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So much Guinness! So many cows!

The Emerald Isle—aptly named—is lovely, especially once you make it to the Atlantic coast and can truly appreciate the end-of-the-world-iness of the place.

Following a brief stint in London, I flew to Dublin to meet up with a cousin and her friend who had planned a little Irish getaway. Together, in just over a week, our travels, which began in the Irish capital, took us westward, first to Galway then to Doolin.

Dublin

Nice town; a Lilliputian London, really.

Looking back, I’d say, in the three days we were there, we managed to hit all the highlights (and some lowlights, too!) Of note were the Guinness Storehouse, honouring the man who started it all and celebrating his most glorious brew. We also visited the infamous Kilmainham Gaol, which was at once haunting and fascinating, and Trinity College, Dublin, wherein we glimpsed the Book of Kells, which was, if I’m being honest, an expensive disappointment.

(It’s not that I don’t mind forking over cash to visit such places—I happily handed over oodles of Euros whilst in Paris for the pleasure—but I do think the cost should in some way reflect the… scope of the place.)

Anyway, after three days, and more pints of Guinness than I care to recount, we boarded a train for Galway, on the western coast of the island.

Galway

Unbeknownst to us, our visit to Galway coincided with the city’s eponymous races. Thankfully, we still managed to find ourselves a room in a quaint little place just steps from the town’s main square. Reminiscent of Fawlty Towers (sans Manuel, sadly), our hotel served as a perfect jumping off point from which to explore the city’s lovely, pedestrianized shopping district.

Of course, as we did in Dublin, we also took great delight in imbibing on the country’s most precious resource!

Doolin

What an adorable place!

Picturesque little Doolin, nestled on the coast, south of Galway in County Clare, became our home-away-from-home for the duration of our time in the country. And we couldn’t have asked for a nicer, cosier place to hang our hats than Lane Lodge.

For three days, we ate, drank, hiked, and boated… to the southernmost of the Aran Islands, Inisheer.

Without question, however, the most extraordinary part of our time in Doolin was spent admiring the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher—from both the sea and the land. Incredible.

Sadly, as with all things, my time in Ireland had to come to an end. London was calling, again; Edinburgh, too.

And so, I bid farewell to my cousin and her friend and, pack on back, made my way to Shannon International for a return flight to London.

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After five glorious days in Paris, I bid adieu to the city and headed westward across the English Channel towards London (by way of the Channel Tunnel!).

Truth be told, I was saddened to be leaving Paris. I’d loved the city so much, and felt I’d only just begun to discover the place. Still, other destinations were calling and I had to press on.

Once arriving at the beautifully restored and renovated St. Pancras International, I made my way to friends’ house in Westminster, which is where I resided for about a week. Doing so allowed me to catch my breath, rest up and do some much needed laundry before the next leg of my adventure: Ireland.

Whilst in London, I did very little in the way of classically touristy things since I’d been to the city so many times before. I did, however, pay a visit to the Tate Modern, which is always a treat; I also discovered the National Portrait Gallery, which I absolutely loved.

Otherwise, it was a quiet week in London, which, when one is trying to navigate the crowds on the hot, sweaty, cramped Tube, seems like a near impossibility. I managed… thanks to the extraordinary generosity of friends.

What took me so long? I’ve been to so many places in my life, but always managed to avoid Paris. Idiot!

Rarely have I felt so foolish as I do now: this city is without equal and I’m madly in love with it.

Following almost three weeks traipsing across Spain and Morocco, and after bidding farewell to my dear friend and trusty travel companion in Casablanca, I headed north to spend five days in Paris.

I don’t usually arrive at a place with a checklist of things to see and do, but I made an exception in this case.

The list, while trite, definitely helped me maximize my time in and around the city. To wit:

I’m proud to say I hit them all. And at no point was I disappointed. On the contrary, each site was more spectacular than I even imagined it would be.

The Palace and Park of Versailles—specifically the expansive and ornate gardens, as well as the more organic ones found around Marie Antoinette’s adjoining estate—were a particular favourite of mine.

Of course, Paris is about more than its museums, gardens and galleries. There are the gorgeous, tree-lined avenues; the people-watching from sidewalk cafés; the food. And so, I strolled, I watched and I ate. Oh, did I eat! And I dare say, nothing was more delicious than the escargots swimming in herbed butter at the lovely bistro pictured below.

I can’t say for certain when I’ll be back in Paris, but I do know this: back I will be. Absolument!

WTF?!

Evidently, there’s something worse than a ferry trip across the Strait of Gibraltar and a ten-hour train journey from Fes to Marrakech: a three-hour bus ride from Marrakech to the coastal town of Essaouira on an un-air-conditioned coach bus, overloaded, old and having a cabin temperature of close to +40C.

I wish I were friggin’ kidding. Hell sounds like a paradise after a trip on that God-forsaken deathtrap-on-wheels.

That said, once we arrived in Essaouira, noted for its famous visitors of yore (Hendrix and the Beatles to name but a few), we were greeted by the refreshing winds off the Atlantic, which, we agreed made our harrowing and altogether horrible journey to the town worth it. Almost.

In fairness, our guest house was positively charming, as were the staff. Tucked away at the end of a narrow corridor off one of the medina’s main drags, it offered us a sanctuary for three marvelous days. Moreover, it proved to be a wonderful way to conclude our grand adventure.

Of course, most everyone comes to Essaouira for the beaches and so, when in Rome, we spent a fair amount of time soaking up the sun.  (We’d been on the go since we arrived in Morocco and deserved the break, frankly.)

As is happens, we were also in town for the World Cup final, between Spain and the Netherlands.

Having caught a number of the games whilst in Spain, we were positively delighted our adopted team were vying for the cup. I don’t need to say what happened next, but I will say this: what a way to finish!

Sadly, all good things must come to an end and, after three days of rest and relaxation, we packed our bags one last time and caught the bus to Casablanca where, nearly three weeks after we began our adventure together, my friend and I would call it quits.

Sigh.

And I thought crossing the Strait of Gibraltar was rough!

Evidently, a thirteen-hour, overnight train trip from Fes to Marrakech is much worse, especially when the train breaks down en route and there are no sleeper cars available.

That said, once we were in Marrakech things picked up quite nicely.

That’s not to say the city itself was amazing. On the contrary, it was Morocco at its worst: hot, noisy, polluted and full of people trying to rip you off.

No, what made our night in Marrakech spectacular was Hotel La Mamounia.

Talk about opulent!

We wiled away the evening at its sumptuous Morrocan Bar, which overlooks the hotel’s palatial gardens. (Miraculously, we had the place all to ourselves, which made it all the more remarkable.)

We then nipped into the famous Churchill Bar for a nightcap (or two), while a jazz duo serenaded the few of us who preferred the sanctuary of a dimly lit and air-conditioned bar to the bedlam of Marrakech’s famous Djemaa el Fna.

Sure, before calling it a night, we grabbed some street food at one of the countless stalls packing the medina’s main square. (We had to do something to remind ourselves La Mamounia was but a temporary reprieve from the Morocco we were experiencing!)

Then bed. Essaouira and the Atlantic Coast awaits…

Yes! This was more like it. This was the Morocco my friend and I were anticipating when we were crossing the Strait of Gibraltar.

Fes, one of Morocco’s four “imperial cities,” is an absolutely charming place—so long as you don’t mind the heat, the smell, the donkeys. It features Morocco’s, indeed the world’s largest medina; a labyrinthine maze of cobble-stone alleyways, narrow roads and souks. And, lucky us, we were staying in an absolutely gorgeous riad smack dab in the center of the place.

We were only staying in the city for two days, so opted for an official guide to show us around. It was well worth it! In fact, I’d say it was probably one of the best decisions we have made thus far. (I really don’t know how we would have managed to see half the sites were we left to our own devices.)

In a little over a half a day, we visited one of Morocco’s most beautiful madrasas,  which, much to our surprise, was modeled on Granada’s Alhambra. We also visited the University of Al-Karaouine, founded in 859 AD and an important center of theological study to this day.

However, without doubt, our most memorable moment came when we visited one of Fes’ many tanneries. I shall be forever grateful to the manager, who wisely suggested we take a generous handful of mint leaves with us during our tour. (The smell was beyond comprehension and, I later learned, due to the large vats of all-natural ammonia solution, made from a rich mixture of pigeon excrement and cow urine.)

Among the many leather goods on offer were the ubiquitous Moroccan slippers, which continue to mystify me. Despite the manager’s insistence to the contrary, the shoes simply do not fit properly. Regardless of one’s size, one’s heels are invariably left unprotected by the unusually short soles. Très bizarre.

Of course, as we did in Chefchaouen, we located a nearby hotel’s bar to unwind. On order: Fes’ own Spéciale Flag. Heavenly.

As much as we would have liked to stay in Fes for a day or two more (if for no other reason than to bask in the extraordinary hospitality of our guest house), we had to press on to Marrakech. And so, after two remarkable days in the heart of old Morocco, we boarded a train (at 2 a.m.!) to Marrakech. All aboard that train…