Category Archives: Europe

Morocco Marrakesh Market: A treat to the senses

Marrakesh Spice Market

Marrakesh Spice Market

Just off Marrakesh central square – Djemaa el-Fna – lies some of the most enticing souks in Morocco. The immense market is home to food vendors, storytellers, musicians, tattoo artists and snake charmers…and the list goes on.

Fascinating, spell binding, alluring – and the list of adjectives could go on if we were to describe the Marrakesh Market – where the exotic world of snake charmers, musicians and riot of colors and cacophony of sounds bring the market alive and enticing enough to take a day out and revel in the magic of it.

Its ancient history revolves around desert caravans and pirates; its low red buildings are framed by the snow covered High Atlas mountains. The square around, which the city is centered is easily the most alluring of any African market.

It is so easy to get lost in the shrouded alleyways, which leads us into a darker, narrower lane that snakes into a twisty clutch of passageways, each nudging us in directions we can neither predict nor resist. But then, at the end these labyrinthine byways all funnel back to the main square – eventually.

And in your journey through the sights, smell and sound of the souks…you chance upon its very soul which pulls you back into its fold. Enveloping you in its magic and transporting you into a world like none seen before.

Amid the dense souks, you’ll find objects to sate every sense. Monkey trainers, snake charmers, henna artists,, carpets for the feet, candies for the tongue and scores of potent spices for the nose, people standing over huge boiling cauldrons dyeing wool whilst their neighbours measure out spices on old lead scales. Music acting as a layer to the souk…and over cups of sugary mint tea, with chat of family and country bartering and haggling seals the deal.

Whilst you go to the square at different times of the day, and you’ll keep seeing it reborn. At times, storytellers spin tales. At others, the food stalls dominate the scene, packed with everything from dried fruits, nuts and orange juice to gleaming rows of calf brains.

The flavor of the market is it’s salesmen – aggressive, pushing everything from rugs to perfume, with prices “just for you, my friend.” With the  happy cacophony of sounds – honks, braying of the donkey, the blaring music which keeps the shopper enthralled – it is a world of havoc – captivating havoc…

For a flavor of culinary heritage
Four-course meals are common here, the freshest salads, and meat platters ladled over fine bowls of couscous in the steaming tagines.

A must taste: Pastilla, a meat or vegetable pie with powdered sugar on its crust. There’s also fresh bread here to rival anything from Italy or France.

The mechoui sellers’s delicious slow-cooked lamb flavoured with cumin and salt is not to be missed.
Stalls selling aromatic bunches of mint compete with colourful displays of ras al hanout, a popular spice blend, and jars of preserved olives and red peppers.

Marrakech Bazaar

Marrakech bazaar

Visiting the bazaar
Thumb rule: If you decide to buy, the name of the game is to haggle. Offer about a third of the original price presented to you. You may as well make yourself comfortable as negotiations can take hours and be prepared to drink numerous cups of sweet mint tea in the process. It may also be possible to swap things, if you have designers T-shirts or trainers for example that you are prepared to give up.
The most interesting time to visit the souks is in the early hours of 5 – 8am, or late afternoon around 4-5pm when local traders can be seen bargaining for goods. Most stalls are closed in the evenings, although a few stay open till 7 or 8pm. It’s also worth noting that some souks are closed on Fridays, the holy day.


Come alive…in the Arctic landscape – By Abhik Dutta

Lapland

It’s snowing…huddled in the cosy little room in the Arctic Finland (Lapland), I know the temperature is roughing out between a minus 6 to minus 18. And that is really cold.
The daylight is for approx 4 hrs only from 1030am to 2.30pm (sunrise and sunset resp). But then, surprisingly, this is the time when this region, called Lapland comes alive.

A land which holds a Narnia like appeal…a land, if you look at the map is loosely the Northern tip of Europe covering northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia most of which is within the Arctic Circle.
I spent a couple of days last week in Finnish Lapland in the small town of Saariselka, considered to be one of the Northernmost resort towns in the world.
A land where the white winter calls out like a siren to me.

Day 1: The Finnair flight from Del-Helsinki connected to another flight to Ivalo, 250kms inside the Artic Circle. A short 25min drive brought us south to Saariselka where we spent 2nights. Cold, dark and snowing, the mercury had plummeted to minus 15 deg C. We were escorted to our glass igloos in the resort village of Kakslautannen, a small resort with log cabins as well as igloos (both ice as well as the more comfortable heated glass igloos). The glass igloo had a small attached toilet (no shower) and twin beds. Small but cozy….and definitely had a warm appeal to it. What took our breath away was the glass dome, a way to ensure that in case anyone sees the Northern Lights, all you need to do is peep out of your blanket and voila!  But unfortunately, the Aurora Borealis proved elusive that night.

After unpacking, we trudged to the other side of the frozen lake (on which Kakslautannen is located), to the communal sauna. Walking on the wild side, we decided to go by the old adage, “When in Rome…do like the Romans” In this case, we followed the local Finnish custom….we went into the sauna, got suitably warmed up, then ran in the buff to take a snow roll and run back inside. After another 10 mins inside the sauna, we ran another 20mtrs to the lake, where they had carved a hole in the ice, took the ladder down to the icy waters of the lake for a dip, came out, searched for a white towel in the white landscape in a disoriented state, abandoned the search and ran back to the sauna..the towels would follow later, some day.

Boy, were we glad that Day 1 ended at all.

Day 2: In the morning, we packed our bags and walked through snow (roller suitcases/strolleys aren’t meant to be dragged through foot deep snow) to the main lodge for breakfast. Post that we drove over to a husky farm where we were first outfitted with a thick overall and snow boots and then met up with the cutest bunch of snarling huskies for a 30min ride through a frozen forest. I will not use the word frozen again. Whenever in doubt about the state of mind or body or the surroundings, rest assured it was always frozen.

And if we thought that the glass dome and the dip in the icy water was the highlight, Day 2’s husky ride was an experience, which probably, I wouldn’t be doing justice with mere words. A MUST EXPERIENCE!

By now we were hungry, so off we trudged into Holiday Club Saariselka in the heart of town – ideal for families who want to be in the middle of a small town. The resort claims to be the Northernmost spa hotel in the whole world. Its USP is the large indoor heated swimming pool complex. At plus 32C, it’s a fantastic break from the minus 15C outside.

Post lunch we returned to Kakslautannen Resort to our 2 bedroom log cabin. Equipped with a kitchenette, common bath in the living room, a children’s room with 2 bunk beds, a fireplace and the master bedroom with a private sauna;) this is ideal for a couple with 2 children. After another mandatory sauna, we left for another spectacular trip…Northern Lights hunting on snow mobiles. These 800cc bikes are easy to use and fun to ride. Once again we were outfitted with a warm outer dungaree, balaclavas and snow boots. A rudimentary lesson on snowmobiles followed. But we had all seen Mr. Bond plowing his snowmobiles all over the world in countless movies to know how to ride one. And so off we went. The 10 snowmobiles zooming off into the winter landscape in single file with headlights on. By now the snow was soft but fell relentlessly on us. We followed a forest trail sheathed in white, the trees laden with pure white snow and drooping onto our trail. Soon, we left the city lights behind us. The soft glow of white light of the Arctic sky brought out the eerie beauty of the place. We zigzagged through narrow forest trails, over a frozen river bed, revved up small mounds and zipped down the inclines. Pure adrenaline rush. After a while, we halted. The guide asked us to turn off the engines and soak in the Arctic night. Nothing prepared me for this. The stillness of the landscape punctuated by the silence of falling snow. We were on a mound with the fell below us. The soft, white light of the Polar night illuminated and embellished the landscape. There would be no sighting of the Aurora tonight. The snow was heavy. But, it didn’t really matter. We started on our journey again. A few minutes later, we reached the end of a trail. The guide asked us to switch off the snowmobiles and follow him down an incline towards a frozen stream. A small tent awaited us there. We sat around in a semi circle on reindeer skin rugs, while the guides went about their business of preparing a small fire, putting the kettle on it for some hot tea and coffee and grilled up some excellent sausages! 30mins later, we were off again, this time bound for the city lights, which would appear soon enough. But till them we would continue with the ride of our lives.

Day 3: We boarded the 9am coach from the highway bus stop. This is a daily Saariselka to Rovaniemi coach and costs Euro 42.60 per person for the journey. A very scenic drive of 3-1/2hrs with a 20min halt in a small town for a rest break. The bus eased into Rovaniemi bus station at 1230pm, from where we were picked up by our taxi. There is no train or flight between Saariselka and Rovaniemi. The road journey is excellent. In summer, the snow would disappear giving way to nature to show its true colours. After checking in at Santa Claus hotel in the town centre, we took a cab to the Arktikum (the museum), followed by a drive around town and were later dropped off to the Santa Claus Village. A fairy tale village which comes alive in winter!

And guess who was in…none other than Mr. Santa Claus – who I had the honor of meeting and just when I thought that I had seen and done it all, I had Mr. Claus tell me that he had heard good things about me! Photography is not permitted as they take their own snaps and video for you to buy. Santa Claus also has a house in Saariselka and there you can meet him in private without the rush of Rovaniemi and can take your own snaps. Needless to say, kids will love the place as will adults. Next up was the Post Office which handles hundreds of thousands of letters every year with December being the month when Santa is flooded with mails from all over the world. There are 2 boxes. If you post your letter in the red one, it gets posted immediately. If you drop it in the orange one, it will be posted during Christmas. We returned to our hotel and later were driven 10kms out of town to a reindeer farm. Here we put on the warm overalls, and went for a short, sweet ride in a reindeer sleigh. Not thrilling like the husky dog sled, but quite an interesting one. We returned to our hotel, went to the sauna for a mandatory run in and later at midnight, went to a local Karaoke bar which was packed to capacity on a Wednesday evening and stayed on till 2pm listening to drunk, middle aged Finns singing out-of-tune Finnish songs.

Day 4: Drove to Rovaniemi airport (10mins away). Flew back to Helsinki where it was a warm minus 8! The Baltic Sea was frozen as was the quaint city.

Sitting down to pen my words, I go back to every second of my stay – every experience which, I equate to being a book in my Travel Diary. The magic, the mysticism, Santa Claus, the huskies, the Northern Lights…Wandering has never seemed better! Packing my bags, but already working out my schedule to head back yet again into the white magical land of Lapland.

Wanderers’ Flavor in Lapland:
–    There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.
–    Winter tours in the Arctic in Lappish Finland till mid April. Catch the Aurora Borealis on snow mobiles, ride a husky dog sled, meet Rudolf the reindeer and be an easy rider
–    Stay in igloos or log cabins; soak in the sauna; go skinny dipping in a frozen lake
–    For the adventure buff, there’s a lot more in store for you. In winter, go cross country skiing, snow-carting, snow rallying, ice fishing, heli-skiing, multiday wildness safaris on snow mobiles or on husky sleds.
–    Experience the ice breaker Sampo
–    Learn to ski, build an igloo, go on a snow shoe trip
–    In summer, go for hikes, experience the land of the midnight sun, go fly fishing


A Wanderer story – Around Europe

We would like to share the experience of one of our clients, Rishiraj Singh who has just returned from his holiday around Europe and couldn’t stop raving about the experience he has had.  Here he gives us a detailed account of his journey…

Starting off the tour to the Arctic Circle !!!


Commenced the long jpurney to Helsinki via Franfurt… Slept throughout the plane journey to Frankfurt, only to get soaked in football fever in Germany. Kind of a festival atmosphere at the airport. Ventured out in the 7 hour stopover with Kiran, my wife. Met a Brazilian named Euginia in the subway train to Frankfurt city central. The helpful localite took us to the old city as against her plans to show us around. What a sweet way to start the soujorn !! enjoyed the tranquility of the atmosphere there in, feasting on a fantastic pork pizza and strawberry cake along the way only to end up having yummy pasta on the onward flight to HELSINKI. And now its 11:30 pm here and we can still see daylight and scores of youngsters soaking in the atmosphere. Sitting in a pub called Teerenpeli wherein the Jack Daniels and amazing scenes have helped get over the jet lag!! Not to forget the picturesque Hotel Helka where we are staying … DAY 2 will take us to Rovaniemi.

A Colourful day in HELSINKI …


Helsinki had a lot of surprise in store for us. Instead of booking city tours, we set off on our own for a walk around to the main places in the city. All the key locations were nearby, the market, the station, STOCKMANN- the departmental store for bargain lookers like us and the main attarction – The Senate Square + the Lutheran Cathedral. With green and white decorating the beautiful monument, the Square bore a very lively look. The entire youth brigade with balloons, had descended in thousands on what was a parade. Crossdressers as airhostesses, decorated canines, even a few nude chicks, varied hairstyles, bavarian girls… The coulours were endless and to back it up was live music. A localite called Oulen briefed us on the significance of the party atmosphere. Headed further to the Orthodoxan Cathedral and then to the Esplanade market, studded with souvenirs. Bought some tasty fresh strawberries and even witnessed a Finn wedding. A long walk for 4 hrs and we had seen the heart of the city. Made our way on foot to the station in the evening to head for the Arctic Circle. A cute twin cabin and a cozy bed. Santa here we come…

Rovaniemi – high up in Lapland !!!


Rovaniemi was full of nature which one could come across only in Lapland. Luckily we were there when the Jutajaiset fiestival was on and it was actually the last day – 4th July. A Folklore Festical with World Music… so we had Finnish, Europeans, Africans and Asians amongst the performaers.
Post a quiet soothing walk across the Ounaskaki river which passes through Rovaniemi overlooked by the Ounasvaara peak, we crossed the CANDLE BRIDGE to reach the venue for the festical. Luckily the finale of the evening – a Finnish Band Piirpauke was left and we decided to go for it. Had a kick-ass pizza at Valde – Mari, studded with reindeer meat and then were witness to amongst the best music for a long time. With Ghanians joining the impromptu Jugalbandi with Piirpauke, it just proved one point – music builds relations very strongly. The music still rings in my years. The same day we visited ARKTIKUM – an encyclopedia on the Arctic Circle – quite an experiential tour.
The next 2 days were a wildlife toast, the Ranua Wildlife park which had the polar bears, musk ox, brown bears, wolverines and the snowy owl (finally saw a park without lion, tigers and elephants) and the Reindeer Park Safari which was the actual place where we crossed 66.32 latitude – THE ARCTIC CIRCLE.
The reindeers were against our assumptions extremly noble guys, clean and furry and even WHITE – one in 1000 is white and we saw 2.
But the cheery on the cake was the husky dog Safari, ferocious looking cute canines. The customey visit to the Santa Claus village filled in the itinerary. With Lapland done the definition of Finland was complete – a large forest with a 1000 beautiful lakes and rivers and a few inhabitants. A truly different experience…

Fascinating Tallinn – Estonia !!


The last day in Helsinki was an extensive tour of the city by foot, and studded with loads of shopping – KARLFAZER chocolates are a must and designers clothes if the pocket helps the same. The clothes are bizarre and beautiful at the same time – prove the fact that Helsinki the the WORLD DESIGN CAPITAL. A visit to Soumenlinna – an adjoining Sea Fortress and sipping on coffee at the beautiful cafes therein relaxed us before the coming hectic schedule.
The next day was Tallinn – Estonia and undoubtedly the most picturesque city which we would have ever seen. Surprising to find how beautifully an Old Town has been maintained – complete with Cathedrals, Mosques, passages and culture. Felt a part of History at St. Catherine’s Passage, tried my hand at archery and roamed a lot at the marketplace which was complete with localities in traditional costumes selling traditional wares. Made a pretty sight. Had a stage wherein performances, recitals, fashion shows (dressed up as Russian Czars) rounded up the beauty.
Tallinn made the trip complete. Finished off the first leg of Europe – Finland and Estonia in the traditional Finnish SAUNA – a must do for every tourist in Finland. Relaxing and Unique!!!

Unplanned trip surprises us – SALZBURG …


After a good fulfilling tour of Finland, Munich was a little bit tiring esp as the flight was at 6.55 am. Sort of trudged our way to the hotel and then rested till afternoon. The restlessness of not touring took us over as well as the eagerness to see SALZBURG in AUSTRIA as was recommended by a good friend.
Unplanned, spontaneous and exciting – left the hotel at 3.25 pm, got tickets from Hauptbahnhof at 3.38 and caught the 3.42 train to Salzburg to see something which could match Talinn in all its grandeur. Salzburg Old Town” (Altstadt) with its world famous baroque architecture is one of the best-preserved city centres north of the Alps and made a picturesque location with its green domes and the castle in the background.
It is the place where “Sound of Music” was shot, the art and culture inclination was visible in every aspect – the Mozarts, the Cathedrals, Riverbanks et all. Saw the Panoramic view of the city from atop the Museum of Modern Art.
On the way back we caught with a Somali student and an Egyptian national in the train and imagine what connected us and got us talking – SHAHRUKH KHAN. They would literally know each and every movie of his with the release year – believe that he connects to their emotions !!!

Atop Germany – Zugspitze !!


10th of July was atop the highest peak in Germany – Zugspitze – laden with snow and giving a great view of 4 countries surrounding it. Was a perfect goodbye to a fantastic tour of Europe.
The evening saw us catch Germany in its fullest as the 3rd place play-off of the FIFA WOrld cup – Germany v Uruguay was on … roaming around Marienplatz we saw all cafes jumping for joy at each goal. A German victory it was to get the entire town on the streets, in cafes, in front of screens. The lit and lively city saw with street performers as well rounded off a long holiday !!! Too many must dos on a tour like this and too diverse a holiday to match …………