Vacances 3/5 - Paris bis

C'est en amoureux que nous avons passé une dernière journée dans Paris Elliot et moi. La ville où nous nous sommes connus il y a presque 12 ans... A l'époque nos QG étaient à Etienne Marcel, Louise Michel, Bastille et au Trocadéro. Avant de partir vivre en Nouvelle Zélande nous nous sommes dépêchés de visiter les musées auxquels en bons locaux nous n'avions jamais prêté attention!

Elliot and I got to spend one last day in Paris just the two of us. It is the city where we got to know each other and started dating 12 years ago... Back then our GQs were at Etienne Marcel, Louise Michel, Bastille and Trocadéro. Before we left to live in New Zealand we hurried ourselves to visit all the museums we, as typical locals, had never cared about enough!

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Merci n'existait pas de ce temps là haha! Au quel cas j'imagine qui j'y aurais laissé une bonne partie de mon argent de poche. J'imagine qu"elliot doit être intérieurement soulagé que l'on soit si loin maintenant, il a ainsi échappé à l'achat d'un canapé et d'un fauteuil, d'une table et de vaisselle, mais pas à celui d'une petite lampe et d'un peu de linge.

Merci Concept Store did not exist back then! I think I would have spent a little fortune there if it had. I imagine Elliot must be internally relieved that we live so far away now, he escaped the purchase of a sofa and armchair, a table and dinnerware, but not that of a small lamp and some linen.

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Nous avons beaucoup marché , il faisait très beau ce jour là. Nous sommes repassés par nos endroits préférés et même si ni l'un ni l'autre ne risquons de jamais vouloir remettre un pied au Louvres c'était au moins de drôle de voir les touristes gesticuler et se contorsionner pour poser un doigt tout en haut de la pyramide pour une photo!

We walked a lot, the weather was stunning that october day. We revisited some our favourite spots and even if neither he or I would ever think of setting foot again at the Louvres it was side-splitting watching tourists gesticulating and performing contortions posing for photos that would show them placing a finger on top of the pyramid!

Vacances 2/5 - La Charente

Je reviens à nos vacances qui furent bien spéciales puiqu' Elliot nous a rejoins pour les deux dernières semaines, il n'était pas rentré en France depuis quatre ans! Son arrivée a été pour nous l'occasion de partir un peu en Charente Maritime pour mieux découvrir cette région dont nous ne connaissions que l'île de Ré et La Rochelle depuis pourtant 24 ans (aïe!)...

Coming back to our holidays that were extra special this time because Elliot joined us for the last two weeks of the trip, he had not been back for fours years! His arrival was for us an opportunity to discover the Charente Maritime region (on the Atlantic coast, inland from La Rochelle). We wanted to get to know the area better because all we knew of this region was La Rochelle and Ile de Ré where we have holidayed for 24 years (wow, just feeling the weight of the years all of a sudden)...

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Comme toujours la lumière en Charente est juste unique, le soleil lèche les maisons en pierre blanche, l'air est sec et doux et il fait toujours aussi bon se promener dans les ruelles le nez en l'air. Nous nous sommes arrêtés dans la petite ville de Saint Jean d'Angély au patrimoine historique incroyable, nous y avons pris nos marques au café du coin, au marché du mercredi matin et au manège à côté de l'hôtel de ville. Nous avons visité la ville de Saintes pendant une journée, une version plus petite de La Rochelle, avec là encore un patrimoine historique complètement fabuleux en comparaison à la taille de la ville. Notamment la cathédrale Saint Pierre où un organiste jouait durant notre visite, un vrai moment suspendu.

As always the light in Charente is beautifully unique, the sun licks the white stone houses, the air is dry and light and it is always lovely to stroll around the streets gazing at the surroundings. We stayed in the town of Saint Jean d'Angély where the historical heritage is astounding, we made ourselves at home at the local pub, the wednesday morning market and the merry go round by the council building. We also visited the city of Saintes for a day, a smaller version of La Rochelle, and again the historical heritage there was fabulous, especially given the modest size of the city. I particularly loved the Saint Pierre cathedral were an organist was playing whilst we visited.

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Je ne suis pas catholique mais j'aime depuis toujours visiter les Eglises, je dois tenir ça de ma grand mère qui m'emmènait régulièrement à l'Eglise pendant les vacances d'été pour allumer un cierge et faire un signe de croix avec l'eau bénie. Du coup j'allume toujours des cierges, je me recueille un peu, je pense à ma grand mère, au "notre père" qu'on récitait ensemble le soir. Ça m'émeut.

I am not catholic but I have always loved visiting church buildings, I must get it from my grand mother who would regularly take me to her local church during the summer holidays, we would light a candle and do the sign of the cross with Holy water. So I still light candles in churches now, take time to reflect, I think about my grand mother and "the Lord's prayer" we would say together every evening. It moves me.

Vacances 1/5 - Paris

Je trouvais que la meilleure façon de raconter les vacances était de m'y prendre en différents articles, chaque endroit où nous sommes allés le mérite bien. Premier arrêt, arrivée chez ma maman, réconfort, la maison où j'ai grandi, croissants, promenades au bord de la Seine.

I thought the best way to share about our holidays was to do it in different posts, each place we visited is worthy of it. First stop, arrival at my mother's, comfort, the house where I grew up, croissants, walks along the Seine.

Chez elle j'ai retrouvé les habitudes qui me manquent parfois tant au quotidien en NZ, aller chercher son pain, faire le marché et trouver de beaux produits à cuisiner, marcher partout et bien sûr Paris toute proche.

At her house I found all the habits that I sometimes miss back in NZ, going to get bread daily, going to the farmers market and finding beautiful produce to cook with, walking everywhere and of course Paris so very close.

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Paris où nous avons passé quatre jours Charles et mois, afin d'arpenter les rues, explorer les musées, découvrir les parcs. Quatre jours au bout desquels il était quand même bien agréable de retrouver la banlieue plus calme, je n'ai vraiment plus l'habitude de ce rythme fou qui faisait pourtant battre mon coeur pendant mes jeunes années. Paris c'est quand même tellement beau... tellement bon... tellement unique.

Paris where Charles and I got to spend four days, strolling the streets, exploring museums, playing around parks. Four days after which I was so very glad to return to the quietness of the suburbs, I am really not used to the fast pace that used to make my heart beat when I was younger. Paris is so beautiful though... so delicious... so unique.

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Et puis retouver aussi la fameuse cave que j'avais fait visiter en Stories sur Instagram! haha! Avec toutes les choses que je chine avec la même passion à chaque vacances en France. L'occasion donc de sortir de façon éphémère meubles et bibelots pendant quelques semaines.

And of course finding the infamous basement I gave a tour of over on Instagram! haha! Full of all the things I mock with an untouched passion every holiday spent in France. It is always an opportunity for me to pull a few bits and bobs for a few weeks while I am there.

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Je ne peux pas décrire le tiraillement que je ressens entre mes deux patries. J'ai grandi en France mais je crois aussi avoir grandi, d'une autre manière, en Nouvelle Zélande. Chaque côté du monde m'apporte là ou l'autre a tendance à faillir. Chaque séjour en France me retourne le coeur, ce sentiment de devoir vivre tout en condensé pendant les quelques semaines qui nous sont offertes là bas n'est pas facile à vivre même si par la même occasion la quantité et la qualité des souvenirs que nous y créons s'en trouve bien plus riche. Beaucoup d'entre vous, expatriés, ont déjà partagé avec moi ressentir des choses similaires, c'est un choix de vie difficile mais enrichissant, j'essaye donc d'en faire une expérience qui me fait grandir.
A bientôt pour la suite des vacances...

I cannot describe the struggle I feel between my two countries. I grew up in France but I think I also grew up, in a different way, in New Zealand. Each side of the world fulfills where the other one lacks. Each stay in France flips my heart over, the feeling I have to live everything in a condensed way for the weeks that are given to me there is not an easy one to handle, even though the result of this is that the quantity and quality of memories made exceeds what happens during the rest of the year. Many of you, expats, have shared with me that they feel very similar twinges, it is hard way to do life but so rewarding at the same time, so I am trying o make it an experience that builds me up.
See you soon to hear about the rest of the holidays...

Extensive guide to Marrakech + 10 handy tips

We went to Marrakech last year in August 2016 (original post is HERE) and it is still to this date the favourite destination I have ever been to. I am still to this date being asked over on social media what I recommend doing there, where to stay and where to eat, so I thought a complete guide would perhaps help a few others too.

Essentially, this guide is for people wanting to spend a few days in Marrakech, especially the old medina part. We were 3 adults and a 3 year old boy. I have also included 10 main tips that I hope will be helpful in preparation for a trip.

Extensive Guide to Marrakech + 10 Handy Tips Before You Go

Where to stay :

1 - We chose to stay at Riad Azzouna 13 for the first 4 days because it is located in the very heart of the medina, meaning we could do everything on foot. We were able to book the 2 rooms next to each other at one end of the riad. Our suite, Menzeh Jouj, included a very big bath which came in very handy to cool down after a morning spent walking around the hot streets of the old city. The spacious rooms were very tastefully decorated, had air conditioning and we were able to have a homemade breakfast on the roof top terrace every morning (think crepes mille trous, honey and delicious bread!). The staff was absolutely lovely, Saadik the manager was always helpful, joyful and full of good advice. As were the lovely ladies looking after the bedrooms and in charge of the cooking. We will definitely book again at Riad Azzouna 13.

Menzeh Jouj Suite at Riad Azzouna 13 | Marrakech

Menzeh Jouj Suite at Riad Azzouna 13 | Marrakech

Courtyard at Riad Azzouna 13 | Marrakech

Courtyard at Riad Azzouna 13 | Marrakech

Breakfast on the rooftop terrace at Riad Azzouna 13 | Marrakech

Breakfast on the rooftop terrace at Riad Azzouna 13 | Marrakech

2 - If you do not need to be in the heart of the medina and wish to have a swimming pool, the owners of Azzouna 13 also have another riad Riad Zaouia 44.

3 - We spent the last 3 nights of our stay at the Beldi Country Club, a heavenly quiet hotel 15 minutes from the town centre. It was an ideal way to end the holiday, after having spent 4 days pacing around the busy streets of the medina. The Beldi Country Club was a welcoming, restful spot with large swimming pools, restaurants, a potager, roseraie, glass house with classic music playing and the option to take a pottery class or bread making class for children. It also houses the Beldi glass factory.
The bedrooms were extremely comfortable as were the large bathrooms. We were able to book connecting bedrooms with a small lounge area, private courtyards and direct access to the swimming pool. I had made a video of the Beldi Country Club, here it is below again.

Club Swimming Pool at The Beldi Country Club | Marrakech

Club Swimming Pool at The Beldi Country Club | Marrakech

The Beldi Country Club restaurant gardens | Marrakech

The Beldi Country Club restaurant gardens | Marrakech


Where to eat :

- Le Café des Epices, 75 Rahba Lakdima in the medina. It is a bit of an institution... amongst tourists that is! but still well worth a visit, the food is delicious, affordable and the location is right onto the Place des Epices, offering a very cool view of authentic marrakech life.

Second floor of Café des Epices in Marrakech Medina

Second floor of Café des Epices in Marrakech Medina

- Atay Café, 62 rue Amsafah Sidi Abdelaziz. We were never able to find this cafe but apparently it has beautiful terraces!

- La Famille, 42 Riad Zitoun Jdid. A beautiful quiet courtyard with a daily set vegan/vegetarian menu. The owners have tastefully decorated the restaurant using local makers and artists, there is even a shop area with some locally made artifacts.

La Famille restaurant | Marrakech

La Famille restaurant | Marrakech

La Famille restaurant | Marrakech

La Famille restaurant | Marrakech

La Famille restaurant | Marrakech

La Famille restaurant | Marrakech

- Le Jardin, 32 souk Sidi Abdelaziz. One of our favourites as the entrance is located on a very busy street and entering Le Jardin was such a quiet and peaceful contrast in comparison. It is a large open courtyard, paved in traditional green zelige tiles, the tables offer a welcomed sheltered and restful spot in the shade. The waiter also brought Charles a leaf of lettuce along with the house small turtle, she was very cute and provided great entertainment whilst we were waiting for our meal.

Le Jardin restaurant | Marrakech

Le Jardin restaurant | Marrakech

Le Jardin restaurant | Marrakech

Le Jardin restaurant | Marrakech

- Nomad, 1, Derb Aajrane, Rahba Kedima. Another favourite that we chose for most of our dinners as the rooftop terrace could only be enjoyed during the evening in August. Overlooking the city, the Mosk and the Place des Epices, being seated on the highest terrace is a must to really enjoy the incredible location that Nomad provides. Not to mention the delicious traditional food and pleasant atmosphere, especially as the night falls and candles are lit. I recommend you book at lunch time for the evening to secure your spot.

Nomad restaurant | Marrakech

Nomad restaurant | Marrakech

- Zwin' Zwin' cafe, Riad Zitoun Lakdim n4. We had lunch there and it was very pleasant, with good food and a good atmosphere.

- We also went for a very traditional dinner with a show one evening near Place Jemaa El Fna. I cannot remember the name of the restaurant but there are a few in that area and I would think they are all equal and worth an evening for a fun experience. Dar Essalam, 170 Riad Zitoun Kedim, has a great reputation.


What to do :

- Place Jemaa El Fna, it is the main square of the old city, it is a very busy crossroad where you will find fresh juice stalls, monkey shows and snake charmers. You will end up on Place Jemaa El Fna at one point or another, be prepared to be hassled, kindly decline when you do not want to buy something.

- Fresh juices on Place Jemaa El Fna. No one can resist a freshly squeezed orange juice in the scorching sun. On some stalls you can even select the fresh fruits you want in your juice.

Place des épices, view from Café des Epices | Marrakech

Place des épices, view from Café des Epices | Marrakech

- Place des Epices, the Spice Square. This area was quite close to our riad so we walked through Place des Epices several times a day. It is a lot quieter than place Jema El Fnaa, there are many spice and medicinal shops around the square, along with a few good cafes and restaurants and a lot of basket merchants. Place des Epices is also where you can access most of the souks from.

- The souks. The markets where you will find all the beautiful objects, shoes, clothes, rugs and artifacts made locally. It is not as enormous as I thought it would be but you can very easily get lost there that is for sure. Most of the merchants are grouped in areas so you will find all the rugs in one spot, all the baskets in the same corner, all the shoes in one area, and so on.

- Horse cart ride as the sun goes down. Find all the horse carts at the bottom of Place Jemaa El Fna, for 15 to 20 euros (150 to 200 dirhams) you will get to be taken on a small tour for about 30 minutes. Just tell the driver what you would like to see. We did this twice, once to be taken on the outskirts and see the Mosk and surrounding gardens and another time to visit the new city.

- Camel ride, a must do. Our taxi driver took us to find some camels in the Palmeraie where we had a quiet walk on the camel backs for about 30 minutes. Again, preferably do this in the evening if it is summer as there is no shelter from the sun.

- The Mosk and the Koutoubia Minaret. You cannot enter the mosk if you are not muslim but it is still beautiful from the outside. Try to fit this sight during a horse cart ride.

- The Majorelle Gardens, they were designed by French painter Jacques Majorelle. Probably our least favourite thing we did but many people love it. It was far more touristic and busy than the other activities we did. There is a cafe and restaurant in a lovely sheltered spot of the gardens.

- Medersa Ben Youssef, is a must do. It is an ancient school and lodge for science and theology students. There you will get to see the tiny bedrooms the students were sharing and the beautiful courtyard where they studied.

- Bahia Palace is a nineteenth century palace that was built for Si Moussa, vizir of the sultan at the time. It is vast and richly decorated and includes gardens, fruit trees and fountains. Another must do.

- Saadian tombs, a 15 to 20 minutes visit to see saadian Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour ed-Dahbi 's tombs. He spared no expenses and the visit is yet another must do.

- Dar Si-Saïd museum. This museum was being renovated during our trip but it is definitely a place I would have liked to have visited. Oldest museum of the city, it houses the biggest collection of moroccan artifacts, furniture, weapons and musical instruments.

- Douiria Mouassine Museum, is 17th century renovated small house displaying stunning original woodwork.

- Maison de la Photographie, original black and white photography. An invitation in images into the daily life of Moroccans from 1880.

- If you do not want to stay at the Beldi Country Club you can still get to enjoy this heavenly place which offers a visitors' restaurant and swimming pool during the day for only 20 euros (around 200 Dirhams).


Tips :

1/ Traveling to Marrakech in August is great because it is much quieter with far less tourists BUT it is one of the hottest month of the year as well, so if you are heat sensitive be mindful of your traveling dates, we were easily getting to 40°C daily. Surprisingly, Marrakech also gets very cold in the winter, so that is another thing to consider when choosing your dates.

2/ Do not wait to be thirsty to get water and drink plenty! The little shops where you can find bottled water here and there shut and open at very random times, so buy bottled water from your hotel before leaving for hours of exploration.

3/ Be mindful of your travelling dates, visiting Marrakech during the ramadan, mid may to mid june, means that the medina shops and restaurants will most likely be shut during the afternoon and evening. It would also be kind to behave in accordance with muslim religion if you visit Marrakech during the ramadan and not smoke, drink or wear inappropriate clothing.

4/ The Moroccan Dirham is a closed currency, it can only be obtain in Morocco and cannot be exchanged back into your currency, so do not change too much cash at once. There are plenty of ATMs and currency exchange offices, and the exchange rates are the same everywhere. Euros are also commonly accepted in many places (I bought a rug from the souk in euros) but do check with the seller or waiter before completing your purchase.

5/ Some locals will try to take you places saying there is a special event on that is only happening today... There is no special event, you will most likely be taken to the leather dyeing area, where they will then ask you for a tip. We knew this so never took the bait and visited that part of the city. In general you should not follow a stranger under any pretext, you will usually be hassled for a tip at the end.

6/ Female travelers should be mindful of their outfits, this is a muslim country where women are expected to be covered. It is inappropriate to wear above the knee shorts or skirts, spaghetti straps and low decolletes. A light silk scarf is an easy option to throw over your shoulders if needed.

7/ haggle... but not everywhere! It would be very inappropriate to haggle at a restaurant for example. Do haggle in the souks, for a taxi ride, for a camel ride or horse cart ride. We found it helpful to ask the riad's manager what we should be paying for the taxi ride we were going to take that day for example. Haggle with a smile, you should be able to get an item for at least 50% of the original price. Do not be offended by a persistent seller, always remain polite and just walk away with a smile if you are not agreeing on a price.

8/ 3 basic words that will take you a long way : Salam Alikum (hello), hafak (please) and shukran (thank you)

9/ The streets are very busy with scooters everywhere and life does not really stop in the medina. The streets are still buzzing late in the evening, meaning that you can do a spot of shopping well after 9pm. We felt completely safe walking the streets at any time of the day or night.

10/ Not all restaurants or cafes serve alcohol.