Snapshots of Rome

2nd February to 6th February 2003

£79 for the flight 286 euros for the hotel plus spending money [euros and credit card] meant plastic bending par excellence! Plus airport parking totting up the bill… but I evidently needed to treat myself.

Booked flight a week before departure via special offer in Sunday Times then frantically surfed the internet for a reasonable hotel. Over concern with reports of muggings and pickpockets made me choose a quiet place near the Vatican. The Pope and Sts Peter and Paul could keep an eye on me I figured.

Sunday 2nd Feb
Arrived early at Gatwick Airport and went for Mass in North Terminal chapel. First time in ages. Beautiful spring sunshine for my birthday made me feel very optimistic and I felt like sharing it with God. Sunshine and lots of compliments re my age from women and men, definitely good start. One of the girls who thought I looked “wonderful” even gave me a gratis bottle of Opium as a gift. Thought counting and all that.

Even the plane being delayed didn’t faze me. Cosmopolitan Italians are very easy on the eye. The men especially seem to have a freshness and vigour which probably comes from all that curiosity towards attractive women.

On the flight over I was seated next to a lively and charming young man with very little English who wanted to chat despite the difficulties.

Arrived at Fiumicino late but the taxi driver was waiting patiently. He was immaculate, his car even more so. Didn’t get to see much of the drive though as it had got quite dark by now.

Hotel Amalia, via Germanico – ten minutes walk from the Vatican. An odd little hotel. It looked like a city apartment block with an old-fashioned three-door wire-box lift, and a “restaurant” that only opened for the two hours of breakfast. No chance of a swift verre of something pleasant in the bar. But it was clean and the staff were professional.

Pity fatties in the shower though – my size eight felt quite cramped in it!

Before I’d even taken my bags upstairs, the chap in reception had booked me on some tours with the 3rd Feb a free day to get my bearings and explore. And boy did I explore! My feet were killing me at the end of the day and I had a five o’clock alarm call to get on the tour to Naples and Pompei.

But still on day one, the 2nd, I was starving and with no restaurant, it meant I had to brave the streets in the dark for a meal. The hotel chap suggested Insalata Ricci on via Ottaviono. Translation came through a Bangladeshi waiter, but it triggered off curiosity from an old gentleman sitting on my left. He was an American professor of astronomy on a six month study tour or something like that. A pleasant enough way to round off the day and the meal was okay.

Monday 3rd Feb
Started early with peculiar breakfast and then walk down to Vatican. Sun sharp and bright although cold. Stood in St Peter’ Square saying hello to all the holy chaps etched against the blue sky. It felt so comfortable that I must have stood there for fifteen minutes before walking into the Vatican – firstly the wrong way and then having to walk all the way to the other side to be frisked before being allowed entry.

Had a few brief minutes of spiritual peace and “inner weeping with divine pleasure” before hordes of Japanese descended. It must be awful visiting the Vatican at the height of the tourist season if spiritual connection is what you seek.

Luckily I did manage to get to some places on my own – like the Museum Treasury. Highly recommended. Amazing amounts of gold, jewels, fantastically ornate candelabra with highly-decorated stems like those images on the sides of Indian temples, except not pornographic. Except of course the Bernini columns on the High Altar with Julia Farnese’s face in repose to orgasm and back and the Barbieri bees as her naughty bits. Peter whatever-his-name told us this when we went to Rome in the 70s. Then, the guards kept us away from the columns. This time, I could touch them unhindered if I wished. I didn’t.

Anyway more of the Museum Treasury – papal rings the size of my bracelets. God they must have been real porkers for those to fit. Massive crystals on equally massive crucifixes and yet more frippery. It probably all weighs a ton so no wonder it is all stored in a very darkened series of rooms. 5 euros entry by the way.

Didn’t do Sistine Chapel or other museums.

Really felt JP2’s vibes. Or God saying hello through him. I have never felt anything from Il Papa before even though I think he’s a lovely, kindly old chap and radiates goodness. Today, though, it was as if he was with me.

Eating in Rome is annoying. Even without the no-no of wheat and dairy, restuarants in that quarter at least didn’t open till 13:00 hours with only standing cafes or eating on the hoof available before. As my feet were sore even by lunchtime, I wanted to sit. Anyway the standing cafes only sold things like pizza. Finally found one after one o’clock that did “English Breakfast” which I had a vegeterian version of, but was so hungry I ate the toast and butter too. And suffered with bloat and poor bowel movements for the rest of the trip.

Explaining my fingers/hand, don’t like Italian word for broken. Sounds like rotten.

Took the Metro to Colosseo. Said never again to Roman tube travel. Filthy and cramped with graffiti everywhere.

The Colisseum – what a disappointment. Saw only one cat but the place had no atmosphere despite the maze of passageways below [which we couldn’t wander down into].

I like the stones to talk to me – Christian martyrs…. gladiatorial combat…. but nothing. Perhaps the spirits of all those lost souls had disappeared into the feral cats who in turn had pissed off somewhere more appetising to them. I was so disappointed, I left quite early despite paying my 8 euros to stay all day if I wished.

Walked up the via del Corso – freebie Rome – with stones that DID talk on both sides of the road. Remains of Imperial Rome with the Foro Imperiali, Foro Romano, Piazza Colonna, the Trevi [didn’t like that either].

Pitstop for aching feet at Cafe Canova [yes the 3 Graces chap]. Had a salad and a glass of wine. Moved on when young English couple came and sat next to me [in empty restaurant] and started talking v loudly and the woman ate even louder. Yes I glared but the dopey bird didn’t notice.

Those four small meals meant I skipped dinner and retired to bed with a packet of crisps and a bottle of water – and some half-cooked chestnuts.

Beggars here are more dramatic, kneeling in prayer, arms outstretched for alms. I prayed that God would give them drive and light for something a little more soul-enhancing.

Italian men have a wondrous curiosity towards females. It was pleasantly charming to see them stop mid-conversation and look, absorb the face with a smile and then simply move on. Nothing threatening. [BTW I wore the scar plaster on my nose the entire trip – so that might have had something to do with it!]

Sleepy now. Up at 5am for Naples.

8:30pm awake again. Don’t know how I slept so soundly last night as it was freezing and presumably as noisy as it is right now. Chattering voices, traffic and trams. The trams sound like Vesuvius rumbling. All loud. Very loud. And now I’m hungry-ish too. However, after affects of walking all day means I am not shifting from prone in this warm bed.

Surprised by total lack of vibes with Colosseum – especially after Gladiator. Lower corridors v impressive in detail but zero atmosphere. Said prayer for repose of souls of martyrs et al.

Amazing how many body parts can ache from several hours of walking. Think Inner God must be tired too as can’t feel any great spiritual stirrings.

Been thinking of T. and praying that the power of the Vatican’s energy will make me right…… Australia? Farmer?

Miss the Mother. Well ringing and haranguing her probably. Hope and pray she’s alright.

Difficult to work out what God’s Will is for me in a foreign place while in tourist mode.

Tuesday 4th Feb (writing en route)
7:15am on coach ready for Naples/Pompeii day trip. Horribly early start with alarm call at 5am. Irritation at no coffee facilities in room but nice man preparing the room made me one.

Perilous descent downstairs (the stairs were marble and rather steep and winding with no handrail).

Interim minibus takes us to Greenline where we change coaches and get two guides. Hordes of young Japanese girls but they are off to Capri, changing at Naples where we pick up another, local, guide.

Couple smoking heavily on coach south. Don’t fancy three hours of polluted atmosphere so ask Monika, the main guide, if they would kindly stop. They do and we speak a little later. They are Brazilians who have checked their daughter into university in Switzerland and are touring Europe before returning home. They are charming but total chain smokers so the coachtrips must be hell.

Still immensely tired in part because I haven’t eaten anything since 6pm last night. Three quarters of an hour till coffee break. Evidently breatharianism isn’t for me!

I’m also not cut out to be a travel writer! The scenery for the last gazillion hours has been mind-numbingly boring. Motorways spliced through not particularly life-enhancing scenery. Same the world over. And it’s pissing down with rain. Okay in the UK. Mark you these snapshots aren’t meant to be travel writing. Just a log of the holiday predominantly for Ma as she likes to know these things.

Monica – the coach guide – keeps telling us of all these special places as if we are about to be within spitting distance and invariably they are unviewable and hidden behind some particularly nasty looking industrial site. For example Caserta some large and famous palace. You’d need infrared specs and bionic vision to spot it on a sunny day let alone through storm clouds.

But then suddenly the rain eases and there is space. Lots of it. Piedmont to the right, snow-covered mountains. Olive trees. And SUN! And this space. Yet all these bods want to come to cramped, crowded England. South East England at that. So many of them are country workers anyway… Would I stay to try and rebuild a poverty-stricken England? I hope so. I believe so. Mark you the way this Government(?) is carrying on we may well have an imploded benefits system and then what would happen?

Nearly half way there. Middle of nowhere-ish and old fridges and tyres are littered by the roadside. I wish I had stuck to my teen ambition of being multi-lingual. Of course it’s not too late to learn but without regularity of conversation it would be difficult.

A very exotic garden centre. More bare olive trees looking like they are doing Imelda’s spider dance en masse. Capua 1km. Isn’t that some saint’s territory? Italy has so many works of art in the wild as opposed to being in a museum. I find that remarkably civilising.

Sleeping dragons on left as we approach Caserta. Largest palace next to Versailles and now a museum. No, I can’t see it. The Japanese guide, Yoshika, is giving me brain ache with her high-pitched and VERY fast gabbling.

Odd to have a big palace in such an ugly place. Looks like a mix of industrial estate, council housing and building works.

Pitstop. I have eaten (some unhealthy chocolate wafers), the sun is shining and the Brazilians are friendly. What is it with eating in non-UK places which creates such malodorous bowel movements? And their loos have such strange positioning you are practically sitting on your own stool. Gross.

A glimpse of the ancient Appian Way. Now that looks more like it. Rome to Capua and Brindisi. Just the words conjure up the apostles on their travels. Wonderful biblical resonance. She’s telling us now of Vesuvius, Etna and Stromboli. We can see Naples now. Nice vibes but not a pretty place. Stepped green hills a small bright spot under the original cluttered spaghetti junction and a half.

Italians like their fur coats. I’m wearing my best La Redoute fake fur.

Ah the nice vibes were because of the tropicality of the location. Must remind me of baby years in Ceylon or something. But it is all STILL ugly although even ugliness can be attractive. Masses and masses of apartment blocks and blocks is the operative word. She’s harping on about Vesuvius again so I think we are almost peeking into the crater but in all the time there I saw nothing at all.

Grey sea and photo stop for bay of Naples. Everyone hikes out to capture it on film but I’ve seen better at Littlehampton – alright not quite. This is on the hill and perhaps if it weren’t so grey it would look spectacular. Unfortunate for the bods who own the houses below. Not much privacy.

10:50am VERY out of breath local guide, Gennaro, arrives. Traffic accident held him up. He valiantly ploughs into his pitch, gasping for breath so we don’t miss his little tidbits. Such as they are.

We head into the flashier part of Napoli where Caruso used to hang out. “Egg” castle built by Normans. Palace in front, red, looks like Dartmoor prison.

New style me deciding to be relaxed and see what happens with the day. If I like Pompeii a lot I can always come back. Gennaro is locked into boring detail and I am fascinated with a motorcyclist watching his leather gloves blowing away in the wind and the carabinieri copping another motorcyclist. Gennaro still struggling to tell us anything interesting about Naples (“here is the oldest coffee shop” “here is a covered meeting place or arcade”, “next castle, beautiful marble arch of Alphonse of Aragon”). Maybe it’s him, or the route he is taking because my guide book is quite interesting.

I think if you really want to see or experience a place you have to do it by yourself. So far, it has been a drive by coach and a below par lunch with even less spectacular guiding. Actually Monica’s guiding skills stimulated the imagination. We just couldn’t actually SEE anything.

Wanted a glass of wine to lift the meal but it came by bottle. The American couple who had been asking me questions about Rome ordered one but did not even offer a taste. The Japanese girls were also asking me questions but were very sweet.

16:49 Nearly two and a half hours later and I am STILL soaked. Tunisia all over again. Cold winds and hailstones terminated the visit to Pompeii although I did manage to see what I wanted. It was peaceful and enjoyable, and definitely worth a trip in sunshine, but now I’m cold and starving and taking a long time to dry out. To make matters worse a creep has joined the trip back and keeps staring at me, but as I write this he has thankfully gone to sleep.

Although there were some delightful surprises at Pompeii like the groves and large private houses I felt antiqued-out after about an hour. Anyway the “spirits” were quiet. Obviously all at peace. Gennaro told me I was a romantic and an idealist because I didn’t want to follow the tour.

Before the hailstones crashed down, I spotted a coral shop where I wanted to buy something for Sarah and Richard. Coral is a symbol for a long and happy marriage. But it was enormously expensive. Even something practically invisible was nearly £30.

Hope Ostia tomorrow is dry – and not cold!

All I seem to think about is food. Unsurprisingly since it has been vile so far. Tonight I am planning to have a chinese.

Wednesday 5th Feb
9o/c in bed scrubbed clean but still aching from all that walking around. Unfortunately also very bloated from eating wrong things. Example: utterly delicious poached salmon with brandy sauce at lunch. I now look pregnant and feel constipated waiting for it to swim to pastures new. Despite thanking it (the salmon) for the oils and proteins it was giving to my hands!

Yesterday it was “see Naples and die” – and it very nearly took me off with boredom. Pompeii started well but finished with a wet battering from golfball sized hailstones. Even this morning my hat and coat were still wet.

I was so fed up with the poor guiding and horrible coach trip that I cancelled todays two trips to Ostia and the catacombs. I slept heavily and then decided to do my own tour of the catacombs despite Antonio in reception telling me I wouldn’t be able to.

Got on the nearest Metro to hotel but made mistake of getting off at Re di Roma and found neither buses nor taxis. Trambus guy said to get back on Metro and then off at Colli Albino(?) and take bus. But when I couldn’t get the ticket the Metro lady came out to help me and in best English said to get off at St Giovanni and then take the 218 bus direct to Sts Callisto and Domitilla. This was confirmed by another chap on the Metro who also spoke good English. They all seemed to think I was mad. But I found it. The 218 bus stop was opposite a rather splendid church – there are LOADS of them in Rome but they all seem rather wonderful with massive statues peering over the ramparts.

The only pressure point was that the ticket I bought worked for tube and bus WITHIN 75 minutes of purchase. So if the transport was anything like in the UK you’d be stuck.

The bus drive was more as I like it, traversing the Roman end of the via Appia Antico and once again it felt historical and biblical and transported me out of the 21st century. Actually I almost missed getting off.

Arrived at St Callisto to find it closed (on Wednesdays) and crossed my fingers as I walked half a mile up to road to St Domitilla’s. Thank God it was open. I skipped her house and went into the labyrinthe below – with a guide. Very spooky and moving. Even though it was unlikely that Christians sheltered there, there were fish mosaics and Christ symbols to be found. As one descended, there was a reasonably-sized chapel where Mass is held. Further into the catacombs were more altars where services apparently are held as well. I was lucky having the guide all to myself and we chatted about all sorts of things which gave me a fuller picture.

I would definitely recommend both the Vatican and the Catacombs as individual day trips to chill and absorb the atmosphere. I couldn’t get round to all the sights around the Appian Way like the Quo Vadis church because there just wasn’t the time.

Decided on a taxi back into the centre and fortuitously a taxi was just dropping off some chap. The route he took me back along was also wonderful and I was severely miffed with myself for the wet day in Pompeii when I could have explored so much more of Rome. Unfortunately the Catacombs is the complete opposite end from the Vatican. However should I go back I will probably stay in a hotel nearer to the via Appia Antico next time.

Taxi dropped me off at the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps). Not at all sure what the charm is, and I exited almost as quickly as I arrived. Ditto Fontana di Trevi the other day. Yet leaving the Piazza, I walked past a most beautiful fountain set into a private courtyard – except I didn’t know and wandered in to admire it. The guards came out to warn me off but then changed their minds and said to please browse. I told them I thought it was very beautiful and – oh those Italians – he said I was the beautiful one.

I came out to Rome on the spur of the moment for a cultural and spiritual lift but have had the added benefit of feeling very attractive.

Pootled round shopping, leather gloves for my battered hand, mint tea in the Grand Plaza something or other, then that wonderful salmon lunch at a charming place in della Croce.

Then headed back over Cavour, along the Castel Sant’Angelo and back to the Vatican to say hello again. As I walked into St Peter’s Square, I tried to tune into the Pope to say sorry for missing his blessing that morning but that I took it anyway… and I swear to God I got an instant reply in my gut and in the immediate tears in my eyes as I said “Hello Pope-y”. I know it doesn’t sound dignified but evidently he or God flowing through him didn’t mind at all.

Went into the private prayer chapel for a quiet word or two and Benediction was starting half an hour later, so I waited and joined in. More Catholic ritual in three days than in the last 37 years! But enjoyable.

And that Motherkins is all I wrote of Rome.

Related Images:

Snapshots of Budapest

June 1 – 5 2006

I certainly needed those two alarm clocks to get me out of bed at 4am but thereafter it was a pretty smooth ride.

Finding APH was easy, despite leaving behind the address, and their coach service deposited me at the North Terminal with plenty of time. Plenty of time to spend money! What is it about airports that makes me spend so much money?

The nice guy at Dixons put the camera together so I didn’t have to engage my brain in that direction. Just as well, as there was plenty else to tax it later on.

En route: It was a first, flying with Malev (Hungarian National Airline) and they seemed to be located in the Siberian outpost of Gatwick Airport. Made everyone laugh when I said ‘Bloody hell, I thought I was going to walk all the way to Hungary’. And the plane was the smallest commercial one I’ve ever been on.

Sat next to a garden designer/author called Rosemary Alexander, owner? of the Chelsea Psychic Garden. She was on her way to give a speech at a garden conference. Partly gripping her attention was a tall, bald French guy on the other side of me. He had brought his own huge tupperware container of some mixed fruit and veg concoction and polished it off in about ten minutes. [Because I brought forward my return home, Rosemary and the French guy were also on the flight. Her conference was not as she expected and the French guy was a footballer who broke his foot and narrowly avoided being in a bigger catastrophe when someone had to grab the wheel of their coach as it was about to crash.]

Unfortunately, tedious journeys repeated themselves a few times on this trip; the taxi to Gyor took well over two and a half hours and my bottom was completely numb. To make matters worse, the early start caught up with me and I fell asleep with my mouth open, leaning onto the driver! He, like most Hungarians I met could not understand any English at all and I could barely remember ‘thank you’. Kersmer-something… The other snooze-inducing element was the landscape. Green, spacious and dotted with plenty of trees, but somehow truly boring.

‘Pensions’ or guest houses are quite popular in Hungary now, and the Teatrum in Gyor was clean, friendly, well-maintained, with a good breakfast, and all for £20 per night. And they let me send an email to the family at no charge. My room had two single beds but laid out head to toe, making the room long and thin. Number 3, overlooked the theatre (hence Teatrum) but was surprisingly quiet.

Lying in bed the first night, I thought I heard the distant rumble of a train.. till I realised it was the oddly solid mattress. Every time I moved, it made this strange noise. B thought it might have been made from horsehair.

Loos, poos & other unmentionables: Gillian McKeith would have a field day with faecal matter in foreign places. What is it about non-native travel, even to countries with similar diets, when human waste smells and looks so alien? Did that really come out of me? It does not help that so many mainland European pans are flat and placed high, so what went in comes out rather close to self, sitting there like some gigantic malignant toad. Yeurk. Such grossesses always make me peeved with the Big E. It just does not seem very divine.

It barely stopped raining the entire time I was there. Apart from gloomifying everything, I was wearing black boots and ended up with black toenails. Very pretty. However, I could hardly stay inside the whole time. Thankfully, the first afternoon was sunny and I felt perky enough to wander around the town. Actually, it has a cathedral (with a Weeping Madonna) which technically makes it a city. Didn’t get that impression at all though. Despite being famous for its 16/17th century streets, my first impression was of clothes shops and cobbled stones. There were racks of clothes standing sentry outside many shops, and virtually all circa 50s style. No temptation to buy although I did end up getting a red striped (non-fashion) jumper for £12.

Unlike Krakow, there were no swivelling heads and unsmiling looks, thank God. The Magyars are rather friendly and accepting. Consumerism is edging in but in Gyor at least there was a refreshing trust and almost innocence. Equally, the food won’t challenge the average British palate. Everything appears to be deep-fried, except for the delicious soups and stews. I also discovered a splendid vegan café with pictures of Ganesh on the walls.

Still on the first day, I met up with Edina, the tour guide for Oswald-Andra Dent, at 5pm. She initially struck a sour note. Firstly, she could barely understand English – not a good sign for an intermediary. Then she either interrupted herself or me with endless phone calls so I didn’t know what the hell she was on about as we had to keep starting from the beginning again.

I finally managed to understand that a taxi would pick me up at ten to nine for a 9am appointment with the dentist. We were given taxi cards so that any money we paid would be refunded from the fees to the Oswald part of Oswald-Andra Dent. I still did not realise I was part of a group, partly because I had arranged my own flight, and partly because I arrived on Thursday. The rest had arrived on the Sunday evening for Monday to Friday treatment.

Pain? I never really thought about pain until Marianne mentioned taking plenty of painkillers with me. Now not only was Edina mentioning them, several times, but some group members were popping them like smarties. I barely slept a wink.

The only blot in service the entire time was breakfast on the first day. The waitress was late, sniffing and blowing her nose unsmilingly. I also did not realise a good cooked breakfast was on offer and made do with two cold boiled eggs and lots of coffee. Luckily, she wasn’t around for the rest of the trip.

I must have been more fearful of the process than I realised. Overnight just my left eyebrow had sprouted three long white hairs (the other was smooth and jet black) and my shoulder pains returned with a vengeance.

The taxi arrived on time, as was I for my first appointment. The surgery itself was larger than first impressions but the street was ‘rundown suburbia’ – like most parts of Gyor and Budapest that I saw. There is a staggering amount of graffiti on virtually every spare wall, even in the nicer parts of town.

I’m not quite sure what went wrong next, and I am saving the dental details for my article on ‘dental tourism’, but I ended up bursting into tears, so he suggested going for a walk and then coming back in 30 or 40 minutes to agree on what happened next.

I wandered up and down these truly drab streets, in the rain, couldn’t find a coffee bar and then crept back in to their waiting room. And I was still weepy.

Andra didn’t look too pleased to see me sitting there but I was buggered if I was going to traipse the streets again. By this time the small waiting room was filling up with more of the tooth tourists. All German or Swiss. Then a tallish, blond guy came in. An English voice! Effeminate, before you all get too excited!

We all started to chat and I discovered they were all regulars. That gave me more of a feelgood factor but to cut a long story short (ie the story I’ll be writing in my article), the dentist only fixed the broken filling (for free) but suggested I came back and that they would pay for the flight or give me a discount. There was no time for a bridge before my flight back this time, which was the alternative to the implant which would require five months of osseointegration. And, presumably painkillers. (More details in the article). And then returning to have a crown fitted. So now I was here in Gyor with no dental treatment planned and lots of spare time.

B, too was at a loose end. He mentioned something about companionship needed for dental tourism – which the Swiss and Germans had but he was the only English bod till I arrived. So we wandered around the medieval streets and had lunch at the vegan cafe. Paid 400 HUF (Hungarian Florints) to visit the Miklos Borsos museum. An entire museum to just one artist/sculptor who, if truth be told, did not light my fire overmuch. But he was a local lad and there was a message of sorts in his works.

I wanted to visit the gothic cathedral and see the Weeping Madonna so we had another wander around till it was open. I said prayers for all the family (and put in a request for a columnist’s job!) and then wandered around some more. I wanted a red jumper and found one that served quite well. He too bought one, although seeing vast expanses of untoned white flesh was distinctly offputting.

As is often the way with foreign trips, swift friendships can develop through shared intimacies and what started as a discussion about spiritual beliefs moved on with discovering more about each other. I think being homosexual may possibly have made all this social chitchat more personally intrusive than normal.

He was born M D, in Germany, to a woman who worked in a nightclub. The social services of the time thought this wasn’t a good place to bring up a child and he was put in an orphanage till he was four. Then he was adopted by a Squadron Leader, who also adopted another little boy. B says he has always been effeminate and that annoyed his father. The hatred seems to have been mutual. He said his father was a homophobe in action as well as thought. It sounded like he said his father went out on queer-bashing expeditions and used to hit him too. Eventually the father left the forces, opened a bar in Sussex I think. However he left, so B felt his life had turned full circle as he was back again with a single mother in a similar ambience.

By this time, I was starting to feel vamped and he said he was tired so we returned to our (different) pensions before the (group) evening meal.

A coach took us to what looked like council offices in some equally rundown side street. Well, it was raining – again – which always dampens views. Pleasurable surprise. The inside of the Goldenball Restaurant seemed to be richly decorated in red velvet and low lights, with book cases lining the walls, a piano player and a superb menu. and not very expensive either. But then nothing is in Hungary, at the moment. And the waiter spoke excellent English. He used to work on a cruise ship and had lived in North Wales for three years if I recall correctly.

B and I shared a table with Peter and Beatrice, a Swiss-born couple who lived in Texas but travelled extensively and were regular dental tourists. However, they saw a different dentist to us.

The coach seems to have been a one-way trip and we all walked back to our pensions. Well they sauntered under their umbrellas. I loped back as my feet had already started to turn black from the boot dye.

Saturday morning I had to myself as the dental tourists went for final check ups pre-lunch.

I had yet another wander around, buying a little angel in a feng shui shop and trying to find a massage parlour for my shoulders. Stuck my head into a hairdresser and made hand gestures as if giving someone a good pummel. A lady got up from under her drier and wrote down the name of a salon and the address….

The Gyorans have a friendly imprecision with addresses. All to whom I showed the paper, said ‘es’ – presumably because it was roughly in the same neighbourhood.

Several tours of the streets later, and just about to give up, I found it. A manicurist’s salon. So much for my skills at charades!

Went into a health food shop and the thin and tired looking lady decided to close up her shop for twenty minutes while she took me round three different massage parlours to choose from. Ida was her name (pronounced Eeda). A fan of Krishna. Unfortunately, all shops close at lunchtime and the salon with potential was fully booked – so it was back to the Teatrum to meet everyone for lunch and pay Edina for management services and any dental work.

I asked Edina to change my flight but as it was a cheap flight and Pentecost, had no luck. B said to go to the airport and try face to face, so I booked my return taxi for 9am Sunday to give me plenty of time and maybe even a Sunday flight…

As B had gone on about being adventurous, I thought our last day ‘together’, on Saturday, could be spent discovering places other than Gyor…. except there was a free goodbye lunch provided by Oswald. A three-course meal, with lunch and a gypsy violinist. I suppose my attitude wasn’t that good as you know how fond I am of crowds.

With the very best will in the world, and B had already described them in similar terms, the group were mostly working-class pensioners. The British version has its own particular charms, but Swiss-Germans are almost on another planet, for me. For a start, they understood no English and our German was non-existent.

Luckily for me, I sat next to the lady from the dentist who spoke French. She (Therese) and Yuri, her racy looking Serbian husband (he wore a grey pony tail) looked wonderfully in love, as if they had been together for years. In fact, they met in a singles club and had been married for ten years. She had been a milliner, while he was a theatrical costumier. He just got a bit miffed at not being able to understand what we were saying. Therese said it was good for him not to know everything.

The subterranean restaurant amplified the acoustics so the already loud violinist and the electric piano player played havoc with my ears.

I rather ungraciously blocked them with my hands especially when the blasted violinist stood behind me giving me a personal serenade. As he didn’t get the hint, I got up and waited in the loo till he moved on to someone else. Fortissimo is not conducive to digestive flow. Interestingly, all those who enjoyed it left no tips while I, whose ears were assailed, did.

Post-lunch, we all went for a coach trip to a local shopping mall. As before the location was ultra-grim, but inside were some rather pleasant shops. I treated myself to two citrine rings and just hope I come into some money before the credit card bills come in!

Back at base, I started to feel soul weary. Desperately wanted to be back at home and missed my sisters too! Got out the digital camera and mucked around taking some self-portraits. Unfortunately, I looked really ugly and horrid in virtually all of them which made me feel even more down.

Because B was so open with his life story, I felt able to push the boundaries of normal conversation. For example, using the word ‘homosexual’. He didn’t like it, saying it was too clinical, whereas I dislike using the word ‘gay’. He suggested ‘queer’ but I think that’s rude, rather like ‘nigger’. So when we met up later on Saturday prior to finding somewhere for supper, I wanted to discuss some anthropological aspects of homosexuality, for example the effeminate voice. It really did sound like that guy in Are You Being Served? so I felt it was a bit of an act. Not that I said it in so many words but that was the beginning of the end.

As we sat having a drink, he told me about an Egyptian experience of his. Thinking he’d reached a natural stop, I replied with mine at Abu Simbel. Big mistake. He really flipped. Said he hadn’t finished and that I did that to him before (Guilty, m’lud. It’s a Labon failing. Ask the brothers-in-law.)

I apologised and let him drone on… something about meeting someone in Egypt and which lead to an Australian experience, having three mothers, one in Australia who foretold lots of things about him. But he was still cross with me so I apologised again. I said he seemed rather ‘vulnerable’ meaning it in a kindly way but he went absolutely apeshit. Said that was critical. Gave me a lecture about my failings (he thankfully missed out quite a few). I actually listened then mistake three or was it five, I muttered ‘if you are going to be painful…’… and off he flounced. And that was that. Never heard from or saw him again. Although quite pleased to be alone, I did send him love and light so whatever was bothering him would be resolved.

Over the time we spent together, he wanted to know about his numbers, the turquoise ring on his Saturn finger and various other things so it seemed like he was seeking direction. Well that remark was ‘critical’ according to him. Yet to seek it is nothing to be ashamed of. Mark you, if he had read my original notes then he may well have thought I was critical. I wrote that he was tall, blond, pleasant-looking, untoned and walked like he had a rocket up his arse. And that was before he confirmed that he was HX (homosexual).

God knows why I felt guilty. All that mincing effeminacy was beginning to grate. Could be why I wanted to know about the voice. Maybe deep down I wanted him to go. He said he knew more about me than I did about him. Quite possibly. I see my life as a spiritual experiment to be shared in order for others to learn, if they want to that is.

Anyway, if I had seen him again, I would have invited him to join me. As it was, I found a lovely restaurant called Komedia and had a light supper pre-bed. There was a long table with mostly men having the tail-end of a celebratory meal. I was made to feel like a welcome gatecrasher.

Sat with Peter and Beatrice in the restaurant in Teatrum on return, for quick chat. He was an engineer in the paper industry, she does temporary work in finance. They lived in South America (among many countries) and bought precious stones as an investment.

Beatrice said that Peter was very opinionated which probably triggered some equally opinionated remarks from me. Like genetic modification and the rise in homosexuality. I know, dicing with death! But then I have always been an acerbic observer. In B’s rant he said I was judgmental but how can a writer not observe with clarity without appearing to be judgmental?

Peter meanwhile seemed very interested in British politics and life. Mentioned that even co-habitees might have to share assets. He, tongue in cheek, said he’d be too scared to live with me, and then spoiled it by asking it that offended me. No, of course not… although he’d be lucky to be invited in the door let alone live with me. I know I have a strong personality but I am not going to keep apologising for it. God gave it to me for a purpose and so I will treat it as a gift.

That said, about to step into the shower, I was feeling a little gloomy, when the radio played my lumiels tune – Love Is All Around. I really needed that and it felt like my guardian angels (lumiels) wanted to tell me that God loved me and is looking after me.

By the way, Sky Radio in Hungary has a novel way of murdering songs by playing adverts mid-melody. Most odd. Luckily, they left my lumiels’ tune alone.

Last morning in Gyor – got rude awakening at 4am. By mistake. Then another at 6am – and that’s despite saying wrong room. Passed time waiting for the taxi by watching Teletubbies on BBC World. Can’t believe children enjoy that programme. They look and sound like fluffy Daleks.

After a couple of false starts, lovely Csilla at Malev found me a seat on the Monday flight even though it was overbooked. I had to pay an upgrade and booking fee which was less than if I’d stayed in a Budapest hotel till the original flight, which I thought worth paying.

I also decided to treat myself to an overnight stay at the 4-star Gellert and got a single room for a reasonable price. A spa hotel, built in the early 1900s, it still has that vaguely forgotten air, but the location was excellent as was the food. Booked a Thai massage for later and decided to have a wander around.

First stop was the cave church carved into the Citadel rock face. Said a prayer for all the family and thank you for everything despite still having the tooth gap.

Tourism can certainly corrupt quickly. Although people are generally friendly, some of the hotel staff had that cynical and supercilious air you often find in more expensive hotels. Probably from years of dealing with obnoxious customers. There was also a deeply unpleasant girl in a perfume shop who made offensive hand gestures when I tried out the testers. Isn’t that what they are there for? I was so put out that I lobbed back that she was a great lump (she was quite a bit overweight) and very rude. Not sure if she understood, but she would have seen from my face that I was NOT pleased. Even if people do come in and steal testers, not everyone should be tarred with the same brush.

When I asked her the price of something, she added that payment by credit card had to be with a passport as well. That’s a first, and needless to say I did not buy anything. However, I subsequently discovered that PIN numbers are only accepted with additional signatures (although no-one else asked for my passport). Thankfully, I used my M&S credit card which I rarely use so it will be easy to monitor any abuse… and is easy to cancel without disrupting my finances.

The perfume girl was the second sour note after B, and I felt in need of spiritual light, so sent her some L&L to clear the flow, although really I was still unhappily outraged.

Despite the four and five star area, there was an amazing amount of graffiti everywhere. It is such a potentially beautiful city and could really do with a massive clean up.

The first brown faces I saw were tourists staying in and around the Gellert. I wondered how the Thai girl managed but her English was not brilliant. Her Hungarian was apparently non-existent despite living there for three years. As she lived alone, and did a good job (I skipped cracking my spine as I was still in some pain), I left her a whopping tip. In fact, I seemed to tip everyone as if I was the Sultan of Brunei, since I got 70,000 HUF (Hungarian Florints) for my £200, and it goes quite a long way. I really felt that spending it or giving it away was a form of tithing and was helping their economy. Hope God feels the same way for my bank balance!

And thank you God for a certain type of Frenchwoman. They are unafraid to openly appreciate what they believe is physical attractiveness. I’ve even been stroked before now. Mark you I hardly expect any admiring glances these days with increasing CF (age) so that really made my morning…; so much, that I left a large tip for the young taxi driver who took me to the airport. He almost burst with pleasure.

The airport sounds like something out of Star Trek (Ferihegyi). Unfortunately, it is definitely not space age, and as I arrived three hours too early, I had to make do with crisps and a glass of wine while writing up copious notes. At least staff were friendly off-airport.

Once into passport control, there was more officiousness and unpleasantness generally though I only got the officious passport control woman, who spoke no English but kept gesturing that my passport photo was not me. I think she mentioned distinguishing characteristics, but since they are not listed in the passport how the f… would she know? In the end, she turned to her colleague who must have told her to let me through.

That’s the second East European country that let me IN with barely a glance at my passport, but kicked up a fuss when I tried to get OUT.

The general tetchiness and suspicion of the duty free staff could have spoiled things but meeting the French footballer and Rosemary again gave the trip a ‘school reunion’ feel. They both had less than perfect trips. The poor guy broke his foot and they narrowly averted disaster with their coach when someone grabbed the wheel just in time.

Saw another blubbery white belly, which then sat next to me on the flight back. A truly miserable sod. In front of me there was an HX couple (did I mention it’s my new term for ‘homosexual’. I don’t like using the word ‘gay’, and ‘queer’ – which they like – sounds too rude. And, according to B, they think homosexual sounds too clinical.)

I have a feeling that the miserable sod was also HX and, since I had seen LOTS of cosy male couples, wondered if Budapest was now some sort of HX holiday hot spot. I am also trying to lose the image of the miserable sod’s chocolate eating habits. He literally crammed a 3×7 bar into his mouth with BOTH hands. Whatever happened to breaking off a square at a time?

Meanwhile, the guy in front, reclined his seat so far his head was practically in my lap. I do leg exercises on even short journeys as I once got a blood clot on a flight so I rather rudely prodded the back of his seat. However, both of us must have been innately courteous and harmony returned after a short apologetic conversation. Nonetheless, I was disconcerted to see them waiting for the same courtesy coach as me but decided to make a joke of it. Thankfully, he got it and we chatted about various things…

And then it was back into my car and en route for home.

Related Images:

Snapshots of Marrakech

***6th October 17:34hrs: am not leaving till Saturday, but felt obliged to write something about travel right now since it sounds more like Snapshots of Morocco…

The plane arrives at Agadir airport and I hadn’t realised Agadir airport was so far from Marrakech – about 250km. The journey is three and a half hours! The BA website didn’t give the option of other airports…

Moroccans apparently have a novel form of taxi travel: grande taxis which are relatively cheap, as you have to wait for six bods to make up the full complement thus sharing the cost. You can of course opt to pay for a grande taxi all by yourself… which I may do as it is about the right UK price. What is more annoying is having to take a taxi from the airport to the taxi station in the city prior to even getting on a grande taxi! We’ll see… but I can’t breathe a word of that to Ma or she’ll fret.

***10th October 15:25hrs
Emails to, but not from the Imperial Borj (hotel I am staying at in Marrakech). The hotel rang me saying they had emailed but were worried because from my emails it was obvious I had not received theirs. They then rang again the following day to confirm the taxi would be waiting at Agadir. So that’s given me a nice warm feeling!

Finally decided to pay higher price because if Agadir/Morocco is anything like Egypt and Tunisia, it’ll be hellish when I arrive, with multiple bossy men clamouring for trade. Even if I manage to get on a taxi easily, I’ll feel tense, with some strange bloke, for three and a half hours. I reckon the double price is worth some peace of mind. Plus they aren’t rich so it’ll be my form of tithing.

I am finding it difficult to relax because of Sarah’s baby… and Morocco isn’t a country where you can light candles.

Unbelievable. Abluted and packed, I’ve locked the damned case with my usual numbers and now the blasted thing won’t open! I’ll have to break it open at the hotel and concern myself about replacement thereafter. Right, glass of wine and read… more when I get back.

***11th October Gatwick Airport/North Terminal
Arrived much too early. Swapped camera I had bought on previous visit for perfume and hairstuff. Also bought deodorant, Diocalm, paper, Vitamin C capsules and watch for swimming.

Bloke laughing hysterically and loudly, like he’s auditioning for a horror film.

Dreadful “service” in Garfunkels where I went to get some breakfast. The waiters looked at you without acknowledging you, then walked off in the opposite direction or continued their private conversation. They had the cheek to say they were busy. I even got a bent plastic fork. Left 2p to register disgust which the Eastern European waiter held up to show to his colleague, saying really loudly, look what she’s left. I was not remotely embarrassed and merely told him that if he provided a good service he would have got a good tip. Heaven’s knows what that other client left, since he kept repeating out loud, any chance of getting served some time today?

Went into Lloyds Café Bar for another coffee as the flight has been delayed nearly two hours!!! Well-spoken bloke told me I was sensible. He was drinking a whole bottle of white wine (this was way before lunch). Transpires he too was using up his air miles – to Mexico. His came through Delta Airlines and expired after two years. Neither my British Airways miles nor the Air Miles miles expire but I just thought I’d get them out of the way.

Supervisor in World Shop who swapped the camera, told me he had forgotten his case combination … and spent hours going through every possible permutation till he got it in the mid-300s! Like I can see me doing THAT.

Took chance getting Moroccan Dirhams – not allowed to take them into or out country. They could get confiscated. However I need to pay the taxi driver. If he’s still waiting.

Will possibly just sit by pool reading rather than doing culture-vulture thing … tea at La Mamounia? I’m not really a holiday person, and have taken work with me: Colin Wilson’s The Outsider, Writing Articles from the Heart… and hoping to write a series of short articles while I am there, if something catches my creativity.

*** On flight at last:
Nothing on Executive Club website about stopping at Marrakech BEFORE Agadir. Am not a happy bunny as they won’t let you off and that taxi driver may be waiting too. Plus a MASSIVE woman is sitting beside me. There is actually a seat in between us but you’d never know as she has requisitioned it with an equally large handbag.

Barely 5 minutes seated and there is a very loud walrus bark. No cough I’ve ever heard before, not sustained. Just loud one-off barks. Yes it’s my neighbour. And she’s wearing the most appalling perfume. She has asthma, so I try to think kind thoughts. Very challenging. Have two of those mini bottles of wine – pre and during dinner. After several of these loud barks, I ask her if she could possibly be a little quieter. Believe me it is so loud other people are turning round – and I have it right next to me! She does.

Follow her out to loo, and she coughs “normally” in the loo, a bit like Dad, so I send her healing light. On the way to the loo, I do some leg flexing exercises. A woman in an aisle seat eyes me strangely, unsmiling. I joke that it’s to get the blood flowing. Her male companion puts his hand on her arm and tells me she’s panic-stricken about flying. I stroke her arm and tell her she’ll be fine because I’m on the flight and my God doesn’t want me yet. Am rewarded with very big smile from both.

My big neighbour really does have a crackingly loud bark. Even tuning up doesn’t seem to stop it from shocking me as it seems to happen just as there is a relaxing lull. Plus it is a single bark and not a sustained cough one can get used to. So no dozing off unfortunately.

The impatient (not with me) air hostess has just managed to slam her trolley into the head of some sleeping bloke. That also was LOUD. She keeps apologising but luckily for her, he doesn’t seem to mind. I joke about a compensation claim to my neighbour, and she replies that she’s okay as long as there is no blood.

The sun is so magical this high. Despite the plane’s judderings, it feels like another world, peaceful and bright and full of promise. Actually this plane is so full of very white mostly older faces, it is impossible not to remark on it. The exception is right at the very back of the plane by the loos. One very, very black billiard ball head, reading the Daily Express. Seem like middle-class Brits but are actually multi-European.

Arrive at Marrakech and have to wait approximately forty minutes while they clean the plane and let the new passengers on board. Transpires they are going back to Britain – via Agadir. Before they get on, it’s a bit like the old days of flying with multiple stops and a blitz spirit with the original passengers. Certainly lots of them are interested in my unique flying schedule. One woman tells me that maybe someone can share my taxi back to Marrakech.

Sure enough, in front of me is a chap who asks me how much I am paying and works out a one way half share of thirty euros – which he proceeds to give me. I agree but give him back his money till I have spoken with the taxi driver. I don’t want to get clobbered for a passenger…

The chap is a Danish maths teacher on hiking trip.

***Finally arrive at Agadir.
Taxi drivers are forbidden from entering the terminal so I thought I was stood up. However, he was waiting, smilingly, outside and the sun was shining. And he accepted the Dane with no extra charge. I requisitioned the thirty euros.

***Imperial Borj
What a terrible and extremely LONG car journey that was! Much longer than three hours, all curves, steep inclines and blind spots on a single carriageway through the Atlas Mountains.

Still I managed to speak a lot of French and the driver was a kindly chap. Despite terrifying overtaking techniques, I more or less felt safe. Told him about my car accident and he replied he had a five month old baby and he didn’t plan on leaving her alone!

I regret to say the Dane was very self-centred, never asking either of us a thing. He couldn’t speak French (the main language along with Moroccan Arabic) so kept asking me questions about his hiking and hotel arrangements to translate as the driver didn’t speak English. Plus, five minutes into the journey, he starting eating a carrot! Quite apart from my feelings about people eating, he didn’t even offer us anything. He asked about some obscure hikers’ hotel although he planned to trek alone , without a guide, camping under the stars…

En route, we saw several goat herds who seemed extraordinarily content. The driver confirmed that, saying they were happy with food to eat, friends to chat with and a roof over their heads. And there is the so-called First World with money to burn and every material comfort, with extraordinary levels of stress and lack of fulfilment.

We stopped for a quick snack as the driver had left Marrakech at 9am to meet me and then had been hanging around the outside of the airport terminal for another couple of hours for my delayed flight….!

Finally got to the hotel and forgot to ask for a receipt as the charming driver suddenly toughened up – not with me – but with the demanding Dane. I didn’t even look back to see what they were going to arrange. It was late and I was very tired.

The receptionist who was on duty, despite a fixed smile, was a miserable so and so, and proved to be so for the entire stay. The others were fine. He practically bit my head off when I asked for an iron. No, we do the laundry here. Great well get my clothes ironed then.

The chap who took my luggage up, then took me down into the bowels of the hotel to get it opened (after I’d had a quick meal in the restaurant). He showed pathetic gratitude when I let him keep the (broken) case. Said he had a baby and his wife needed to carry things around and it would be perfect. I also gave him the freebie one I got from Dolce and Gabbana with the perfume. He was sharp enough to ask me to write and sign a note saying I had given them to him and he had not stolen them…

Distinctly unimpressed with British Airways. Didn’t realise from the website that Marrakech was a drop off to Agadir. Sunday plans will start with changing my flight to make sure I can depart from here and not have to drive all the way back to Agadir!

The first thing I did when I got into the bedroom was smell the bed. The carpet was rather shabby but thankfully, everything else seemed to be clean and spacious.

***12th October 6am
The hotel might look 5 star from the outside, and be in a 5 star location, but it has that shabby feel very similar to Tunisia. It’s Moroccan 5 star. If I ever venture into the Middle East again, I’ll choose a chain like the Sheraton or Le Meridien or Sofitel. At least the quality is reasonably guaranteed.

Because of the so-called upmarket location, there is nothing nearby except other upmarket hotels. It’s a bit like a quiet Belgravia street. On the plus side, the guide books exaggerate the need for guides. According to both the taxi driver and my grateful bag carrier, it is safe and I will not get lost in the souks.

The TV is about 300 years old and the remote control is so manky, I’m surprised there is any life in it. Every time I use it, I have to get up and wash my hands. You can’t even read the buttons….however, there are loads of clean towels and the bed smells clean. There is also a wonderful power shower and plentiful hot water. After the sweaty Tunisian 4-star bed, I couldn’t bear to be depressed with the same here. But, like I said, middle-eastern 5-star is generally meaningless.

Moaned about the BBC in Krakow – here they don’t get a look in. It’s CNN and it makes BBC World look fantastic. It’s truly bad.

***Same day nearly 10:00hrs (10:45 UK-time Sunday)
Sitting in glorious sunshine in La Mamounia, drinking mint tea. Utterly peaceful, beautiful gardens. Birds singing their own hymns, quite unlike the usual gossipy chirping. All for 35 dirhams. About £3. It is only later that I get a surfeit of richbods sensation.

Already been to airport. While I changed my departure airport, the taxi driver waited, then took me to the Centre Commercial as the souks were not yet open. Bought another case, bag (Burberry copies) and soft dual colour leather jacket for very good price indeed. Some nerves paying with credit card, but as they kept pointing out, it was electronic with no zip zaps involved. They found my concerns amusing, all except one who looked slightly miffed that I should think that of their shop. And that is the thing about Moroccans. They do want you to find them honest. If you think they are pulling a fast one, they will say, well what do you want to pay?

Marrakech is heaving with Frenchies. We Brits self-flagellate about our past colonialising, but forget the French and the Belgians swarming all over Africa, to name but one overseas territory. Despite Morocco being an Islamic country, with Friday as their day of rest, all official buildings are closed on a Sunday, as well as some shops. The souks open later in the day.

Tomorrow I am hoping to go to Fez which is a preserved city.

Books and writing make great companions in the absence of the two-legged variety. Thankfully, the indigenous people are not a pongy lot as air conditioning is rare. They also do not pester, which is even better. Apparently, they will go to prison if caught, as tourism is their number one industry. Number two is film-making – more of which later.

Non, merci works fine and Bonjour to workers ensures civilised smiles and nothing more. Sattin says Moroccans have a “wall mentality”, suspicious of strangers – not in my experience so far. All a very welcome change from Krakow.

Eleven o’clock, back in my hotel, sitting by the pool, as I cannot find a caleche. God knows why I am rushing around so much. Had pleasurable butterflies when I asked God to be my companion –as if the Big E was thrilled to be asked.

***2:45pm Back by pool.
I’m not really a holiday person despite Ma asking me why I was “taking all these holidays” (to use up my air miles!). I have to be up and doing something. Then I get satiated with culture or ethnic diversity and yearn to hear even estuary English.

Anyway I greatly enjoyed the caleche trip (a two-horse-drawn barouche) round the old town of Marrakech. I’m still flabbergasted that two horses could get into such tiny alleyways… all jostling with people, motorbikes and the occasional large car. Amazing. Talk about being “in your face”.

It was also quite sufficient for seeing the souk. I asked him to leave me in the Djemaa el-Fna, which is their busy market place. Had lunch on an upper terrasse – vegetable couscous and nothing to write home about. La Place as it is also known gets hectic later in the evening, but this was enough for me. I started to get nauseous with the discordant sounds and multi-coloured sights and headed back to the Imperial Borj… which is where I now am – waiting fifteen minutes to get the waiter’s attention!

Unspectacular avocado salad with artichokes and a sorbet, with the pool to myself. Which is rather nice except I am too shy to get in. My bod looks good in a bikini, but unfortunately my swimming skills leave a lot to be desired.

Have finally managed to get name of the chap who rang me re taxi (Shaqib). He’s still not on duty and I keep getting the grumpy one. Tried asking about tours as well as the receipt for the taxi. He doesn’t just answer, he gets hyper so I am trying to avoid him.

Shaqib is now on duty but seems extraordinarily vague about group tours. Says I won’t like them. Says Fez is eight hours drive away. Says he has another single woman who he wants me to go with. Says she’s American and big. Sounds fun.

Having a little giggle… and it’s not the vodka and tonic. A little earlier, annoyed because I couldn’t get the concierge here to find out what tours are available, I marched off to La Mamounia. Teams of security men were stopping people going through. Head bouncer started to cross-examine me, except I wasn’t in the mood for more prats and said I’d been there earlier and wished to speak with the concierge and was he the concierge. No? In that case let me through…. and he did. The expression on his face was utterly priceless…

The security was for the FIFA conference being hosted.

Anyway, no Fez. It really is about eight hours drive away. In fact, most of the really interesting places are a good few hours drive from Marrakech. Here is good for sun, souks and lots of eating. Which of course is ideal for many. For singletons, it is a little trying. I’m lucky that I can talk to an ant if need be – and indeed I just have. It was scurrying around on the table and I blew it gently away from my plate. Except it thought it knew better and headed at max speed back in the same direction – straight over the edge of the table, splotted down right onto the marble floor. I swear to God, its limbs were splayed out like a cartoon character, though with zilch chance of another life. Daft bugger!

Riads are hotel/restaurants which offer the best of both 5 star cultures, apparently. May try and check them out tomorrow. They are in the Medina, small, hip and often luxurious.

They really are a very good-natured and forgiving bunch. Women can feel safe – even if bored!

***7:15hrs pm
Jane, room 309 or 307. Introduced by Shaqib. She’s English. 5’2” and a really strange shape. Huge up top, tapering down to a point. A bit like a toad standing upright. Her hair is cut short on the top then you notice it is flowing behind past her shoulders. A bit like a hairy root vegetable. Very bossy but I seem happy enough to be bossed around.

She does not want to go to Essouria, my choice, about 3 hours drive, so we agree on her choice of Ourika Valley (2 hours), including a Berber village. It costs 400 dhs each. She’s been at a sales conference at the Sofitel and has moved to a cheaper hotel to stay on for a couple more days. Shaqib got her almost right so he either asks a lot of questions or she told him her life history. God knows what he told her about me! We’re off at 09:30 tomorrow.

***13th October 08:30hrs
Strange dreams: Electric-fence, modern-style but with Auschwitz-Birkenau feel. Robert Carlyle as Hitler. Another man. My love? We have an unspoken need to be together; rather than we will be together. Very well-spoken English, but like the chap from the dream of last week, he too has Germanic-feel.

Today my jaw aches. I’m seriously bored… and CNN doesn’t help. It’s diabolically uninteresting. Right now we have a very long interview with some bods called Siegfried and Roy from – wait for it – September 3rd 1999! One could be forgiven for thinking one is in a time warp. Dreadful. Have finally switched it off as I couldn’t even doze with it on. Am not really looking forward to today and am still hacked off at lack of organised tours. Shaqib has assured me our guide of today is excellent and really understands far more than a mere organised tour guide and will give us the personal touch…. on va voir.

Asking the concierges here for anything is like drawing blood from a stone.

By the way, the 5 star fridge is empty. It doesn’t even look like it’s ever been switched on. The 5 star is probably because of the spaciousness. I certainly cannot fault that. This is certainly a big, airy place.

I am probably not doing justice to this form of tourism. Djemaa el-Fna is a Unesco “Immaterial Heritage of Mankind”. Must admit that a mass of humanity, snake charmers, acrobats, singers, alongside market stalls and passing vendors, fortune tellers etc etc is definitely my idea of hell. In fact, yesterday’s early afternoon session is still vibrating in my brain even now.

***11.45 Ourika Valley
It’s pissing down with rain and utterly freezing. Our ‘excellent’ guide speaks a mere handful of French and no English. On the drive down, his excellent guiding consisted of saying Berber, Berber anytime we passed something remotely resembling Berber culture – of which they are inordinately proud. Anything else he says is totally incomprehensible. Complete silence when we pass anything that might be of interest. In contrast Jane has verbal diarrhoea for half the journey.

Jane was determined to go for a walk (“to get my money’s worth”) and see the waterfall and so she has – in the freezing, pouring rain. I think she thinks I am a party pooper but I am wearing utterly ridiculous gear, for a sunny day, not a rainy, freezing one, so tough shit. Plus she managed to annoy me right from the off. As I waited in the lounge, she appeared at the right time, only to say she was going off to the bank. I got into the campervan and sat on one of the seats. There were plenty of empty ones.

She returned and sat her bulk next to me with a very ugly foot up on the seat in front. She said she hoped I didn’t mind as she preferred sitting there. I initially moved next to the ugly foot but then decided to sit in a seat behind.

In fact I am writing this still sitting there, desperate to go for a pee because I am so cold. The driver asks me if I want some tea but I explain I need the ladies. He tells me it is not “propre” so I have to wait for Her Ladyship to get back. I’m kicking myself for forgetting to bring a shawl.

En route here we stopped to visit a Berber house … early-Ammappati in style without the cow smells. Five generations live there according to one of the sons who spoke excellent English. He was a bit defensive about the desire to have satellite TV, and other mod cons, so I was a bit loathe to believe that he actually did live there. Left big tip. Jane doesn’t like tipping but I made her feel guilty so she left something small.

Finally did get pestered by modern Berber chap wanting me to buy beads. He got a bit aggressive so I got back into the campervan. He was still making moon eyes through the window.

It’s pity it’s raining so much because this does look like it could be an attractive and popular spot. There are many many outdoor tables with large spaces for parking. But it’s hardly the luxe environment that the guide books intimate. It’s a mountain village, extended somewhat, that is home to a whole community. As an extra, it has all these indigenous cafes and even hotels for the hikers and hippies. Heavens knows where they buy clothes since I was prepared to get a jacket and have seen nothing remotely resembling a shop.

The driver has just earned his stripes. He asked one of his mates for a clothes shop and has just driven me down to some blocked up buildings – the shop! A man came out from another “shop” and opened up his. Not a shop as we would know it though it was indeed crammed with clothes. I spotted something yellow which turned out to be a fake yellow V-neck Lacoste jumper for men. And bought it. 70dhs – apprx £5. Ah the warmth! I think I smiled for the first time in hours.

I gather they close up everything when it rains. Well it is technically a “dead end”. We literally have to turn round and drive back down the way we came. The only things they sell are clay pots and the odd knick-knack… Ourika Valley is indeed a most odd place. The road is exceptionally narrow with shops and houses on one side and wooden cabins or stone houses nestling into the mountain on the other. The cascade or waterfall is not visible from the road and in one instance has totally dried up. But they are a friendly bunch.

My yellow jumper is like a comfort blanket. But it amuses me to see how these poor people like their labels. The “Burberry” and now the “Lacoste”. I only got them because they fitted a need – a suitcase without a bloody combination lock and a warm brightly-coloured jumper. Actually, if anything, I’m rather concerned that the “Burberry” does not look real as it might attract thieves at the airport. Will do inventory just in case and keep leather jacket with me.

Kids returning home from school for lunch. Look just like small kids anywhere – jeans, jackets, trainers, rucksacks – perhaps not chasing a donkey – but playful and serious, sociable and alone.

We stopped for lunch at a hilltop restaurant and had a very good lunch. Jane, who came back wet and dirty (she had fallen over on the wet rocks), seemed a bit more interested in me enough to ask again about my name. She told me about the film people she had met at the Saadi hotel and also the Sofitel. The driver dropped us off at Le Meridien so we could ask if it was possible to get a day pass to Alexander the Great.

No. Apparently the Moroccan Army is involved and security is very tight. Plus it is two hours drive away in the desert. Had tea together at the Sofitel.

Jane is very persuasive as I not only walked to the Menara Gardens (boring and not much to see) with her, but am prepped ready to walk to Boule de Neige this evening. Trouble is I truly want to be home again. However friendly these Moroccans are, with the exception of one grumpy concierge, I don’t think I gel much with the general ambience. And, after those true 5 star hotels, this now seems shabbier than ever, although they have now filled the mini-bar.

Jane keeps asking about my metaphysics. Well more like arguing – like Marianne. I show this to her because she says she is a Scorpio and I say so is Marianne. I also said I didn’t want to discuss it but she said she was actually interested, so I don’t want to let God down if she is truly genuine….

***October 14th 10:15am
Sitting in another hotel (Jardin de la Koutoubiere) which looks a little like a riad but isn’t. I have been walking for miles to “sweat off” the horrid towel but road names are non-existent so it truly is a voyage of discovery.

Re towel: they have been replaced every day even if not used and today the maid “replaced” my clean one with one that someone else had used to wipe their arse. Yuk. As they were folded neatly on the rail, I didn’t notice till AFTER my shower. V unhappy and cross but today’s maid said it was someone else and cleaned room, bath, replaced towels. I re-showered but two hours later am still trying to clear the memory from my mind.

After Jane’s awful choices – Boule de Neige was nothing like Time Out’s amusing description – she let me make a choice. Begrudgingly. BTW Boule de Neige was in the Gueliz district. Very western-style, busy, commercial – could be almost anywhere in continental Europe.

Following instincts, I found a relatively new place called Costa Smeralda. Excellent location and design and good, plentiful food. Pity we were the only diners. The waiter said, it differed from day to day and that locals usually ate from 10pm but with Ramadan approaching and the end of the tourist season, things had started slowing down. Still we had a nice natter. Jane’s family were in the arts and her father married three times. She is from the second marriage. Her older half-brother was blown up in his plane at Shoreham earlier this year. I vaguely remember it being on Meridien News. She’s sorting out his estate.

On our promenade of the “new” town, we passed a music show in aid of Morocco’s bid for football world cup in 2010. They are also building a lot more hotels just outside the “ramparts”.

Tourism is their primary source of income, followed very closely by film-making – Alexander the Great, The Sheltering Sky, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down not to mention “Casablanca” (the romance of as it was probably shot in studios!) Next year Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif are in Epic of Gilgamesh and there is also another Ridley Scott film: Kingdom of Heaven – about the Crusades. Plus Tony Scott is making a film of the life of Emma McCune. In fact, they would probably make loads of moolah if they just organised film site tours. Mark you, some of the sites are fairly unremarkable. La Mamounia had hired out one of its “portes” in the pink walled ramparts to Alexander the Great. Sure it looks relatively antique, but just the door???

Just a thought as I am typing this up: the Scott brothers’ films concern Islam versus Christianity so it may not be a good time to visit next year. Al-Qaeda bombs killed 45 in Casablanca in May of this year too.

I’m glad our hotel is nothing special as it has forced me to get out and see more. I am going for a promenade, having re-showered post-yukky towel, and Jane is doing her thing this morning. We loosely agreed to meet by the pool afternoonish.

Went circuitous route to Djemaa el-Fna, through riad Zitounel Kedun, Palais el Badi, the Saadian Tombs before I got a tad bored and asked someone the way. He told me I was going the wrong way and then asked me if I wanted to buy some spices. As it happens I did want to get some Ras-el-Hanout (a melange of about thirty spices). I’d already bought two pairs of babouches from the Souk de la Babouche but wasn’t in a spending sort of mood. I let him show me the spice shop as he said he owned it. Naughty fibber! He was an unofficial guide. Only discovered it when I spotted a restaurant I wanted to eat at. He came up with me and when I was in the loo, told the owner we were companions and that he would be eating with me! They can be clapped in irons for less but happily he had been told to push off by the owner.

The delicious aubergine puree which was part of a moroccan “salad” starter was slightly spoiled for me when I discovered that it was a teeny part of a massive set of courses for £30. I had specifically told him, demonstrating with my flat stomach, that I did not eat very much. I thought they were bringing them to show me what I was missing. I got cross. They got cross. But it blew over in seconds. One of them said I could have what I’d eaten for free but I refused and paid them 150dhs (inc large bottle of water). I was just relieved to get out. Made straight for a cop to avoid being caught again by the unofficial guide. I had been going the right way the last time but decided to hike round the outer ramparts and head for “home”. The nice cop thought I was mad. I said the English are mad.

Got Marianne’s text message while I was in the restaurant but I couldn’t seem to text her back so I called. They are still v sad re Sarah. Am praying that she will let baby live. I do miss my family.

***14:30 poolside waiting for Jane
Just one other couple. No Jane.
***16:30 Hotel El-Saadi – by their pool
Much nicer in every way. And more expensive, busier, more people, though they do look rather decrepit. Had an omelette and then headed back after about an hour. Walking to lift, heard keys jangling. It went on and on, so I looked round and it was Jane, trying to get my attention. Lord knows why I didn’t sock her then and there. Instead, she told me once again the arrangements, said is that okay with you, and then let the lift door close before I could open my mouth.

I wrote “she evidently has a problem with short-term memory…” I also wrote that the more I think of it the more I want to go alone somewhere. Meaning not with her. I had even packed ready for home despite the flight not leaving till the following evening. (My journal notes are full of pondering what I should do, what time to leave the hotel etc including this gem “Do I want to spend my last night alone or with some overweight woman with a peculiar haircut who rattles her keys to get my attention? She loses. I’m not a dog, for heaven’s sake.”)

***7pm La Mamounia
Table booked in L’Orangerie for 8pm. Enjoying vodka and tonic and feeling calmer. Anyway Jane did not want to spend any money and I wanted a fine meal. Plus she changed the arrangements without letting me know – I waited by the poolside for a couple of hours!

Delicious meal in outside restaurant. Only one sad star though. Plenty of attentive waiters. In fact, one waiter tells me that normally the sky is full of them but tonight, just for me, there is one. No, I didn’t buy that either but the thought was sweet. Especially since a humourless couple of German women sat adjacent to me and proceeded to find fault with absolutely everything. And I mean everything. On the other side of the column were two attractive men but I’d never have got a look in there ?… the older man was definitely trawling.

My princely two course meal with wine and true 5 star ambience came to £35. Not bad at all. As I leave, one of the women finds a fly in her meal…

Can’t bear the thought of going back to my hotel so wander back via the Sofitel. Cognac under at least three stars. There’s a team meal in the restaurant so I sit in the upper terrace. It is very quiet indeed, but I can’t complain as the alternative is Djemaa el-Fna or similar. The waiter is interested in the book I am reading (Straw Dogs). He seems to be interested in theology and philosophy. All the Moslems I have spoken to have been quite happy with my personal beliefs as I seem to refer to God a lot.

***20 to 11 – A middle-eastern chap says hello and chats for a moment. Oddly, he is the owner of the restaurant where I had the delicious aubergine! He says, if it’s okay with his friends, would I like to join them. Sure, why not.

Taking out some money to pay the metaphysical waiter, I rip a 100dhs note. I tell him if he can get it sellotaped he can have half! He comes back out with euros (which I had given him by accident in the dim lighting – and let him keep) and asks me what I think of the singer. To be perfectly honest I had not really noticed but followed him into the piano bar as the restaurateur’s friends must not have wanted other company. Not bothered as the chap singing is actually quite good. He looks like a slimmer version of Barry White and is singing his songs plus Bob Marley (not such a good rendition according to my earlier notes) and others. The pianist is Eastern European, very good but very intense.

After their gig is finished, they come over and sit with me. The singer is a black American Yank who has left Florida, converted to Islam and married a Moroccan Moslem girl. Says he’s blissfully happy now. The younger boy is Armenian Russian Jew, converted to Islam – and not happy although he keeps saying he is.

They write their email addresses in my jotter: and – Wxxxey Axx Oxxxx and Vxxxxx Gxxxxxxxn and Aziz the waiter.

***02:30am – finally in bed
What a wonderful evening. Ali and Vartan also talked of their faith and what brought them to work together at the Sofitel. I told them they were obviously soulmates as they balanced each other very well.

The only blot was a message waiting for me – a very rude one from Jane. I slowly ripped it up and gave it back to the night concierge. [My jotter notes are full of the stupid fat lump with a stupid fat brain variety followed by a Sorry God, sending love and light to her. And I was supposed to be pissed!]

***15th October 08:00hrs
Karmic retribution is a massive hangover – and thinking Mme Mim (wicked wicked wicked thought but truly that is what she looks like) had long gone to catch her flight. She hasn’t. She’s sitting by the pool…

Well that was very very childish – and I managed to not enjoy brekky. I kept looking over my shoulder to see if she’d come in and accost me but she didn’t. And I saw her again as she was checking out, desperately hoping she hadn’t seen me… How silly. We barely know each other, simply sharing one tour of her choice, plus one meal, of my choice.

***1:45pm – Marrakech Airport
Even with a detour to the Centre Artisanat and a fairly leisurely drive to the airport via a tour of the town, I have HOURS to kill. And they don’t check in luggage early so I am stuck in what is a relatively primitive terminal. The taxi driver tried his hardest to make it stretch out but here I am and check in is at 6pm!!! I overpaid the taxi driver because he had been so engaging when I refused his earlier fee. He said whatever makes you happy and meant it. When I told him I had been madly overtipping and buying stuff I did not want in order to boost the Moroccan economy, he said God would bless me ten thousand-fold. Bloody well hope so – although truly that is not why I did it. Moroccan men really are very charming and not aggressive although they are not pushovers either – as the Dane found out.

Had pedicure and hand massage before leaving Imperial Borj (another planned time-waster). The chap who did my hand (Reiki/massage) was very overweight and slightly effeminate but seemed a good egg. He told me afterwards that his gut sensed a massive energy in me which was good. Pleased to hear that. He came from a family of healers and said that he picked up that my “thoughts were bigger than the world”. Madame Mim probably wouldn’t have agreed.

So – final views of Morocco? Really just Marrakech and Ourika Valley as I did not see Agadir, and the Atlas Mountains lack something in the dark. Reddish-pink. Friendly. Safe. Cheeky curious kids. Dreadful concept of 5 star. As cheap as Krakow. Lots of Frenchies, many of them like our worst Brits, including this blessed woman heading towards me with her fag, looking for a “cendrier” – and then stubbing it out on the floor. Not a smelly place generally and that includes the men; and, scatologically-speaking, that end of things passed without nasal affront.

In the airport, I run out of dirhams and the shopkeeper says not to worry. Later, he asks me if I am hungry as he would have given me some more. I buy a Daily Mail for £2!!! And then, bliss, we can check in – but not get into the departure lounge for a further forty minutes…… then we discover they have messed up the seating. Instead of being in the front, I am in the equivalent of the boot. Not happy and ask to be moved. As do many others in the same position. I get moved to the front.

Sit next to Tia and her husband. She is very suspicious indeed and glares at me for a while before I crack open her interest and then it’s off… she’s interested in metaphysics and looping – and politics – v anti asylum seekers. She works for Pitney Bowes, her husband is retired but is a devout Catholic and they love Morocco. Have been here several times. So all end’s well… sort of.

I was terrified driving back as it was one o’clock in the morning. Combination of tiredness and fear of crashing meant I kept braking and driving at a crawl with the radio on full blast and the windows wide open. Got home round about two but it was about four before I fell asleep – to be awoken by Marianne ringing….

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