Short trip around Austria with Khruslovs family (Jul 14)

For the next weekend we planned a trip to neighbouring Austria. Yuliya travelled with her parents to Vienna on Wednesday night, so they would have some time to explore the Austrian capital. As my day offs were limited, I drove to Vienna on Thursday night after work and joined them  for a nice evening stroll around that beautiful European capital. There were some celebrations in the centre with lots of food stalls and music, so it was a really nice evening spent together.

Judging from the photos, Yuliya and her parents had really enjoyed the time in Vienna. I had been there several years ago, so my memory of the city had faded away partially. Hopefully, some time I would have enough holidays to enjoy Vienna and lots of other cities too to which I had been already.

The next day we got into the car and went to do some sightseeing around the country. The plan was to get to all those breathtaking lakes and landscape we had discovered with Yuliya the year before.

The first destination point on our route was Gmunden with its magnificent views of Traunsee. We spent the most time there walking along the lakeshore, finding a perfect spot for swimming in a chilly crystal clear water with an amazing view of Ort castle and surrounding mountains.

The next stop was Attersee where we just spent the most time lying next to the lake, swimming in its cold waters and eating traditional Czech/Austrian/Bavarian food – sausage with potatoes and sauerkraut, and with a glass of weissbier (non-alcoholic for me in that case) (smile).

One of the most vivid memories of the day was actually a boat ride we took on Attersee… The sun started to slowly adjust its trajectory towards its shelter behind the horizon, the light was soft, orange and perfect for the pictures… and the hour spent on the top deck of the boat… white cold wine for the ladies, another non-alcoholic beer for me… It was truly incredible… one of those moments when you understand how valuable a lot of things in your life are – your family, your relationships, the chances you took, the opportunities that led you towards such a moment…

We had our hotel booked in Salzburg for the night as we planned to spend the next day there, but before getting to it we managed to see one more lake – Mondsee – where we stopped for half an hour to take a walk next to it, to take some nice family photos on one of the small dock bridges and just wrap up that incredible day…

Austrian Lakes. Part 1 (Jul 14) - 082

We arrived to Salzburg already late in the evening. Somehow it hadn’t been very easy to find a well-priced accommodation in the city centre, but in the end we were happy with the choice as we stayed in bed & breakfast place in the building erected in 1378… more than 600 years ago…

Even though we were tired we still managed to get out of our rooms and have a nice walk around Salzburg city centre and eat another sausage with sauerkraut (smile).

Salzburg with Parents (Jul 14) - 005

The next day was devoted to Salzburg sightseeing. We went to see the castle and while Yuliya and her parents had some tour inside, I enjoyed the views of the city with another non-alcoholic beer. Then we walked around the city centre which was a very nice walk though Salzburg itself couldn’t be considered a very big city (smile).

It was getting hotter outside so we decided to spend the afternoon out of the city and went to check one  more lake – Fuschlsee.The agenda was the same – swimming, relaxing, sun bathing a bit, playing some card – and we loved it!

The next day, on Sunday, we planned to get back to Prague, so I had booked the hotel in a small town of Wels next to the Czech border. But before getting there we wanted to finish off the Austrian part of the trip by enjoying a beautiful sunset at Wolfgangsee…

And that was THE perfect end to a truly amazing trip… Thank to Austria for its beauty! We will be back soon (smile)!

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Essaouira – The Last Day of the Year

For the last day of the year we had the tickets to Essaouira which is the small town on the Atlantic shore. During our initial planning we were not considering it as one of our destinations but having heard lots of great things about the town, we decided to pay it a visit. And besides we just couldn’t leave Morocco without throwing a coin into the Ocean to make sure we’d come back some time. 

The return trip to Essaouira took us 6 hours in total and we had a bit less devoted to the city itself. Bus was quite comfortable but the way of Moroccan driving together with the narrowness and sometimes absence of the road didn’t calm us until we reached our destination. In Marrakech it rained in the morning, so we were quite lucky to get out of the city that day.


Essaouira appeared to a really nice place to visit and spend half of the day. It actually deserved more time but the next morning we were having a flight back. Old City looked quite different from the other cities. Being mostly blue and white with narrow streets and old houses it looked like some fisherman town from the old films. And we actually felt like this as well. There were not many people and no traffic at all on its narrow and sometimes wide streets. Walking and being almost lost in this city created a special charming and relaxed atmosphere. 


The cry of the seagulls and the salty smell were the signs of the close Ocean. The atmosphere changed a lot when we entered the port. Lots of people were coming to and leaving the place. In the air you could see thousands of birds which were waiting for the fishermen to share a part of the results of their hard work. Next to the port there was a fort with the rampart and high walls which once had been defending the town. 


Next to the fish market with all its variety of fish and sea products we discovered one of the “beauties” of Essaouira – the blue fishermen boats tied up together in the docks. After taking lots of pictures we moved further into the docks to enjoy the view over the beach from one side and the old small and large boats on the other. The weather was windy with a little bit of the sun which created a true Ocean atmosphere.


We had a seafood lunch and walked more in the medina. Before heading back toward the Ocean we managed to find a shop with cheap ceramic souvenirs and bought lots of stuff for almost all the relatives and some friends (smile). 


The last hour and a half in Essaouira was spent on the public beach. Yuliya and I were sitting on my jacket enjoying the the warm sunsays and the refreshing wind. We watched surfers trying to cope with big waves and were remembering the cool moments we had had in Morocco. Our trip was coming to an end. We were full of emotions and happiness. 


The year was coming to and end and we were meeting the new one in a great country – together! 

Ourika Valley

“Lonely Planet” is definitely a great book if you’re traveling in the country different to your environment (I mean Europe here). Especially it’s useful when not many people around understand the language(s) you speak. So that was the case with our travel to Atlas Mountains. 

To feel more local and to save lots of money on the tour we left the hotel and got petit (small) taxi to Bab el-Rouk where the grand (big)


taxis were waiting for its passengers. The grand taxis are almost 100% old Mercedes cars which serve as a public transport to the nearby villages and cities. The system is quite simple – the taxis to certain destinations wait for their customers and leave only when they are completely full. In Morocco that means 2 people in the front seat and 4 in the back. And that the normal way of traveling here (smile). You can also buy the other places in the car if you want it to depart faster. 

That’s what we exactly did. The destination point – village Siti Fadma in the Ourika Valley. The trip lasted 1.5h. The scenery on the other side of the window was really amazing – high mountains with snow-caps and nice villages in the valleys and on the hills. The Atlas mountains were totally different from once I had usually experienced (i.e. Ukrainian Carpathians). No trees and almost no plants, just rocks and dark red-brownish soil. 

Siti Fadma appeared to be a very small village on the banks of a mountains river which looked quite dried up in the winter season. From the very beginning we were “attacked” by the local s (mostly kids) who wanted to guide us to the waterfalls. We refused and made our way to along the Ourika valley to the next village. The weather was cloudy which made mountains look higher and even more gloomy. But the view was breathtaking… 


Getting back to Siti Fadma we chose the path on the side of the mountain with lots of cactuses on both sides of it. Actually before I didn’t think that cactuses in such amounts can grow in the mountains. 


Back in Siti Fadma we saw lots of tourists who arrived on the tour buses. We followed the “crowd” up the mountain to the beautiful waterfall. To climb higher we needed the help of some locals as the wet rock didn’t look too safe. And nobody, of course, wanted to do it for free (smile). The views on the village and the surrounding mountains were astonishing. We enjoy some more time walking and then got back to the valley to have a great Moroccan lunch. The tajines we had then were one of the best I tried. 


We spend some more time in the village buying some souvenirs and just sitting next to the river. Afternoon way back home consisted mainly of the sleep. The day had been great and we were happy to get the different taste of Morocco. 



Marrakech Story


Our trip from Fes to Marrakech took 8 hours which consisted of sleeping, watching some films on iPod, playing iPod games, eating mandarins, bananas, avocados and playing cards.
Marrakech met us with completely new & modern railway station and a great weather. Our hotel was not far from it but the broken suit handle was still a bother. We paid twice less for the ride from what we had been asked for which made us proud & feel a bit local.
“Hotel Toulousain” was quite a nice & clean place just in the centre of Ville Nouvelle. The facilities were quite basic but definitely a good value for the money (20 EUR for a double room). 

After some rest we went for a walk towards medina. After half an hour we felt very happy that Marrakech was the last city on our root. The reason was that it looked very modern and very European – long wide boulevards, lots of cafes & restaurants, shopping malls, Western fast food and very European architecture with some local peculiarities. I was sure that our Morocco experience wouldn’t be so rich if we were to travel to other cities after a stop in Marrakech. I could imagine our disappointment of Casablanca or even Rabat. 


Orange trees with lots of fruits occupied the space on both sides of the road. The traffic was crazy and thermometer was showing +22 °C. On our way to Koutoubia mosque we walked a bit in Cyberpark. One funny thing happened to us there. We finally dared to pick up an orange from a public place and try it. Thought “why nobody take the oranges” was immediately clarified. That fruit was the most bitter I had ever tasted in my life! Later we were explained that those were not good oranges and could be used only for cleaning metal things (smile). 


Koutoubia mosque looked large and old being actually one of the most important mosque in Morocco (if not the most). The muezzin started to call believers for the prayer once we got closer to it. And both of us could swear he was shouting something close to “welcome” is a very Arabic way. In the park next to it we took several pictures with a pretty-looking cactus and then headed to the center of Marrakech and whole Morocco. 

Djemaa el-Fna  

In all the guidebooks, reviews, sources and friends’ stories it is recognized as the “must-be”-“must-see”-“must-feel” place in Morocco. And it’s definitely the truth. 

During the day Djemma el-Fna is a big square with lots of stalls and several hundreds people passing through it, with lots of cafes and restaurants, with streets going deep into medina’s heart hiding lots of souks and interesting places. But in the evening the place turns into something incredible and unforgettable. Even more stalls appear on the square selling fresh juices, dried fruits and different types of food. Around the square you can notice lots of “human” circles. Local surround people who decided to earn some dirhams in this magical place. Snake charmers, musicians, storytellers, acrobats and all kinds of other people fill the box of life on this square. 


Here you can eat boiled snails and enjoy a cup of tea in a cosy cafe overlooking the square. Here you can be annoyed by the women trying to “decorate” your hands with henna and enjoy a conversation with a food barker who knows Ukrainian Shevchenko. Here you spot the most tourists in Morocco but at the same time you are lost in the crowd of local. 


On Djemma el-Fna you’re overwhelmed with so many feelings and things, but at the same time you find that everything will slightly close and vanish before the midnight, even in New Year’s Eve (smile).


Walk in the Old City 

The same day we walked a couple of hours in Marrakech medina which appeared to be somewhat different than the other but very similar as well. The buildings were mostly pained with pink colour and the streets were a bit wider than in Fes or Casablanca. At the same time it meant a huge irritation in the form of motorbikes signaling all the time and not allowing to enjoy fully a self-paced walk. Here maps were more useful than in other cities, but still we found ourselves completely lost, totally at the opposite where we planned to go. 



The overall tiredness of the trip was nevertheless getting on the surface and we decided to spend one more full day in Marrakech sightseeing. The last day of the year was devoted to the Ocean and the day before we decided to go in the Atlas Mountains which were less than 100km south from Marrakech.
Day of Sightseeing 

The next day was totally devoted to seen the major Marrakechi sights. The first on the list was Majorelle Garden with Museum of Islamic Arts. The garden was looked after by Yves Saint Laurent Foundation and he had a villa just next to it. The place turned out to be a land of the paradise surrounded by the busyness of the city and the Moroccan heat (though we didn’t experience much of it in December). Walking in the shades of dozens types of trees, smiling at the shapes and hairiness of dozens types of cactuses, relaxing next to the pond and taking pictures of small tortoises – all that made the start of the day for us extremely great and relaxing. 

Afterwards we followed a busy road towards medina. Local fruit market on our way was a good supplier of snack for the day ahead. We walked along the wide medina streets to see first 3 sights – Ben Youssef Medrassa, Museum of Marrakech and some kind of tomb (smile). Medersa looked incredibly nice and very similar to one in Fes. The cool thing was that we could climb it and see the lifestyle of the students. Museum was interesting as well with several big halls decorated greatly and with huge Arab-style chandeliers. And the tomb was… also the other thing we saw (smile). 


We stopped at Djemma el-Fna for lunch in a very local place with local prices and lots of locals and foreigners. Now the place was more quiet with mostly tourist walking around. We negotiated the price with a woman and Yuliya had a Henna painting on her hand which in the end vanished in couple of days instead of promised 2 weeks (smile). 


South from the square 3 more attractions were to be visited – Saadian tombs and two palaces – el Badi and Bahia ones. The amounts of tourists in the first place was incredible. We needed to stand for 20 minutes or so to get 30 sec to see the tombs. The artwork and the place looked definitely nice but definitely not worthy the time spent. May be we just were tired and had seen lots of similar things in other Moroccan cities already (smile). 


Ruined Palace el Badi appeared to be a great place with ruined walls and storks’ nests on their top. When we climbed the half ruined tower far on the horizon we saw the white tops of the Atlas mountains and definitely decided to get closer to them the next day. 


Bahia Palace was nice but really not something special. The same was the old Jewish cemetery which looked very similar to Fesi one. Though Marrakechi mellah looked great with a series of long narrow and straight streets.

In the evening we met 2 local Couchsurfers – Hatim & Slimame and had a great evening on the terrace of a restaurant overlooking Djemma el Fna. It was really cool to get together with some local and ask about lots of different things trying to understand Moroccan people and country better. 


New Year Eve


Our initial plan was to celebrate it with a glass of fresh orange juice on Djemma el Fna as this was definitely the place for this in Morocco.
We came back from Essaouira close to 9p.m. and went to celebrate Ukrainian New Year in the restaurant nearby. It appeared to be a very nice a little poshy place with good food, good Moroccan wine and high but bearable prices. Yuliya and I had some toasts for the great year we had had mostly together. It’s the fourth year in a row we were celebrating together and, actually, in 4th different country:2005 – Prague, 2006 – Ukraine, 2007 – Serbia and 2008 – Morocco.
We hoped the tradition would definitely continue. 

At 00:00 there was almost nobody on Djemma el Fna, only tourist trying to have some fun but finding themselves surrounded by indifferent to New Year atmosphere. We had a fresh juice and chatted a bit with a Swiss couple who came to the square for the same reason, then we had a nice Arab tea in closing restaurant and a great 40-min walk along the boulevards of night 2009 Marrakech. 



Sortie to Fes el-Bali – Second try.

Day 2 – Story continues


After the great medina tour it was exactly the time for the great food. We sat on a small terrace of the restaurant, a great spot to observe people rushing in and out of Fes el-Bali. Our order consisted of 2 orange juices, couscous and pastilla. The last meal looked like a round cake. It was actually powdered with vanilla which looked quite weird for the meal with meat inside.
And… the puff dough with meet and vegetables filling and slightly sweet taste was delicious. I can definitely say that pastilla in Fes medina was the tastiest thing I ate in Morocco.




The light of the day started to gain more of the golden tones which meant the evening with its noise and vividness was coming slowly live. Our tiredness was a bit absorbed by the food and a bit by the chilling atmosphere on the restaurant terrace. We decided to get out of the old city and climb the hill. You could see it from any rooftop in medina and its main feature was formed by the 2 old ruined Roman gates.


The walk towards the place past the old Muslim cemetery took a bit more than half an hour.




Climbing up the hill we met two Dutch man with his son so the change to have photos of Yuliya and myself together was not wasted (smile). The view from the top of the hill was breathtaking. Only at that moment we could realize how big the Old City of Fes was. Walking on its streets you could already feel the density of the medina buildings. To see that from above in another whole new experience.




On both sides of the hill lots of local were sitting and enjoying the warm afternoon (or evening…) hours. We had a kilo of mandarines and several bananas and the green slope was a great place to be done with them. We passed through the ruined gates and discovered that another big Muslim cemetery was lying at hill’s foot. The place and the view of the horizons were wonderful. Local guy told us in a decent English the story about the place but such stories usually get out of my head very quickly.




We went on the other side and sat there for quite some time just enjoying the view, the weather, our experience so far and looking forward to Marrakech and Essaouira. Decision to come to the last already settled in our minds. The Ocean was calling us…
The experience of the moment, place and country does not only comes after a tiring tours and tons of pictures of difference cool things you saw. Sometime you just need to take a time and observe.




The walk downtown took a bit more than an hour. Later we had a nice dinner with seafood and lots of fruits in our hotel room. Couple of films on TV and the sweetest dreams after (smile).


Day 3


The next day was planned to be more relaxing with another “sortie” to medina. We had a usual breakfast – tea, coffee with croissants. Enjoying the morning sun and watch the people is definitely one of the best things to do in the morning at Ville Nouvelle. 

This time we were happily smiling to the guides offering us their “help” as now we considered ourselves to be really experienced “medina-walkers”:) We were walking in the old city for the next several hours making some stops for snacks and discovering lots of new places. To walk on yourself and the feeling of not being led appeared to be quite comfortable. Usually we followed the main (couple of meters wide) streets with lots of souks (shops/markets), but sometimes we appeared to be in places with no visible sign of tourism and foreigners. 


It was really cool to discover a local place with beans soups (see “food” post) near some Bab (gate). Even though we had a map, we couldn’t actually find out what gate exactly it was. We also discovered some museums and restored caravanserai which were beautifully restored inside and had always stairs on the rooftop where you could enjoy the view over the city. 


On our way into medina we passed the stall with some cheap jewelry and Yuliya stopped to buy some earrings for her friends. She showed her interest (warning: a mistake to do in Morocco) also in a nice metal necklace. The price was 10 EUR at the beginning and 6 in the end of bargain. We managed to escape promising to look again at it on our way back. When we were returning some time later, the guy actually caught us with his offer again. Just 4 EUR – good price for a nice thing and for “getting rid” of Moroccan “trading” (smile). 


We had a late lunch on the last floor of a restaurant just next to Bab el-Jeloud. Pastilla was nice but quite far from our previous experience. But the sips of fresh orange juice, the view over the city’s entrance were simply great. Each moment lots of people were entering Fes el-Bali, some headed towards the vegetable & fruit market, some disappeared inside the tiny streets, other (mostly tourists) flooded the cafes around and were enjoying the warm sun rays and observing. 


We did so as well. More than half of our trip already happened which was so hard to believe, but still lots of thing were to come. Marrakech was waiting for us. 

Fes el-Jdid and Fes el-Bali

Day 1

Bab El Jeloud appeared to be a very live ly place with lots of action happening around. Already at the entrance we were approached by some guides (no clue if official ones or not very) but I was confident I could make it myself as long as I had a map and the guidebook. The reality of Fes medina was actually different. The main street was only several meters wide with shops and stalls on its sides. Only thanks to the groups of tourists in front of us we didn’t miss first sightseeing spot – Medersa Bou Inania (built in 14th century). Medersa is an Islamic theological college usually placed close to mosque. And this one was definitely a masterpiece of architecture. The tilework (zelij) and plasterwork (muqarna) of inside yard were astounding.




Starting from Bab el Jeloud we were followed by couple of guides who were quite persistent in offering their help. In the end one stayed outside medersa and was waiting. Having nearly missed such a beauty as medersa we re-evaluated our intention to get around without guide. In the end our gratitude to Abdullah cost 30 EUR per 2 people for 3 hours which I thought to be a great deal considering all he had shown us.


During all those 3 hours Abdullah was leading us through narrow and very narrow streets to different places. It was quite ridiculous for me to consider we could do it on our own. 



At the beginning we went to see what the real caravanserai was. I had heard this word so many times before but actually had no clue about its meaning. So caravanserai is basically a building with and inside yard. It’s built specially for the traders who come to the town to sell their goods. On the first floor there’s a bunch of cheap “hotel” rooms and on the ground – small shops where those goods are sold. 



Afterwards Abdullah took us to the place where the sheep skins were processes. The smell was incredibly strong and awful and the place didn’t look well either. As most of such places it consisted of a buildings built in square so they created a big inner yard where the work could be carried out (bigger than one in caravanserai). In the yard there were all the devices and machines necessary for the work and actually we were told that a family could come there and process their own skins. They just needed to pay the money for using the necessary equipment. In Morocco traditional arts are usually produced in cooperatives, so if you belong to it, you can come and work here. 

Abdullah took us on the second floor and we saw the process from the top. All over the place you could see the cut wool and sheep skins drying on the sun. We also get on the roof and enjoyed the view from there as well. 



After half an hour walk through the labyrinths of medina we entered an open antique market. It was full of old and unneccessary, to my mind, things. Just next to it we climbed the slope to enjoy the view of the whole medina. It looked so huge and breathtaking… At this moment both Yuliya and I were very happy about our choice to hire a guide (even unofficial one) as we would never find anything in medine ourselves (smile).
Our next stop was a small tannery – a place where leather was tanned. We entered it from a rooftop (don’t ask how, we just did) trying not to step on the yellow skins which were drying on the sun. From above tannery looks like a bee comb which lots of square cells in the ground in which the skins are tanned. The same cooperative system applies here as well. The liquid/paint/dye (no clue how to call it) is of different colour that’s why panoramic views from the roofs are incredible. And so is the smells. The best way to survive it is to have a fresh mint leaves close to your nose. 



The next pit-stop was made at some place for old women who had no husbands. They came to that place to live and pray. Looked quite nice but didn’t get much more details – why, how and when (smile).
The “faux guides” are famous for their agreement with owners of different shops where they take tourists. If people buy something from those those, guide usually gets the commission. We told Abdullah at the very beginning that we had no interest in buying things coz we already had done it. Of course, he told that he worked for no commission and didn’t have any agreement with anyone. So the first place we were taken was a huge shop of different ceramics and goods from metal – like trays, teapots, jewelry, plates, etc. The style of unofficial guide is that he invites you in and then tell to have a look, telling that there’s “no need to buy anything” (smile), and there’s “no charge for just seeing”. After that he disappears so he can’t be accused of any “relations with tourists” (smile). Even we were not interested in buying lots of things and our budget was quite low, we still were a bit tempted as most of the tourists. But the prices were 5-10 times higher than in Rabat for the same things. The owner of the shop were not really happy with us as we asked for the price but didn’t bargain back and were not interested in his “global” price if we bought more than one item. 

After we told we were not interested in anything, the owner asked us to wait for Abdullah and went to call him. Our tour in Fes el-Bali continued.
The next two places where the same system was tried on us were drugstore and carpet shop. The drugstore actually looked very cool. It was quite big and on its shelves you could see different perfumes, liquids, herbs, nicely smelling soap, creams, different spices, tea & some coffee. The owner was a nice young man who spoke perfect English and Spanish (other group of tourists). We didn’t buy much, just some tea with mint, instead had a nice chat with the guy. 

The entrance to the carpet shop led us into the long low corridor with carpets on its walls. Abdullah, of course, didn’t follow us (smile). Inside an old Arab (or Berber) man was trying to sell something to the French couple. Yuliya and I went up the stairs on the roof. The view was great. Downstairs we were presented some carpets and covers which reminded the ones made by Gutsuls in Ukrainian Carpathians. Again as we appeared to be very bad buyers the owner called Abdullah to pick us up again. 



The last major thing on our route was the biggest tannery in Fes el-Bali. Its smell could be already “spotted” 10 minutes before we came close to it. In the building next to the tannery on each of the 4 floors you could see the goods made from leather starting from a wallet and ending with a cool puff or a leather jacket or coat. We were led by some man on the roof. As it was weekend, not many people were working down in the cells but the place didn’t look less impressive coz of that fact. Traditionally afterwards we were shown different overpriced goods. In the end we gave a tip to the guy for showing us the tannery but bought nothing. Again we waited for Abdullah. It seemed like he wasn’t very pleased with us (smile). 

After all the walking we had done, we felt quite tired and hungry as well. Besides we felt that it was the right time to end our excursion. Abdullah was happy to get rid of us especially after he saw a group of Dutch girls making it through medina on their own.