In Kara Ben Nemsi’s Footsteps – Marrakech

One of the things I want to slowly change is seeing more of the world. I am also terrified of flying. Which is a little inconvenient to say the least. I always wanted to go to Marrakech so when a good friend of mine was mad enough to say she would come along I sucked it up and we booked a long weekend in Morocco.

I wasn’t thinking about it for ages but when we got to the airport at 4am on that Thursday morning I was bricking it. I had only gotten home from work an hour and a bit beforehand so I was overtired anyway and scoffing down a Burger King just before take off was mildly reassuring as well. But I was still bricking it. Big time. Being a total idiot as well I had managed to mess up our seat reservations so we were sitting at opposite ends of the plane. Thankfully the lady next to me happily swapped with my friend so she had the pleasure of sitting next to panicky me. As it turns out, it wasn’t that bad. I didn’t cry, I didn’t vomit, I managed to read a bit of my book.

Marrakech is an absolutely amazing place and I fell in love with it instantly. The colours, the smells, the gardens, the buildings, the food, the people. So different to anything I had experienced before. We went exploring in the mornings, the Saadian Tombs, the Bahia Palace, Yves St. Laurent’s garden. Got lost in the souks more than once and tried to look ueber confident finding our way out again. Took a carriage ride around the old city. Every evening we went for an ice cream, trying a new flavour every day. You can move surprisingly freely around even as a woman, but Morocco is a quite moderate Muslim country. We got hassled a couple of times, surprisingly enough by women, but not in a way that was frightening, rather annoying. It didn’t put us off though, we took it as part of the package.

The afternoons were spend by the pool, under a large umbrella, dipping in the water when we got too hot. My friend was baking herself in the sun, I got heatstroke just looking at her roasting away. I still got a nice tan though. One thing I remember very fondly was the chocolate hour every evening in the foyer. If you know me you will know just how much I love chocolate so this was my idea of temporary heaven. And the sweetened mint tea, poured from an impossible height and still hitting the glass.

Our weekend flew by and before I knew it, I was back on a plane. Cool as a cucumber this time. And I can’t wait to get on another one. This weekend hadn’t just been about catching up with an old friend and recharging my batteries – it was more than that. Knowing you can overcome your fears if you want something enough is quite empowering. And liberating. Here is to growing wings.

Cheese Galore – Amsterdam

This trip has been a while ago, September 2015 to be precise, but it has been a very special one for me. The last time I had set foot on a plane before this had been in late 2004.

One of my friends had her hen do planned on Tenerife the year after and insisted I had to come along or else. So we struck up a deal – a test run was needed so I wouldn’t go crazy on the plane (That was before I knew Tenerife is a cool 4 and a half hours flight away). So we were looking for a short flight, Paris was boring, neither of us fancied Dublin (sorry Ireland), so Amsterdam it was.

The flight is super quick, just 45 minutes in the air and apart from constantly talking to the guy next to me and pissing off his girlfriend in the process, I did really well. To teach me a little lesson about planes, we arrived to early so had to circle Schipholt at low altitude, waiting to land. Very similar to a car park on a Saturday just before Christmas. And we did not fall out of the sky. Amazing.

We had booked a room close to the centre with a guy called Frank which was lovely, although there was an occasional whiff of weed in the air. But hey, it was Amsterdam after all. We were incredibly lucky that the weather was balmy and pleasant so we spend a lot of time walking, just taking in the views and sometimes narrowly avoiding being run over by a tram.

We didn’t hit the big attractions like the Anne Franck House or the Rijksmuseum, mainly because we were a little unorganised and didn’t book in advance. Which is something I would highly recommend you do because the queues were insane. We visited the Tassenmuseum (handbags to you and me) which is rather amazing, not only if you like fashion but also architecture as the building itself is really beautiful inside. A tour of the harbour was quite fun as well, although I’m not entirely sure it was the best place for my friend to come up with a statement of perfectly well understanding how planes fly but being at a loss when it came to boats staying afloat.

Another place we visited was the Icebar, which was okay but not something I am going to repeat in a hurry. But then smelly, heavy jackets are not really my thing. At least now I can say I have been and am the proud owner of a few pictures of myself featuring polar bears and frozen pirates. Because you never know when you might need one of those. Hopping from one source of food and drink to another seems to have taken up a large part of our little trip but then sustenance is quite important when you hit your 10 000 steps by lunch time.

Overall it was a lovely little trip and definitely served its purpose – I have been flying regularly since. I still don’t like it much but I can handle it because there is so much of the world I want to see.

Mountains Of Doom – Three Peaks Challenge

In May 2018, I completed this challenge together with five absolutely amazing human beings who luckily for myself and them of course, I can call my friends. For those who don’t know what this is about, you climb the three highest mountains in England, Scotland and Wales in as short a time possible. Dead easy.

A guy I work with suggested it to support the Teenage Cancer Trust and I was like yeah I’ll do it. I probably didn’t entirely listen what I was signing up for. I like mountains but it would be quite an exaggeration to say I had been regularly hiking before. My parents do it and I always thought it was pretty boring.

So I got the gear and we did a trial run of Mount Snowdon in April as according to our schedule this was the one we would climb in the dark. This was the first time it dawned on me that I might have signed up to something a little out of the ordinary. Who climbs mountains in the dark? We left at stupid o’clock in the morning and drove to Wales. Apparently this climbing lark is quite popular so we had to park a bit away from the actual mountain because at dawn the car park at the foot of the mountain was full. What the heck. After a two mile walk along a pretty narrow road trying to avoid getting run over by cars and mad cyclists, we reached the bottom of the hill. Sorry mountain. By that time me and two other girls were already like what have we let ourselves in for. So we scrambled up this mountain and then back down, having a little stop by a lake and all got burnt to ashes in the process. Not quite but we all ended up with serious sunburn. So after this first taste of proper hiking, I started to think oh shit, this is actually going to be a challenge.

Fast forward a month and we met in a car park to drive up to Scotland. There is something about road trips that is just cool. Driving to Scotland takes some time, so we stopped for a picnic by the Humber. With lots of cake. So far so good. Ben Nevis is quite a way away, so apart from picnics, the day was pretty much spend in a car. Bleugh. After checking into the hotel and a stroll to the local Tesco to buy some Scottish bread (don’t ask), we had our last supper. Start time for the next day was 4am so we were really sensible, went to bed early and of course not a drop of alcohol. Haha as if. According to my clever phone, I slept ten minutes that night.

Alarms went off at 3am. No breakfast at this time so we had bought some stuff the night before. Because I’m such a nice person, I made us coffee after my shower and served one of the girls tinned peaches. As I mentioned it was 3am and I was still tired so I didn’t bother getting dressed before doing so. At least it woke the girls up and I might have acquired the nickname Topless Coffee in the process……

Anyway, all dressed (including myself) and ready off we went. First obstacle was actually finding the starting point, which proved to be somewhat difficult with no GPS of any kind and three girls in the car. But we got there in the end. Now, I have to say, this was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The tranquility – despite the company – the mountains, the sun coming up, that just had something. We even encountered some stags. Spectacular. There was only one other guy on his way up, pretty convenient too. I hate saying hello to people just because they scramble up the same mountain as we do. Despite our stabby sticks – hiking poles to you – getting up there was actually requiring quite some effort. But we made it. There was still snow on the top and we got rewarded with an amazing view. Quick break, then it was time to move on. Someone in our group might have left some yellow snow behind too. We were on the clock after all. It got pretty busy on the way down, but hey we had done our first peak. How bad could the rest possibly be. Temporarily pretty shit as it turned out.

Next stop was Scafell Pike. Looking rather idyllic in the sunset, it’s also close to Sellafield and the radioactive sea as one guy in our group pointed out a few times. The mutant sheep on the mountain became a running joke, but it is kind of creepy to get baaahed at out of the dark when you try getting off some rock. Now this was meant to be the easy one. Oh it was not. Climbing a mountain in the dark when you don’t have a lot of experience is a little stressful. On the way up, one of the girls in our group pulled a muscle in her thigh. Somehow she managed to drag herself up the hill and down again, with a little help from the rest of us but also sheer admirable determination. We got to the top at about 10.30 pm, catching a last glimpse of the sun before it went pitch black. We were pretty tired at that point and just wanted to get down. Not that easy when you have no idea where you’re going and it’s a little foggy. Then another girl in our group hurt her knee. We knew it was bad, but didn’t quite realise how bad. Our group leader  carried her down most of the way. Did I mention the mutant sheep by the way? They got pretty freaky. Also, meeting people in the dark on their way up, not really reassuring. None of them asked if we needed any help by the way and it was obvious we were struggling at that point so their mountain climber team spirit obviously sucked big time. How we got off this stupid mountain with two injured people, I’m not quite sure. That I will never set foot on this bloody rock again though, that I’m sure about.

When we finally got to our cars, we were all overtired, pretty smelly and still had to drive to Wales and climb another one. We questioned our sanity at that point. How we stayed awake I don’t know. Steak and sausage rolls from Gregg’s and a constant supply of Costa coffee definitely helped.

Wales, Mount Snowdon. Last one to conquer. It was clear that our knee invalid wouldn’t be joining us so she had to wait in the pub at the bottom of the mountain which seemed like heaven right now.  Thigh girl slapped on the Ibuprofen gel and was like ‘I’m doing this even if it’s the last thing I do’. After refueling on some ice cream – our food choices as time had gone on during this mission not impossible went from good and nutritious to distinctly greasy, fatty and full of sugar. Not that anyone cared at that point. We started moving. Slowly but surely we worked our way up the mountain and to the top. We even remembered to get our picture taken at the summit although we all looked like something the cat had dragged in. Something pretty dead at that too. It did cross our mind to cheat a bit and take the train down but it a) cost a fortune and b) was fully booked anyway. But there was a pub at the end of this. That kept us going. The sheer joy of seeing that little white house in the distance nearly made me cry.

Sitting down on something that wasn’t a rock or a car seat after 28 hours of this ordeal was indescribable. The burger and cider I ordered was as close to nectar and ambrosia as you could get. My arms and legs first felt like lead, then like they were about to fall off. I had bruises in places I didn’t even know you could get. But we did it. The sense of pride we all felt could have been bottled. We had this idea – before we embarked on our adventure – we would party it up in our hostel dorm. Haha, no. We had much needed showers – our clothes stood up by themselves and socks had to be labelled toxic waste – and fell into bed. Cuddling our medals because when you achieve something epic, you get a medal. I want more medals now. I want to look like Mr T. Without the mohawk.

The French Hideout

I’m really fortunate that my family owns a little chalet in the French Lorraine region, a forlorn place in the middle of a large forest dotted with ruins, lakes and countless wild blueberry bushes. Before you think I’m rather posh, growing up at the German-French boarder does have it’s perks. My grandad built the house in the 50s on what used to be a potatoe field during WWII and it remained unchanged until the 2000s when my parents installed electricity and even wifi. I spend the summers of my childhood here, as well as countless weekends. I fondly remember chasing fire flies through the ferns on summer nights, the parties with friends in my late teens and twenties and every year come back to see my parents.

I love this place with all my heart. Here, you can experience true solitude. Mixed in with the underlying fear of getting attacked by wild boars of course but some things require sacrifices. Of all the places Iived, this one is the one I would consider most home. It’s always drawn me back here. I cannot remember any bad times. I will always associate it with something good. My children love this place as much as I do and are always looking forward to being here. They are the fourth generation to go for walks in the woods, looking for mushrooms, swimming in the lakes, making fires and watching the stars in one of the clearest night skies you’ve ever seen. There is a little cafe in a town nearby and it has become tradition that I take my kids, one on each day so they get to spend time with just me, for some pastries. I love French patisserie and so do they. And we get to chat. Not about changing the world, but what moves theirs. I love this time, it’s entirely removed from the rest of our lives.

This year, my dad mentioned for the first time that at some point in the future they might sell the place. It’s an old house, full of flaws and it needs looking after on a regular basis. A little like my parents really. The thought of loosing this piece of my life – on both counts – scares me to death. Whilst I know one of those is inevitable, albeit I hope a long time in the future, the other is not. And I am determined to preserve this place for my children and grandchildren. I hope they will follow me in my determination so that even more generations of my family can enjoy this place even when I’m long gone.