it’s curated by Fondation Giacometti director Catherine Grenier and the pieces are on loan to Qatar from the Musée National Picasso, Fondation Giacometti and several international collections. Most importantly, the exhibition is free, making it accessible to everyone and runs until 21st May 2017.
(You can see my pictures of the exhibition at The Fire Station Gallery here:
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Fire Station Gallery, Doha.
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Brunch al fresco at Cafe 999, The Fire Station Gallery.

Museum of Islamic Art, Doha.

My second stop was the pièce de résistance of Doha – The Museum of Islamic Art. The building designed by Chinese American architect I. M. Pei is an astonishing ode to Muslim architecture and history. Arches, water features and geometric patterns central to Islamic design compliment punctured, sculptural light fixtures inside and outside. The building stands alone on an artificial peninsula and is surrounded by it’s own park.

Spectacular entrance to MIA
Museum of Islamic Art.
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Museum of Islamic Art.
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Museum of Islamic Art.

Inside, the museum is home to a collection of artefacts curated since the late 1980’s which includes manuscripts, textiles, metal work, ceramics, jewellery, wood work and glass. Art from Spain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, India and Central Asia dating from 7th – 19th century are displayed here making it one of the most complete collections of Islamic art in the world.

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Dagger and scabbard – India (1800)
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Qur’an and case – Iran (18th – 19th century).
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Jewelled falcon – India (circa 1640)
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Armour for horse and rider – Turkey (Late 15th century – early 16th century)

It was my first time in a museum of Islamic art and I found the artefacts breathtakingly beautiful. It is however, difficult to explain the vastness of this collection when it spans over 1400 years and collates objects from Persian, Mongolian and Ottoman empires. The MIA requires half a day at the very least if you are to do it justice and it will be time well spent as it is unlikely that you will see another collection of this size any where else.

At the end of the visit I couldn’t help feeling that Qatar’s arts and cultural development feels a great deal more homegrown and evidently more authentic. As I delved into this further, I found that this is owing to it’s museums being passionately spearheaded by it’s own ruling family. *Forbes magazine describes the head of the Qatar Museums Authority, Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, as “arguably the most powerful woman in the art world today”. As the person responsible for securing the purchase of the world’s most expensive painting (Paul Gauguin‘s When Will You Marry?) in 2015, the accolade is justly deserved. With such credentials Qatar’s cultural development should come as no surprise. It’s creating truly unforgettable experiences. Go see for yourself. I highly recommend them.

  • In collaboration with – Qatar Tourism Authority, Qatar Airways, The Sheraton Grand Doha, Qatar International Food Festival and Falcon Tours. 

www.visitqatar.qa,

www.qatarairways.com,

http://www.qifoodfestival.qa

http://www.sheratongranddoha.com

http://www.falcontours.com

*https://www.forbes.com/profile/sheikha-mayassa-al-thani/ (and Wikepedia)

11 pictures to prove that Paris is the undisputed city of love.

What can be said of Paris that hasn’t been said a thousand times? Of it’s beauty, food, fashion, culture? A city immortalised by the murmur of a thousand words.

On this, my 11th visit to Paris, what can be said that is not an echo of words past? What’s to ”see” in Paris? As I breathe, move, talk, laugh, eat and smile…I wonder. How many words will I need to express a feeling? Paris is infectious, like love.  As love travels through your being,  as you would surrender, so you do to Paris. Some things cannot be seen or heard. They can only be felt from the heart.

 11 pictures to prove that Paris is the undisputed city of love:

  1. This icon of eternity.
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Meet me here.

 

2. These love locks on Pont d’lena (Jena Bridge).

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Be mine.

 

3. This beaming bride on Pont d’lena.

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You make me so very happy 🙂

 

4. The Seine and The Marne.

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The Yin and Yang.

 

5. These beautiful ones slaying it in the park.

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Adore me.

 

6. This rainbow bubble in Jardin des Tuileries.

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Rainbows and bubbles.

 

7. This invitation of love.

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Call me.

 

8. This place to meet.

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Talk to me.

 

9. This blushing rose.

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You make me blush.

 

10. This place you cannot miss.

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I will wait for you forever.

 

11. This utterly beautiful Parisian sunset.

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Kiss me in Paris.