Our Holiday: The View From The Porch

As I have mentioned, our holiday cabin is situated in the grounds of a hotel, and had a covered porch that I spent much of the time sitting on, with Ollie.

I took some photos of my daily view, one that changed constantly as guests and customers made use of the large beer-garden. These are the last of my holiday photos for this year.

(All of my own photos are full-frame, and can be clicked on to enlarge them.)

The view to the right. The white building is known as ‘The Cottage’, and we have stayed there twice previously. That was before the cabins were erected.

To the left is the non-smoking covered area, adjacent to the main road running through Sutton-on-Sea.

A closer view of the main hotel and the benches of the beer-garden.

This photo is not mine, it is from the website advertising the cabins. It shows all five cabins at the back of the hotel grounds. It can be enlarged too.

If anyone is interested in staying there, here is a link to the main website.
(Scroll down for all the pictures.)

https://www.bacchushotel.co.uk/

Ollie’s Holiday: The Porch

In our house in Beetley, Ollie cannot see outside. If I open the back door to let him out, he only has the familiar surroundings of our garden to look at. So being able to sit outside for a large part of the day, and most of the evening until bedtime, that’s a real treat for our beloved dog.

Because I spent so much of our holiday sittng happily on that covered porch of our cabin, Ollie was happy to be out there with me. When I got up each morning, I would carry his bed and toys out onto the porch, and leave them there until we closed up to go to bed for the night.

(All photos are full-frame, and can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

At various times, Ollie would take himself off down the ramp and explore the hotel beer garden. I was lucky enough to have the camera handy when he was ‘patrolling the porch’.

We love the fact that we can take Ollie on holiday with us, and that it is just as much a holiday for him as for us.

Our Holiday: Winceby Battlefield

Not too far from where we were staying, there is a memorial to a battle fought during The English Civil War. I have always been interested in that period, and have been a member of The Cromwell Association for a long time. As we were going to be so close, I thought we could combine it with a trip into the nearby town of Horncastle.

Winceby is tiny. A ‘blink and you miss it’ village. I had expected some signs directing me to the battlefield, but after driving back and forth for twenty minutes, there was nothing to indicate where it might be. Giving up, I started to head back, on the busy main road. As we passed a lay-by on that road, Julie spotted a notice board that looked relevant. After turning round in a side road, I drove back and parked in the lay-by, and there it was.

(Both photos are full-frame, and can be enlarged for detail by clicking on them.)

Behind the sign, a hedge borders the fields where the battle took place, in a landscape virtually unchanged since that day in October, 1643.

If anyone is interested, here are some more details about the battle.

On 10 October at the village of Horncastle, approximately 6 miles west of Bolingbroke Castle, the Royalist force commanded by Widdrington came upon a cavalry detachment screening for the Parliamentarians sieging the Royalist garrison. A brief skirmish took place and the Parliamentarians withdrew. The Parliamentary detachment reported back to the main army that the Royalists were moving towards them.

The next day the two opposing forces simultaneously took steps to confront each other. Manchester took part of his force and arrayed them on Kirkby Hill to prevent the Bolingbroke garrison from leaving the castle and organizing an attack from the rear. With the remainder of his army, Manchester advanced towards Horncastle. Meanwhile, Widdrington and the Royalists moved out of Horncastle and advanced toward Bolingbroke Castle.

The Parliamentary horse, which moved faster than the infantry, met the Royalists advancing in the opposite direction at Winceby. The field of battle was not ideal as the land falls away into sharp gullies on one side, but it was not poor enough to prohibit a battle. The two forces were approximately the same size and composition, all cavalry.

The ensuing battle lasted about half an hour. Cromwell feigned a retreat and lured the Royalists from a good defensive position onto flat ground. A small party of Parliamentarians advanced on the Royalists who discharged their weapons at them. Cromwell then led his main body of horse in a charge hoping to press home his attack before the Royalists had time to reload. But dismounted Royalist dragoons managed to fire a second volley, hitting several of the Ironsides. Cromwell had his horse shot from under him, apparently by Sir Ingram Hopton (who was himself killed in the subsequent fighting and is commemorated by a memorial canvas found above the font in St. Mary’s Church, Horncastle.) The canvas’s inscription describes Cromwell as the ‘Arch Rebel’ and bears the incorrect date of October 6, 1643 for the Battle of Winceby.

Cromwell was only able to rejoin the battle after he had secured another mount. A Royalist cavalry division under Sir William Savile counterattacked Cromwell’s right flank. The Royalists were, in turn, attacked in the flank by Sir Fairfax’s horse. In the resulting melee, the Royalists lost cohesion when the command by Savile to about face was taken to be an order to retreat and Savile’s horse fled the battle. On the Parliamentarian’s left wing the Cavaliers enjoyed greater initial success, but the collapse of the Royalist left and centre meant that Widdrington had to retreat or face envelopment. A flanking attack by Cromwell’s reformed cavalry was enough to cause the Royalists to flee the field in confusion.

In Horncastle, at a place now known as “slash hollow”, some Royalists were killed or captured when they became trapped against a parish boundary gate that only opened one way (against them) and in their panic the press of men jammed it shut. For the remainder of the day the Parliamentarians hunted down Royalist stragglers not stopping until dusk, which in October occurs in early evening, when they were recalled by Manchester. The Royalists lost about 300 men and the Parliamentarians about 20 with a further 60 wounded

Given the fact that Cromwell was present at the battle, and it was a significant victory for the Parliamentary rebels, I would like to see the site better commemorated.

Our Holiday: The Cabin

Last year, we really enjoyed our time in the wooden holiday cabin. Then this year it was even better, as everything was familiar. So much so, we have booked it again for much the same time in 2022, seven days in September.

Here is an overview. It has two double bedrooms, and two extra beds in the roof space, accessed by a ladder. A large bathroom with shower, and an open-plan living room and fully-equipped kitchen. TV, iron and ironing board, two sofas, a dining table and chairs, and a private picnic table to the side. Enough storage and hanging space too.

Wi-fi is also available, through a connection supplied free of any extra charge by the hotel. But the signal is sometimes erratic.

But for me, the joy is the covered porch. I sat there quite happily for hours, watching the clouds and the world go by.

And it is only 100 yards to the huge unspoilt beach!

(All photos are full-frame, and can be clicked on twice to enlarge for detail.)

Ollie’s Holiday: Ice Cream For Dogs

On our recent holiday, we noticed that almost every cafe was selling a new formulation of ice cream for dogs. Ollie has enjoyed ‘human’ ice cream on a few occasions, as well as the residue of a few yoghurt pots. But we are aware that he is older, and less active now.

With that in mind, he was treated to a doggy ice cream on holiday, but just the one. It includes some crumbles of dog-biscuit, and Ollie devoured it, giving it his seal of approval on a warm afternoon.

(These are full-frame 35mm equivalent photos, reduced by 50%. But you can click on them twice to enlarge for detail.)

More to come of Ollie on his holidays!

Egypt,1989: Part Three

Back at the Hilton, we had time to reflect on how much we had enjoyed the cruise. It had seemed too short, and yet it had genuinely been relaxing and enjoyable; so perhaps after all it was just enough.

The next day, we had arranged to make the trip to see the Colossi of Memnon, opposite Luxor. This giant pair of statues is all that remains of the once-grand temple of Amenhotep III, and they are both representations of him, dating from around 1400 BC. They are quite damaged, and the features are worn away. Despite this, they are very impressive, towering sixty feet above the ground, the only things visible for any distance around them. The large bases have carvings in the stone, and one of the statues is known to have been rebuilt during Roman times, after being damaged by constant floods.

It seemed to me that they must have been something very special at the time they were erected, as they still had tremendous power as I gazed at them that morning. That afternoon, we returned to the centre of Luxor for a better look around. It was as dusty and dirty as we remembered though, so we didn’t stay there very long. Besides, we had our trip to Abu Simbel to anticipate.

A taxi collected us the following morning, for the trip to the airport. We had paid extra to fly to Abu Simbel, to avoid the long drive in the heat, and to allow more time at the site. There was little or no procedure at the airport, as it was an internal flight. We just walked across the tarmac to the aircraft, and were met by a pleasant young man, who introduced himself as our guide for the day. There were no flight attendants, no safety briefings, and the pilot and co-pilot sat in a cockpit with no door.

The plane was a relatively modern jet, and there was only a handful of other passengers. After take-off we flew surprisingly low, and soon came in to land. The guide informed us that we were not there yet, just collecting more tourists from other airfields around the area. This happened twice more, before the half-full aircraft gained height, and headed for Abu Simbel, to the south-west.

On the way, we flew over the Aswan Dam, and Lake Nasser. This was purely for touristic enjoyment, and the guide told us when these spectacles would appear, and on which side of the aircraft we should look, to get the best view. As we approached our destination, we moved around to get the first view of the monument, and even from that height, it was duly impressive. A coach awaited our arrival at the airport, and took us the short distance to the site. We were then informed that we would have two hours to explore, before the flight back.

The present site of the statues of Ramesses II is a huge artificial mound, containing a cave-like exhibition within. The statues were moved here to avoid being lost to the floods, after the creation of the dam. Between 1964 and 1968, the blocks were all cut, and individually numbered. They were then moved over 200 metres away from the water, and elevated to almost 70 metres. This is acknowledged as one of the greatest modern feats of engineering. It is hard to comprehend the scale of these huge structures. The four statues of Ramesses II at the entrance are so large, that just one of the toes is bigger than my head. As well as this, there is the Small Temple (not that small…) with six narrower sculptures around the door.

Inside, the wonder continues, with carved columns, and the UNESCO-funded exhibition, showing how the massive feat of engineering to save the site was carried out. Two hours was not really enough to appreciate everything on offer, but it was very busy, with more tourists than we had seen anywhere else previously. I took lots of photos, but made the mistake of over-compensating with the polarising filter, due to the strong sunlight. I was still using film then, and when I got the results back eventually, I was devastated to see that I had almost turned the skies black.

Nonetheless, it was a completely overwhelming experience, and well-worth the additional expense of the flights, (paid in advance in England) which added around £100 to the overall cost of the holiday. We flew back to Luxor and returned to the Hilton, with only one more day left. That evening, we dined well, eating all the most expensive items on the menu, before retiring to the gardens outside, to relax in the cool of the night air.

The following morning over breakfast, we considered the options for our last day. We decided to get a horse-taxi into Luxor, and to visit the temple on our own, taking more time, and unencumbered by even our small tour party. The feeling of having to return to England in December, cold and wet, industrial action overshadowing my job, and Christmas a few days away, was hard to shake off.

We haggled over a few trinkets, bought the last souvenirs, and enjoyed our wander around the impressive monuments for the final time. We returned to the hotel to start packing, leaving out only what we would need for the evening, and the trip home. We did not get away unscathed though. My wife had a bad stomach upset during the night, which resisted all medications, and continued into the following morning.

Hanging around at the airport didn’t help, and the public conveniences left a lot to be desired, as toilet paper had to be purchased from an attendant. Once on the flight home, my wife was further embarrassed by being allotted her own personal toilet, in case she had anything contagious! Even on our return to England, this condition persisted long enough for her to have to see her doctor.

I had to go back to picket duty on a strike, with an unseasonal tan.

But I would go again, do it all again, because it was truly memorable. In less than two weeks, we had stepped back over three thousand years in history, and experienced somewhere totally different to anywhere that either of us had ever been. Despite the political changes in the region, and the fact that the cruises are now more popular than ever, I would urge anyone to visit this fascinating country.

Egypt, 1989: Part Two

The next day, we were collected for the short drive to the dock at Luxor. We had checked out of the hotel, and they had confirmed that we would be back in five days time. There were quite a few cruise ships lined up along the bank. Some were very old, and might have been plying the river at the time of Agatha Christie. One still had paddles at the sides for propulsion, but most were modern. Our boat was somewhere between the two, probably a hangover from the 1950s, with no exterior cabins like the old boats. But it had a large open air covered deck at the rear, ideal for watching the river from.

Our cabin was comfortable enough, with a double bed, private facilities, and a large window, almost at the water-line. Except for the outside spaces, air-conditioning was provided, and there was a comfortable bar and large restaurant. They had even managed to cram in a tiny shop in the reception area. Inside, the feel was suitably old-fashioned, exactly what we had hoped for.

Our bags were whisked away by friendly staff, and we were gathered to be given information about life on board. All meals would be provided, three times a day. Any extras, alcoholic drinks, extra coffee, and other drinks, would have to be paid for, naturally. But we could settle our room bill at the end of the cruise, and add gratuities if we wanted. This meant that we would not have to worry about any spending money all the time we were on board. They even gave an idea of the prices, which all seemed very reasonable. There would be a party on the last night, and we could dress up in fancy dress, with an Egyptian theme of course, if we wanted to. Any gifts or jewellery bought at the shop would have to be paid for separately, as it was a concession.

Excursions would all start early, around 6.30am because of the heat, and breakfast would be served early on those days. As it was between the busy summer season, and the even busier Christmas rush, there were only twenty-four passengers, well under half-full. Luckily, the same amount of staff would be retained, so we could be guaranteed excellent service at all times.

Other than our group of sixteen, there were two small groups of Egyptian holidaymakers from Cairo. I was really happy. Not only did we have the prospect of five great days ahead, we would be spending them on a comparatively empty boat. They also explained that we would travel mostly at night, stopping early, ready to take our trips ashore. When we returned in the late afternoon, we would set off once again, heading for the next place on our itinerary.

Our first day on board would start that afternoon, with the journey to our first port of call, during an early dinner.

Once the boat left Luxor and began its slow journey to Aswan, the real magic happened. Travelling at little more than a walking pace, the feeling of stepping back in time really kicked in. At times, it felt as if the boat was standing still, and the scenery was moving past us, like the old canvas panoramas in early theatrical productions. Across the wide river, traditional feluccas, small sailing boats, carried goods, or fisherman casting nets into the water. The scene appeared unchanged for centuries, with only the modern river cruisers giving any indication of the age. The chugging of our boat engine, and the occasional smell of fuel, were the reminders that we were actually moving south. Otherwise, all was peace.

Sitting on the rear deck, enjoying a cool beer, we gazed at the lush strips of fertile land lining both banks. Devoid of industry, splashes of green in a sandy backdrop made us realise why the Nile was so important to sustaining agriculture along its length. People queued for small ferries, donkeys and camels laden with crops or boxes. It could have been 1920, or even 500 BC. The sight of occasional lorries and cars on riverside roads brought us back to reality, momentarily puncturing the reverie that had set in.

I could have sat there for hours on end (and I often did) watching this scene unfold. I wasn’t reading a book, and only sometimes taking a photograph. Otherwise, I just experienced it. Something I had never seen nor felt anywhere else. During the night, we passed through Esna Lock, a sudden burst of light and noise that jarred with the peace of the day.

When we woke the next morning, we were at Edfu.

Although this is a large town on the west bank, we were only going to see one thing; The Temple Of Edfu, dedicated to the god Horus, the falcon-headed god. This enormous structure was built from 237 BC, and was later buried under centuries of sand, prior to excavation during the 1860s. The building resembles a large fort, with a colonnaded courtyard within. The walls are covered in carved heiroglyphs, depicting various scenes, and a large statue of Horus stands at the entrance. We were told that it was lucky to touch the beak of the falcon head, so of course, we all strained to do this. I can imagine that it must be getting quite worn away by now, if this is still allowed. Like every structure of this type we saw there, it seemed appropriate to wander around on our own, feel the atmosphere, and try to imagine what it must have been like, brightly-painted, and bustling with worshippers and priests.

I have heard other visitors to Egypt describe the experience as visiting lots of temples, each similar to the next, and tiring of looking at columns and sandstone walls. This was not how I saw it. I always felt as if I was privileged to get this small window into a fascinating past, and a civilisation so advanced, at a time when much of the world was undeveloped to any level.

Another peaceful cruise that afternoon, to our next destination, Kom Ombo.

When we woke up, we could see the temple, raised above the river bank, just across from our boat. This temple is dedicated to the crocodile-headed god, Sobek. It was once destroyed by an earthquake, and damaged by Nile floods. It looks somewhat dilapidated, but impressive nonetheless, in a dominant location. Carvings inside show recognisable medical instruments, and there are some fascinating mummified crocodiles on display, once part of the worship rituals. Strange to think that they could have been there since 150 BC. There is also a carved calendar, showing the days of the ancient Egyptian months, which was explained by a guide.

After the tour, we returned to the boat. We were to carry on to Aswan, where we would spend the last two days of our cruise. I was already regretting not choosing the longer cruise option, as I had completely fallen in love with this river, and the amazing sights near its banks.

Aswan is a large city, expanded in modern times and boasting a population approaching 300,000. I had not travelled to Egypt to see large cities. I had come from one of the largest, London, and sought peace and antiquity. There was little of that to be found in this bustling terminus of riverboats, tourists, and crowded markets. However, there were two good reasons to travel here; Elephantine Island, and The Temple of Philae, and we were going to see them both. It was an early start the next morning, for the drive of over sixty miles down to the islands at Philae. On arrival, a serene trip on a small felucca would take our small group to one of the two islands. The Temple buildings had been threatened with flooding after the Aswan Dam was built, and because of this, the temple was moved stone by stone, to its present location.

I remember how peaceful it felt, arriving on the sailing boat, and touring the restored buildings with such a small group. On the return trip to Aswan, we stopped at an ancient quarry, where we could see rejected monoliths and carved statues still partly in the rock they had been carved from. If they cracked, or were damaged during carving, they were simply left in place. That night on the boat, they hosted the ‘theme’ party. We attended, but I have to tell you that we did not really enter into the full spirit of it, as we declined to dress in ancient Egyptian style clothing.

The next morning heralded our last night on board. We were taken across to Elephantine Island by boat, where we  decided to take the steep trip to the Aga Khan mausoleum. Unwisely, as it turned out, we agreed to pay a small fee to both go on the same camel. Jammed into a double saddle with a hard wooden surround, we later suffered badly from being rocked back and forth for a considerable time on the back of the unfortunate animal. Days later, we still had extensive bruising from the pressure of the uncomfortable saddle.

Later that evening, we ventured into the nearest market to the riverside. Aswan is known for fine quality cotton products, and we purchased a tablecloth and napkin set, with the minimum of haggling on that occasion. We watched the sun set behind Elephantine Island, with riverboats and feluccas silhouetted on the water. It was magnificent indeed.

Our last night on the boat was something of an anti-climax though, as we were aching and tired from a long day, and went to bed early.

The next day, we packed after breakfast, and went to the small reception area to settle our room bill. Despite all the extra teas and coffees, numerous beers, and some wine with dinner, our total for the whole cruise was less than £40, around £8 a day. I even got them to check it, as I thought it was not enough. They obviously thought I was complaining, and presented a meticulous drink-by-drink account. When I told them I thought it was too low, they just smiled. It must have seemed a lot of money to them. I added the difference to make it the equivalent of £50, and considered it to be money well spent, including gratuities.

We left the boat reluctantly, and I gazed enviously at the other river cruisers, still conveying tourists. The return trip by coach took just under four hours, including a short lunch break in a rather dubious roadside cafe. The distance from Luxor to Aswan was about 110 miles. It had taken four days on board, less than four hours by road.

Back at the Hilton, we were surprised to get the same room we had left earlier that week. We still had a few days of our holiday left, including the much-anticipated trip to Abu Simbel.

Egypt, 1989: Part One

I have decided to repost my 3-part series from 2014 about a holiday to Egypt in 1989. Parts two and three will follow this one in order.

Please note that many of the places described here have been greatly improved since our visit. Some now have permanent exhibitions, and better access. Some others are closed to tourists for the time being, and may or may not be re-opened. Hotels have been upgraded, and the river boats are generally of a more modern standard.

Egypt was one of those places I had always wanted to see. Old films with Pyramids and Pharaohs fascinated as a youngster, and later exploration in books and TV documentaries left me with a real desire to see this fascinating country. I had just never got around to it. I always felt that if it had lasted for all those thousands of years, it could wait a little bit longer for me to visit. I went to lots of other places instead. Some were changing politically, and needed to be seen as they were prior to that change. Others were cheaper, or just closer, so I took the occasional easy option. But Egypt remained in my mind, as somewhere I always knew that I would get to see. Eventually.

In 1989, I was getting married, for the second time. As the wedding was going to be in late July, we thought carefully about the honeymoon. Travel at this time is not only more expensive, it can also be very hot and uncomfortable. After some consideration, we decided that we would have the ideal honeymoon, in the land that I had always wanted to see. Egypt.

However, we would not be going in July, with temperatures at their highest. We would go in December instead. This time of cold and gloom in the UK is the exact opposite further south in Egypt. Warm sunny days, and calm cooler nights make December the perfect time to see this desert country. It also makes it more expensive, but I had been saving up. We went for a weekend in Amsterdam after the wedding, then returned to normal life, anticipating our ‘real’ honeymoon later that year.

After reading through some travel guides and tourist information (no Internet then) we decided to avoid Cairo. This did mean that we would not see the Pyramids, or the famous museum. On the other hand, it gave us the option of doing different things, including a cruise along the Nile, and a trip to Abu Simbel. We booked with Thomas Cook, and paid for everything, including the excursions. It was an organised holiday, with the chance to go on trips with guides if you wanted to, or do your own thing, if you preferred that. We would fly to Luxor, and spend a few days in the Hilton Hotel by The Nile, before joining our cruiser, for a five-night trip down to Aswan. After the cruise, we would return to the Hilton, and finish the remainder of the holiday there.

In October, with two months to go before the holiday, we began a long strike in the Ambulance Service. As the trip had already been paid for, we decided to still go, and not to let the fact that I wasn’t being paid, or might not have a job to return to, spoil any of our plans. I can’t deny that I was worried though, but that faded away as I sat on the aircraft.

On arrival at Luxor airport, our small group was broken up into those staying at different hotels. We were the only two going to stay at the Hilton, so we were dropped off by minibus with our luggage. Our first impressions of the city were not that good. Half-finished buildings lined the roads, and the whole place seemed to be dusty and run-down. The road leading to the Hilton led nowhere else, and the area around the hotel was studded with industrial buildings, and fenced-off scrub land. Outside the entrance, a group of horse-drawn taxis waited for business; the animals looked to be in a bad way, with all their ribs showing.

Inside the hotel compound, all was luxury. Palm trees, manicured gardens, and a stylish entrance, manned by uniformed youngsters whose only task was to open and close the doors for guests. Staff at the reception treated us like royalty; bags conveyed to our room, checked-in without fuss. The room itself was comfortable but not grand. It had one perfect feature though, a small balcony overlooking the River Nile.

Our deal included breakfast and dinner at the hotel, and all meals on the boat. After a shower and change, we explored the hotel grounds. A huge chess set was laid out, and comfortable furniture surrounded a pool, leading out to the lush gardens bordering the river. It certainly was a glamorous location, at least inside the hotel grounds. The weather was good, warm but not too hot, and the hotel had most things you could want, including a gift shop, cafe, and large restaurant. Dinner was an elegant affair, in an old-fashioned atmosphere. The hotel was not even half-full, so service and food were excellent. There was also the possibility to upgrade to the a-la-carte menu for a very small sum, so we did. We had two days to wait before getting on the river boat, so we resolved to make the most of it. The next morning, we would join the tour to Luxor and Karnak Temples.

We were collected after breakfast, and taken by coach on the short trip via the centre of Luxor. Founded in 1400BC, this city was originally called Thebes. Much of it appeared unchanged on first examination, and even the centre had the feel of a biblical town. Meat hung outside open butcher shops, covered in flies, and the market stalls were busy, with considerable traffic crowding the narrow streets.

Arriving at Luxor Temple, the reason for coming to this country was immediately apparent. The sheer scale and grandeur, the feel of history, of walking in the steps of Ramesses, it was completely overwhelming. Within moments, I was captivated, and knew instinctively that it had been worth all the travelling, and the cost. After listening to the guide for a while, we went off on our own, uninspired by his dry delivery and endless statistics about the height and weight of the columns. Just walking around the complex, looking up at the construction and feeling the atmosphere was more than enough. The main Karnak temple is nearby, along a path lined by what is left of a row of sphinxes that once joined the two main places of worship. The famous Hypostyle Hall, of over 100 ornate columns, and the carved reliefs in the Precinct of Amun Re, are simply breathtaking, and worth the whole trip alone. It was fascinating to imagine them all brightly painted in their heyday, and we could still see traces of some of the colours in the shaded roof areas.

The old town of Luxor didn’t have a great deal to offer. There were some tourist shops of course, as well as numerous market stalls and street sellers, all hawking trinkets and souvenirs. The persistence of some street traders was disconcerting. Outside of any attraction, and on the route back to the main hotels, they would follow you relentlessly, brandishing things in your face, and asking ‘English?’, or ‘German?’, if they went by my wife’s natural light blonde hair. At certain points, the Tourist Police would step in, and the salesmen knew better than to carry on. Although used to bargaining in North Africa, Kenya, and Turkey by then, I was staggered by the ridiculous starting prices stated by any shop or seller there.

Before leaving England, I had promised my friend’s little girl that I would bring her back a toy camel. I had expected to see lots of camels for sale, but I could only find wooden ones, not suitable for a small child. I eventually found a leather-covered stuffed camel in one shop, and went inside to look at it. The shopkeeper pounced immediately, telling me that this was a hand made first-class camel and one of a kind. His opening price was the equivalent of almost £200, which we could only laugh at. When he wouldn’t go below £50, we walked out of the shop. He followed us out, and offered a ‘much better price’. After another thirty minutes, we secured the toy for £8. This was probably still far too much, at least twice what it should have cost, but I was just pleased to get out of there.

We decided to return to the hotel by horse taxi. This involved more protracted negotiations with the driver, until we settled on the fare of around £1, which seemed to be the going rate. When we got back to the hotel, he asked for twice that much. “The rest is for my horse” he told us, indicating the sorry animal pulling the carriage. I decided to make a stand though, otherwise prices would get inflated. I gave him the equivalent of £1 as agreed.

The next day, we had an early start to visit the Valley of The Kings, and the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. This involved crossing the river by small boat, then a minibus trip up to the first site. Other than a parking area, and a large cafe, there is little to indicate the treasures below the rocky barren ground there. We had a guided tour into the tomb of Ramesses ll, which seemed to be little more than a hole in the ground, with steep steps leading down into darkness. The small group and guide were both compulsory at the time, as there were fears of damage done to the site by the sheer volume of tourists. Once on the staircase, we could immediately see the wonderful colours of the preserved paintings and heiroglyphs. It was amazing to think that the man who once occupied this tomb had died in 1213 BC, over three thousand years earlier. Only one small room was accessible, and it contained the large stone sarcophagus that would have originally housed the decorated coffin and the mummified body within. Even given the short time allowed for the visit, the impact of those moments in that cold chamber, surrounded by colour from a bygone era, stays with me to this day.

After an early lunch in the large cafe on the site, we headed off to see the Temple of Hatshepsut. This monumental building, part of which is built into the rock itself, is part of the large area known as the Theban Necropolis. Her temple is magnificently preserved, and an outstanding sight amid the surrounding hills.

Wandering about this complex, marvelling at the reliefs and architecture, I learned a valuable lesson about walking around in the midday sun. Although I hadn’t felt unduly hot, it was very bright, and very warm. I passed out with sunstroke, finding myself suddenly lying on my back, a group of concerned faces looking down at me. Other members of our group, as well as my wife and the guide, got me into the shade. They gave me water to drink, and also poured water over me. I soon felt better, but resolved to wear a cap every day after that. We returned to the hotel that afternoon, and I was fully recovered by the time we got there.

The next day we would be joining our ship, for the five day cruise down to Aswan.

Re-Post: Honeymoon In Marrakesh (Part 2)

This is the second part of a re-post, in 1595 words.

The next day, we went to look at the Koutoubia, and the gardens that surround it. Due to the celebration of Ramadan, the whole area was full of sleeping worshippers, resting during their time of fasting, and awaiting the call to prayer. We did not go into the Mosque, but walked around the gardens, which were dry in the heat.

We then went to explore the extensive market, set around the main square. This is a maze of tiny stalls and shops, most of which are selling the same things; souvenirs of Morocco, and different types of clothing. There were also spice and juice stalls, and a range of fruit sellers as well. The dreaded mopeds were much in evidence, buzzing in and out of the passages between the shops, occasionally bumping you, as they tried to wriggle past.

It was all much as you might imagine. Exotic at first, but with endless haggling, and shop owners pestering, until you soon tired of it all. We retreated to the oasis of our hotel, to relax by the pool with a cold drink.

The following morning, we took an open top bus tour, supposedly the best way to see the sights in and around the city, with some stops further afield in what was essentially a palm-tree desert. This was actually very amusing. There were so few tourists, the bus was presumably running at a loss. As a result, there was no guide commentary, and the headphone commentary advertised on the side was also notable by its absence.

The young lady supposed to be guiding spent the whole time downstairs talking to the driver. We were left to work out for ourselves what we were seeing, with the aid of a map in the tour brochure. We did make the most of the hop-on-hop-off facility though, so managed to see a fair bit of the area, including the famous Marjorelle Gardens and a stunning view of the Atlas Mountains surrounding the city.

Elementor #19753

The bus returned when it was supposed to at least, so we were thankful for that. The older parts of the city within the walls of the medieval Medina were a real delight, and exactly what we had hoped to see. With the lack of tourists, life was going on much as normal, so we were able to see the place as it should be seen, and not just as one giant gift shop.

The hotel staff had recommended two places to visit in the evening, as an alternative to eating in the hotel. One was a swish-looking courtyard restaurant, some distance away in the ‘new city’. This restaurant also featured in our small guide book, and was advertised in a ‘Marrakesh’ magazine we obtained. The other was an evening of folklore and entertainment at an all-inclusive price, with collection and return to the hotel included. We reserved both, though we had serious doubts about the evening of folklore, at a place called ‘Chez Ali’. The staff were insistent that it was a great evening, with unlimited food and drink, and lots to see and do. I imagined a large restaurant, with dancers and musicians.

We went to the nice small restaurant first, having negotiated a return taxi fee with a Mercedes driver who constantly parked outside the hotel, and who was recommended by the staff. (Undoubtedly on a commission) The place did not let us down. After a high-speed journey across most of the city, the taxi dropped us off, arranging to collect us later. He said the staff would call him on a mobile when we were ready.

The restaurant was excellent. We had drinks in the courtyard before going in for our meal, the interior set off by an indoor pool, and beautiful lighting. With superb service, and first-rate food, it was the ideal romantic evening for a honeymoon night out. The higher prices there were about the same as they would have been in London, as was the taxi fare. We got back to the hotel in time for a late drink around the pool, and reflected on a marvellous night out.

Two nights later, we were collected by minibus, to be taken to Chez Ali. We were the only passengers, and discovered that the driver would also serve as a guide, wait for us during the evening, and collect us after the entertainment. Another long drive began, this time into the desert away from all built-up areas. After some time, we asked the driver how much longer it would be, and were surprised to hear that it was still at least fifteen minutes away. We soon spotted what could only be our destination, lit by rows of coloured lights, a good five minutes before we arrived. The size of a small town, Chez Ali was actually a huge complex, surrounded by old walls, and entered by a long driveway.

As we got to the car park, our hearts sank as we saw dozens of coaches and umpteen minibuses, all jostling for space to drop off hundreds of people. It was like going to a football match, to have dinner. The driver told us not to worry, that it would be very nice, and that he would guarantee that we got a very good place. He was obviously in the know, as he was soon chatting to the door staff, and whisking us along -via a ‘photo opportunity’- to our tent where we would be served the meal. What followed, was a far from pleasurable experience, only saved by our sense of humour.

Inside the place, there were dozens of tents, all lined up along something resembling a ‘main street’. There were literally hundreds of harassed staff, suitably dressed in various versions of traditional clothing. Musicians played to welcome us, and our guide took us into a well-lit tent, the size of a circus big top. The first problem was that we were not part of a group. It appeared that it was very rare for couples to book this trip, and all the other tourists, from every country in the world seemingly, were in large groups of twenty or more. As the only couple, we were taken to a table at the head of the tent, and seated separately from the others.

Everyone looked at us, with that look that is a cross between ‘are they celebrities?’, and ‘who do they think they are?’. The food and drink arrived. It was an enormous bowl, containing meat that we thought might be chicken, vegetables roasted to extinction, and piles of rice and potatoes. It was pretty repulsive, and we felt the need to record it on video. We had to eat some at least, and some bread, as we had saved our appetite all day for the anticipated feast. The fruit, brought as a dessert, looked like what was left after the market had closed, and packed away for the night.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the entertainment began. Groups of musicians, dancers, and singers, did the rounds of all the tents, repeating their party piece for each one in turn. By the time it got to us, we had already heard it from the tent next door. It was also all so loud, it was impossible to hear yourself think. This was not a terribly expensive excursion, so it may sound churlish to complain. It was just that it had been built up to us as something very different, so we were disappointed. But at least we were laughing!

After the food was cleared away, we followed the crowds towards a large open area, with tiered seating. It was completely dark by now, so the dramatic son-et-lumiere that followed was surprisingly effective. There were various tableaux of historical re-enactments and parades, culminating in a display by riders dressed as Berber tribesmen, firing guns as they rode their ponies around the arena at breakneck speed. It might have been worth the trip, just to see the historical events in the arena. Might have been, but not really. We were pleased to be making our way back to the hotel soon after, happy to put the whole evening down to experience. One we would not be repeating. Here is a link, if it sounds like something you might enjoy.
http://www.moroccotriptravel.com/activity-fantasia-dinner-show-moroccan-folklore-chez-ali.html

The last couple of days in Marrakesh were spent peacefully relaxing around the hotel, which had returned to its former state of calm after the weekend invasion by the trippers from Europe. That had not turned out to be at all bad, as there were still not enough guests to make the hotel feel crowded.

The evening before we were due to leave, we went to the market to engage the services of a horse and carriage for a gentle tour of the old city. We had been advised to haggle, but I took just one banknote, worth slightly less than £18, and said to the driver (in French) “This is all we have left, we go home to England tomorrow.” He accepted this tactic, and we set off for almost an hour of gentle driving around the area. This was definitely the way to see the place in comfort, and far better than the bus, or walking. It was also the perfect romantic ending to a memorable honeymoon.

I have no connection with the hotel where we stayed, but I will add this link to their website, so you can see for yourselves just how nice it is. If you are ever considering a trip to Marrakesh, it is one to put on your list.

http://www.lesjardinsdelakoutoubia.com/fr/hotel-luxe-marrakech

Re-Post: Honeymoon In Marrakesh (Part 1)

I am reposting this from 2013, as not many of you have seen it. I Have divided the original very long post into two parts. This part is 1480 words. The second part will be posted tomorrow. There are no accompanying photos, as I was still using a film camera at the time.

I got married for the third (and last) time, in September 2009. We had a fairly traditional wedding, though in a hotel, rather than a church. It was a lovely day, and I will always have great memories of it. We decided to go on honeymoon to somewhere that neither of us had been to before. We had to consider the cost, as the wedding had used up some of the budget We thought that a week was long enough, so we could not go too far afield.

Places for consideration that would be new to both of us included Mexico, Cuba, Hong Kong, South Africa, and The Caribbean. These were rapidly ruled out, due to either the long flights involved, or the weather conditions in mid-September. North Africa looked promising, but I had been to Tunisia and Egypt before, which left Morocco as a good option. We had a choice of beach, probably Agadir, or inland, with Marrakesh as the most attractive prospect.

After some perusal on the Internet, and a flick through some brochures, we paid a visit to a large travel agent in Oxford Street, in London. As luck would have it, the agent had just returned from a junket in Marrakesh, and unhesitatingly recommended a hotel in the heart of the city. We looked at her suggestion online, and it really looked the part. It is called Les Jardins de la Koutoubia, as it is directly opposite the famous Koutoubia Mosque. The courtyard location, outdoor pool, and cool-looking terraces inside, all exuded Moorish style and architecture at its most desirable.

We decided to book independently, and get our own flights as well. Unfortunately, we were sorry to learn that Easyjet was the only airline with direct flights to Marrakesh. Other airlines go there, but they do so via other places first, putting hours on the journey. Undaunted, we booked with them, and arranged car parking at Gatwick. Holiday booked, we were suitably excited, and got on with the wedding plans. The hotel had been easy to arrange, and they even offered to collect us from the airport.

On the day, we found that it was not as bad as we had expected travelling with Easyjet, though we did make certain to comply with their notoriously draconian baggage regulations. On arrival at Marrakesh, we were pleased to see the promised good weather in evidence, and we were collected without fuss, for transfer to the hotel. We knew beforehand that Ramadan would be beginning when we arrived, and had expected this might cause some problems with cafes and restaurants being open, and possible restriction of service in the hotel. This was not the case at all, as the touristic nature of the place means that only the locals have to endure the privations of this religious season.

Arriving at the hotel, we could have been forgiven for being disappointed. The small driveway leading to the entrance was full of cars, and some very run-down looking workshops. The few shops looked to be stacked with unappealing goods, and a long wall running along the right side, gave no indication of the city beyond it.

Once through the unprepossessing entrance, all fears melted. It was simply wonderful. The reception was cool and shaded, and was home to one of the largest vases of red roses that I have ever seen. The cloistered courtyard, with the serene pool surrounded by sunbeds and relaxing leather chairs, was an early indication of the service and luxury to come. When we were shown to our room, we were not unhappy either. Everything we could have wanted was there. From a huge bed, to lovely Moroccan decor and fittings, as well as a TV if we desired to catch up on the news, and a balcony looking directly over to the Mosque that gave the place its name.

Also in view were the small but well-tended hotel gardens, and the half-size second pool. The hotel had an extensive underground spa facility housing its third pool, which was surrounded by dozens of candles, as well as lovely mood lighting, all providing a relaxing semi-darkness.

As we had opted for bed and breakfast only, we looked into the choice of the hotel’s three restaurants for our meal that evening. We had a choice of eating outside or in, and for the first evening, we chose the local food, stopping off first in the delightful old-fashioned bar, for a pre-dinner drink. The speciality of the house, the Koutoubia Cocktail, was the first on our list, and delicious it was too. The staff were all exceptionally friendly, and we learned that there would be few other guests until the weekend, when French and Spanish visitors arrived for just two days. The whole hotel felt half-empty, and in a good way, as we almost had it to ourselves; the perfect honeymoon location.

The meal was excellent, and I thought that we should explore after dinner. Leaving the hotel, I decided that the landmark of the Mosque would serve as a beacon, so we could not get lost. I thought that we should turn right, to look for the famous ‘Night Market’ in Djeema El Fna, the main square, which is also the main attraction of Marrakesh.

As someone who normally has a good sense of direction, I let myself down that evening.

Turning right, we entered what can only be described as the ‘Kwik-Fit’ district of the city. Every shop front seemed to be involved in the roadside repair and servicing of some of the thousands of mopeds that buzzed around the place. The pavements were clogged with vehicles, tyres, spare parts, and busy mechanics. The locals gave us quizzical looks, and it was impossible to make progress on the pavements, forcing us into the very dangerous roads.

Traffic is something not mentioned in the tourist guides. If you are considering a visit, then give traffic some serious thought. Crossing a road is almost impossible, and potentially suicidal; add to that the mopeds, and there are seemingly unlimited numbers of them, all appearing to try to run you down. They drive at you along the road, along the pavement, down alleys, across squares, even inside shops. In fact, anywhere you happen to be, or want to go, you will have to contend with moped riders whose one rule seems to be, ‘take no prisoners’.

After some time moped-dodging, we had still not come across the market. I carried on further, into the heart of the old town, passing tiny Mosques, bijou hammams, women-only bath-houses, and some Medresas. (Koran schools) It was a fascinating glimpse of real local life, but time was getting on, and we had still not found the market. We were hot and tired, and Julie was uneasy, as low rooftops and canopies now hid the Koutoubia Mosque from view, losing me my point of reference.

We were saved from further embarrassment by the arrival of a small group of street urchins. Probably no older than nine or ten, they latched onto us, and one of them said the magic words, ‘Night Market?’ I said yes, and they indicated that they would show us the way, by following them at the fast pace of a fit young child. It felt like a route march, and took some considerable time. There was always the possibility that they were leading us along some back alley, in the hope of robbing us, but I was not unduly concerned, as they seemed friendly, and the place did not feel remotely threatening.

After what seemed like an hour, but was probably twenty minutes, I saw the reassuring shape of the Koutoubai Mosque ahead, and moments later, they led us into the Night Market. Just to our left, perhaps ten feet away, behind that large wall, was our hotel! We had been within throwing distance of the square as we had gone out, and I had turned right instead of left! They asked for a reward, but as I had only large denomination notes, I gave them some small change, about 30p.

This was considered an insult, and they asked for cigarettes as well. Luckily, I had a packet spare, and handed them over gratefully. (This leads me on to something else about Morocco. It is a place for smokers. Smoking is allowed everywhere, in hotels, bars, and cafes. Some have non-smoking areas, but none were smoke free, at least in 2009. For a smoker, it is a paradise.) The Night Market was impressive, but we were too tired to enjoy it then, and resolved to return the next evening. This visit would be a lot easier, as it was only yards from the hotel, after all…