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The Inn of Disappointment

BY MURIEL

sunny 15 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Walking up to Arthur's Seat

Walking up to Arthur's Seat

We awoke to sunshine (finally!), and eager to get out in it, we packed up and were out of our place within an hour and a half, which is no mean feat when there are four adult-like people clamouring for one bathroom. We were rewarded with an uneventful navigation through the construction-riddled streets to our planned walk of the day: a trek up to what is known as Arthur’s Seat, after the famed round table king. This promontory lies right at the edge of Edinburgh and rises 250 m above the city. It is covered in lush, green foliage with patches of yellow Scottish broom augmenting the jade (with apologies to John Stadt, who feels Scottish broom is a blight upon the earth). The crowds of people at the top didn’t deter us from enjoying a stunning 360 degree view. This grand hill is a beautiful addition to the city, truly one of Edinburgh’s highlights.

Scottish Parliament Debate Chamber

Scottish Parliament Debate Chamber

Close to the base of the hill is the fairly newly built Scottish Parliament building. Scotland went without its own parliament for almost 300 years, until 1998, when it wanted more authority from the British Parliament. Now, the Scottish people answer to both houses (or is it the other way around?), and support both MPs in London and MSPs (Ministers of Scottish Parliament) in Edinburgh. It may seem like just another layer of bureaucracy to some; however, it does provide the Scottish regions their own jurisdiction over all matters except foreign policy, immigration, social security and defence. While an eyesore on the outside (in my opinion), the building is very appealing on the inside, with its many windows allowing streams of natural light to complement the oak wood angled every which way. The debating chambers are very modern, with the best in technology and design. Members do not have assigned seats but most will sit grouped along party lines. The translucent person-shaped figures etched into the walls signify transparency in government (although, interestingly, the shapes also resemble bottles of malt whiskey).

With our short self-guided tour complete, we returned to Winston (the car) and headed south, saying goodbye to Scotland and hello to England once more. The scenery got greener and the temperature higher the farther south we travelled, both good signs. When we arrived at the place we had booked, it was out in the country and neither of us could remember why we had chosen this particular location, seemingly an hour’s drive from our next day’s planned excursion. However, we trusted ourselves and our planning and knew an answer would present itself soon. When we were greeted by the grizzled innkeeper and escorted through the tired, smoky hallways to our room, the trust started to wane. We checked into the family room, which was essentially a double room into which they had put a set of bunk beds. Now we really doubted ourselves and got out the computer to determine if we could cancel the accommodation and try for somewhere else. However, we could not get WIFI in the room; the innkeeper informed us it was ‘iffy’ and that we should try his bar downstairs. When we confirmed that our room was not refundable, we tried to determine why we had booked this place. In looking back at the reviews, we saw nothing but high ratings and glowing reports from previous guests. Was this the same place? Ben stuck his head in another room and reported that it seemed nicer than and not as crowded as our special ‘family room.’ We also noted that several of the reviews mentioned the large, tasty full English breakfast that comes with each room. Maybe that was it – maybe I was starving when I booked this place and threw all judgement out the window, hoping the food would overcome all demerits.

Durham Cathedral Overlooking River Wear

Durham Cathedral Overlooking River Wear

Leaving the girls in our ritzy place, Ben and I went into nearby Durham to try to find some tourist information. We could only find a map but the trip was still well worth it. Durham presents itself as a cute, tidy town, complete with the UK requisites of cathedral, castle, bridge and slow, winding river through its centre. It is also home to several colleges and a university so, with the sun out, the town was chock full of students and tourists enjoying shopping, sightseeing and walking. We couldn’t say no to that so we navigated the riverside path, taking in the cathedral afterwards. Its particular claim to fame is that the Venerable Bede is buried here although his tomb was off limits. Noting that time was marching on, we reluctantly returned to our lodgings and our abandoned children.

Pub Fare: Twice Cooked Pork Belly

Pub Fare: Twice Cooked Pork Belly

Since our room didn’t come with a kitchenette (again, I ask, why did we book this?!), we would have to go out to a restaurant. The kids convinced us that since the food reviews were good, we should eat at the pub in our inn. Fortunately, the trip was not far. Downstairs, we ordered steak and ale pie, fish and chips and twice cooked pork belly with crackle (you would have liked it , Mom). The portions that came were enormous and very tasty. Yes! At least we could relish the food. The pub was well patronized and we were next to a family party celebrating someone’s eightieth birthday so the atmosphere was festive. Ben moved to allow someone to wheel the old celebrant out in her wheelchair; as the wheeler tipped the chair back doing a wheelie down the ramp, the woman gasped and onlookers smiled, with Hannah commenting that it was like something out of a sitcom.

And now to bed, as Hadrian’s wall beckons tomorrow.

Posted by KZFamily 11:02 Archived in England Tagged scotland edinburgh england durham tangier arthurs_seat Comments (1)

Morocco Day 2 (Part 2)

By Muriel

rain 16 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Tangier: Old town main square

Tangier: Old town main square

During the church service, it was interesting to be in the minority. Aside from us, there were a handful of British people, with the remaining 50 - 60 people appearing to be from some other African nation; Ben and I surmised their original home may have been Somali or the Sudan. The quiet of the church service contrasted sharply with the sounds of the street market just outside the gates of the church. It felt like a refuge for us in more ways than one! And certainly this time around in Morocco, I felt like I needed more places of refuge. In many ways, it was more safe than twenty years ago and we didn't get ourselves into any situations like we had back then (ask me for the story sometime); however, I found I didn't enjoy it as much this time. After a couple of hours in the medina, I really needed to escape from the shop keepers and hustlers. Always having to be acutely aware of your belongings, facing two or three vendors at once and knowing that you're being subjected to an inflated price (even after haggling substantially) took its toll on my usual good nature. The great majority of times when we were approached in a friendly manner, asked about our country and enquired of whether we were enjoying Morocco were conversation starters for sales opportunities. In two or three instances, it was only after the person had left that we realized it had been an honest conversation and one we could enjoy in retrospect. I'm glad we went to Morocco so the girls could experience it for themselves but settling back into our 'home' in the Spanish countryside this evening has been a much-needed balm. (I'm also quite worn out due to the stressful experience of being bested by Abby.)

Posted by KZFamily 11:05 Archived in Morocco Tagged morocco tangier Comments (3)

Morocco Day 2 (Part 1)

by Abby

rain 16 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Tangier: Hotel Continental Breakfast Room

Tangier: Hotel Continental Breakfast Room

On our leaving day from Morocco we woke at 8, or at least I did. My mom and dad were complaining about the call to prayers that woke them up in the earlier hours of the morning. But it was a reasonably relaxed start, and we went down to breakfast in a timely fashion. For breakfast we were served a variety of small pastries in a well decorated and ornate room. There was only one couple there when we arrived, and they were the only ones there when we left. I enjoyed the warm bun I was given, on which I spread French butter and jam, but the other pastries were not very much to my liking. Hannah was the same, but enjoyed a circular flat flakey thing with raisins... I opted not to try mine. But my dad was more than willing to eat our discards.

After breakfast we went back to our room and packed up our bags for departure. Because the only ferries running that day were at 9AM, 2PM and 6PM, we planned some more venturing of the city. Our parents had told us the day before that they had seen a flyer for an Anglican service that was at 11AM on Sunday. Hannah and I were also told that it would only take 20 minutes to walk there. This turned out to, unfortunately, be an inaccurate estimation. The route we took to the church actually took us an hour, and we ended up walking about 3 kilometers in the muggy rain, instead of the 1.6 kilometers we had planned. Although the streets have names, there are no signs of any sort that display the names of any of the streets, which makes it quite difficult to find your way around an unknown part of the city. We asked a few locals the way as well as some helpful police officers. In the end we were only 20 minutes late to the service, but weren't the last to show up.

I enjoyed the time we spent at the church, and was especially happy to find out that our theory of the vicar being Canadian (which we gathered from his accent) was true. He told us after the service that he was originally from Ottawa, but lives in Washington, DC, and recently bought a house in New Brunswick. He says he keeps a foot in each place, although I didn't see how this was possible, as he only has two feet and both were in Morocco at the time.

Tangier

Tangier

After the service we went back into the rain and my dad led us around to try and find the Kasbah, but unfortunately, had to settle for a mosque that we didn't know the background of. But after looking at our watches and seeing that it was already half past twelve, we decided that we should try to hightail it back to our hotel, at which my dad's bag was stored. We ended up taking a taxi, as we still didn't exactly know the way back. I enjoyed the taxi ride, as I hadn't seen the mayhem of the streets from that view before. He had to slowly drive down the one way streets that were packed with people and shopkeepers. At one point a car came at us from the other direction, and we had to pull over beside a car that was centimeters away, while the other car passed us, with centimeters to spare on her side as well. But in the end we made it safely back to the hotel, and gave our driver 50, well deserved, dihram, instead of the 40 he had previously asked for. But just as we started jogging towards the ferry port, we realised we still had over 200dihram left, which we would only be able to exchange in Morocco. But my dad was unable to get it exchanged back into Euros, so he settled for buying some items from a shopkeeper, which consisted of a pipe and two small metal boxes. But we were happy, especially once we were on the ferry, after having been held up in customs for an extended amount of time. But the wait was not our fault, just the people in front of us... we are perfectly good people with perfectly good intentions...

On the ferry, Hannah and I were treated to a sandwich, a bag of chips and a drink, which we inhaled gratefully, as it was already after 2, and we hadn't eaten anything since our small breakfast that morning. And the ferry ride went fast, as we played Quiddler, and even though I didn't win, it was the first time I had ever scored higher than my mother in a word game.

Score 1 for Abby.
Score 2,903,943,939,840,293 for Mom.

Posted by KZFamily 11:05 Archived in Morocco Tagged morocco tangier Comments (2)

Morocco Day 1 (Part 2)

By Ben

sunny 17 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Tangier: Medina

Tangier: Medina

Why do you visit Tangier? To shop in the market of course! This means haggling; a practice as old as commerce itself but it seems to have evolved into more of a blood sport when it involves tourists in Tangier. I have no desire to slight any Moroccan, but some of the shop keepers and street sellers are quite a special breed and have long since stop seeing tourists as humans but rather as wallets with legs and perhaps too few brains. Everything they sell they say is very old, made of very precious metal and stones and handcrafted. When looking at the men’s hats that have “Made in China” labels prominently displayed would seem to contradict the man who is telling you it is all hand knitted.

A sober second examination of the rate of unemployment and the very long history of inadequate economic development and a lack of substantial resources does make one understand why such business practices have developed but I think other countries and cultures may have developed a softer and less flagrant use of deception.
Muriel has always been the one in the family to drive a deal. When we go car shopping Muriel is the one to make the bargain. She did pretty well in the medina to get prices down to at least the level of what would be a bad deal for a local but a much better price than the majority of tourists might get. We ended most transactions with the merchant shaking their head like they have been beaten and robbed.

When you enter a shop you feel it is fair game for the merchant to follow you around and hover; but on the street it seems that you should have some hope of peace. In some places in the Medina this was not to be and we were surrounded by hawkers of all things imaginable with little willingness to heed the word “no” or “goodbye” in Spanish, French, Arabic or English (we tried them all with additions of thank you in said languages and the using a variety of the displeased looks, tones and gestures). In addition to the full frontal assault by mobile pedlars, there was the practice of being followed by people who wanted to take you to their shop or the insistent offer of being your guide. It was pretty constant, not unlike when we were in Morocco 20 years ago which surprised us since we had read that Tangier had really started to change in this respect.

Tangier: Hotel Continental Our Room View

Tangier: Hotel Continental Our Room View

During our afternoon we managed to purchase a few bracelets for Muriel and one for Hannah, as well as some change purses and hats for myself and the clothing mentioned earlier by Hannah. We returned to our hotel for a bit of a break before heading out once again for dinner. We met Jimmy at the hotel who makes himself out to be the hotel owner. He showed us pictures and references to him in Rick Steves (“a personal friend”) and Lonely Planet guidebooks and pictures of him with Khoffi Anan, Francis Ford Coppola, John Malcovich, Debra Winger and Sidney Portier. He seems to hold court in his dusty “antique” shop on the main floor of the decaying yet very historic Continental Hotel. He seemed to be pining for the better days in the hotel’s history which he has been part of for over forty years. The halcyon days of the hotel were well before even Jimmy’s time. In the late 19th and early 20th century even royalty would come to stay in the hotel. We could see some remnants of the majesty in various locations in the hotel but it is in real danger of being lost forever. Before we left he gave Hannah and Abby necklaces and they gave him a Canada pin in return.

After our break we walked along the main boulevard which parallels the 4 km beach that begins at the port (which has been under reconstruction for the past 8 years supposedly) near the old city and extends to the new town. The beach is wide and was probably very beautiful at one point but was quite littered but despite this is still popular with locals and the occasional camel and horse.

When we walked the boulevard we were stopped by a group of mostly female high school (or early university students) who wanted to interview us about our perspective of violence again women. Since Hannah was our French expert she answered the question which was quite a feat considering how fast the interviewing student was talking and the complexity of the subject. Our little interview did attract a fair bit of attention. We were soon surrounded by a gang of young teenage boys who were more than just a little amused with Hannah’s purple hair. Nearing the end of the interview they started squeezing in pretty close to Abby so I gestured for them to give some space to which they smirked and moved in even closer and I then said goodbye to them in French, Spanish, Arabic and English and just got more defiance as we tried to move on. At this stage a local man intervened and we turned on our heels to head back towards the group of girls who had just interviewed Hannah. They told us the problem we experienced was not specific to us being tourists but was typical behaviour of groups of young teenage boys to everyone on the streets.

Another man came alongside of us and told us not to worry and that we should still feel welcome and safe in Tangier and pointed out a path closer to the beach to walk on that would help us avoid the group. He started to chat us up even though we said we were fine and could find our own way and needed no guidance. He said he had lots of time and kept walking with us and then started pointing out that there were camels on the beach we could get photographed on. It was immediately evident he was determined to hire himself as our guide. I told him that we did not need a guide to which he became indignant. I offered a token payment to which he scoffed saying it was not enough so we firmly told him to move on while he angrily called after us as we walked away. This was another echo of our experience in Morocco 20 years ago.

Tangier: Dinner

Tangier: Dinner

We were able to walk the rest of the beach relatively undisturbed and we watched the locals out with their children. Pastimes seem dress your girls in incredible British style woolen outfits complete with beret and to buy your child popcorn, a ride on a pony or maybe a drive in a remote controlled car that a few enterprising young men were operating. All the walking and the lateness of the day drove us to look for an evening meal. There are many restaurants on the main drag and most are aimed at the local population. Tangier being a port city, seafood featured prominently. We came across one modest street front restaurant with a friendly waiter. We ordered a seafood platter (Abby opted for the local soup that she enjoyed at lunch) which ended up being an incredible amount of deep fried squid, prawns and a wide assortment of fish which was all deep-fried and very lightly breaded. The fresh ingredients are displayed in the case at the front of the restaurant and from what we could tell looked quite fresh. They cut off the heads of the fish but everything else was left intact. It turned out to be a very tastey meal from which we suffered no ill effects health wise (in case you were wondering). We finished our meal with a good quantity of very sweet mint tea for which we have all developed a strong affinity for.

We decided to get off the streets early and seek refuge in our hotel, there is only so long that you can keep your guard and resistance up to unwanted attention. On our walk back we passed a car that had been converted into a street side escargot restaurant that the locals were hungrily and very noisily enjoying. Also during our journey home we continued to experience the regular second looks if not outright laughter or pointing at Hannah’s purple hair by the locals. It has been quite a frequent occurrence throughout our European trip so far but it seems to spark an even stronger response in North Africa-especially among the young men.

All-in-all it was quite a day. It was in no ways relaxing but we can definitely say we have lived a small adventure today.

Posted by KZFamily 10:18 Archived in Morocco Tagged morocco tangier Comments (1)

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