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Posts Tagged ‘Morocco’

The best cities in the world to shop

Travel and shopping. They’re like two peas in a pod. Most people want a great souvenir to bring home from a trip abroad. Not only is it a great conversation starter, but it brings back memories of your adventure.

I came across a few helpful articles about shopping when traveling that I thought I would share with you today.

For the bargain hunter in all of us, Frommer’s lists the “World’s Best Cities for Bargain Shopping.” It’s complete with the names of places to shop and gives you an idea about how much items should cost. Some of the cities are part of Friendly Planet tours, including Buenos Aires, Argentina; Hoi An, VietnamShanghai, China; and Bangkok, Thailand.

In addition to Frommer’s list, Conde Nast Traveler highlights the wonderful shopping in Marrakech, Morocco and Jaipur, India this month, two other cities Friendly Planet can bring you to. It reminds readers that Marrakech offers fashion in the form of art. Through a beautiful profile of a city that is in the midst of a renaissance, you’ll discover why a mosaic of colors and intricate designs are found on almost everything sold in the souk.

And in Jaipur, brightly colored saris and lavish gems are the Indians’ definition of casual. In stark contrast to the terrain around the city, hot colors are worn on everything — including the camels. The article takes you on a shopping journey through the “pink city” that will leave you lusting for your own jewels from Jaipur.

Where have you found incredible bargain shopping on your travels?

SCOTTEVEST Travel Clothing takes the weight off your shoulders

Scott Jordan, CEO and founder of SCOTTEVEST 

I’m kicking off my search for the perfect travel gear today with an ingenious article of clothing — SCOTTEVEST. It lets women and men travel hands free. The SCOTTEVEST really caught my eye and my attention because I always carry a purse or a large tote bag when I travel.

The bag contains all my things for the flight, including my travel documents, netbook, iPhone, books, a change of underwear, cosmetics, and anything else I can’t live without for the duration of the trip abroad.

It all fits inside the tote, but that tote becomes pretty heavy once it’s loaded. And what a mess when I have to go through security! And with all that stuff inside the tote, imagine me trying to quickly put my hands on my iPhone when it rings. No way. It’s buried with all the other stuff. The phone usually stops ringing before I can get to it.

And men are in a similar boat. They use a backpack or other bag to hold their wallet, documents, smart phone, camera, etc. This extra bulk can weigh down your travel experience — literally.

SCOTTEVEST Travel Clothing is stylish clothing that actually saves you from having to carry around purses and bags, since every garment has tons of pockets where you can securely stow gear and gadgets. I know this might seem impossible, but when you see them for yourself, you’ll understand why these garments are so ingenious and helpful.

The SCOTTEVEST trademark vest has 22 pockets alone. It actually has special places for everything I carry in my tote bag, plus a pockets for a water bottle and a small camera. And guess what? The items don’t bulge out making you look (and feel) like a pack horse, and the vest is made from breathable, lightweight material making it quite comfortable to wear.

I have never promoted items on this blog, but honestly, it seems to me that SCOTTEVEST clothing has managed to solve a very common problem for travelers. I think Friendly Planet travelers would find them ideal for our tours.

For example, the vest is suited for travel in safari vehicles, which typically have little storage space even for a purse or hand luggage. Or, consider our island hopping tours, where frequently getting on and off boats makes having hands free to steady yourself virtually a must!

I loved the whole idea behind the clothes and was delighted when Scott Jordan, the founder and CEO of SCOTTEVEST agreed to be interviewed by Melissa, a Friendly Planet blogger, for a podcast.

During their interview, Melissa found out how Scott’s clothing aids travelers in getting through airport security faster, eliminates the need for a carry-on bag, what destinations it’s ideal for, and more. He also gave us a sneak peek at what they’ll be introducing for the holiday season. (Hint: It involves an article of clothing usually only seen by the wearer.)

SCOTTEVEST is also sponsoring the No Baggage Challenge with Rolf Potts. Rolf’s a travel writer who embarked on a six-week worldwide trip without using any luggage, just his SCOTTEVEST clothing. Scott’s been talking to Rolf frequently and Melissa got an update on how his challenge is going so far.

Scott also just talked travel. You’ll find out why he loves Israel and Morocco, and he makes his case as to why everyone should experience Burning Man once in their lifetime. What Scott didn’t know when he spoke to us is that our very own webmaster, Cameron Clark, has been to a number of Burning Man events. He can echo Scott’s endorsement of the adventure.

So turn up your speakers or pop in your ear buds, and listen to Melissa’s interview with Scott. If you don’t have time to listen to the whole conversation, I’ll be posting the transcript in a few days. But in the meantime, leave a comment on this post if you own a piece of clothing from SCOTTEVEST and tell me what you think about it.

Tips to get your travel photos to say a thousand words

A picture is worth a thousand words is cliché but true. When I look at photos from my adventures around the globe, it always brings back a flood memories and stories.

I was talking to Trae Roberts, Friendly Planet Travel Reservations Manager, about photography and he offered some great advice on what type of camera or lens you should bring with you on vacation.

He gave some great tips, so I asked him to jot down his ideas for a guest post. Keep reading to get Trae’s tips on how to get some great shots when you travel. And if you have some of your own photography advice, please share it in a comment on this post.


My best advice is to get a large memory card and click away. See what sticks, and make sure you don’t eliminate pictures based on how they look on your camera’s screen. Upload them to a computer that has a large monitor to see if the picture is a keeper.

If you’re interested in animal/bird viewing, then I recommend using at least a 300 mm camera lens. The large SLR cameras might be a pain to carry, but so worth the reward! Your pictures will come out crystal clear and the range you get is fantastic.

To eliminate the need for a tripod, any lens you purchase over 200 mm must have vibration reduction (or equivalent) in order to reduce movement blur. Most experts suggest spending more money on the lens, more so than the body of the camera. I prefer Nikon for its ease of use, quality, and durability.

I’ll leave you with these last two tips. Anyone using a camera in a dusty environment, such as Kenya, Egypt, Morocco, etc., should not make it a habit to change their camera lens. Dust and dirt are the worst things for a camera body, and changing lens leaves you vulnerable in environments like these. And most importantly — bring extra batteries!

A look inside Friendly Planet’s Iberian Coasts Cruise (part 6)

After our rocky start to the day, by late morning we had finally made it to Tangier, Morocco. It’s hard to describe Tangier without using words that make every writer cringe, such as incredible, breathtaking, and at times mind-blowing. But … well … it was.

BEST PART: Careening through the kasbah

Tangier was an assault to the senses. And I do mean assault in every sense of the word. As we wound our way through the dizzying streets of the city’s kasbah, men and young boys would pop out from dark doorways and around corners, pressing leather belts, tin trinkets, and Chiclets in front of your face. Five euro, one euro, for you good price, ten euro.

It seemed that my blond hair and our white skin was a magnet for hawkers of every sort of ware, who don’t take no for an answer, hoping their insistence would finally put a few euros in their pocket. It was exciting and eye-opening and, at times, exhausting.

But I can still say without hesitancy that our time in the kasbah was one of my favorite parts of the entire Iberian Coasts Cruise.

The sites, sounds, and smells of the outdoor markets, the streets so narrow it would have been a squeeze for three people to walk down side by side, the colorful doors leading into unimaginable homes, the communal water spigots for washing dishes and clothes, the poverty, the color, the desperation, the beauty, the sweat.

We spent most of the day with our group who had hired a local guide for the day, which turned out to be an invaluable history lesson.

TANGIER MARKET: Teeming with food

With our guide, we were given the best of the streets and a sense of relative security, despite essentially walking around with a flashing neon TOURIST sign around our necks. And without him, it’s unlikely we would have even been able to find our way out of the maze of the kasbah.

In the markets, rows of stalls seemed to go on forever. Some were teeming with olives of every shape and color. Others were selling skinned chickens hanging from gruesome hooks. Still more presented barrels of oranges the size of a child’s head and so juicy that I can still taste them today.

Our guide led us to a store packed with jewelry, knives, tin boxes, and just about every imaginable Moroccan souvenir. My husband and I politely browsed through the aisles when a young man tapped me on the shoulder. “Let me show you,” he said as he led us up the stairs into a room overflowing with ceramic plates, bowls, and vases. I assumed he was showing us more of the store’s merchandise. But he walked right past them all.

“Come please,” he said as he opened a door to the store’s roof.

“My city,” he said with a sense of pride as we stepped onto the roof and the incredible old city spread before us.

Never before had I seen such poverty crammed together in such close proximity. Houses in shades of white, red, and gray, dotted with antennas and satellites literally as far as the eye could see. It was breathtaking.

FROM THE ROOF: An incredible overview of the city

With a little free time to walk around the old city ourselves, my husband and I decided to test our haggling skills and bring something home uniquely Moroccan. Should we get a vase? Maybe a handmade ceramic bowl? A candle holder? With so many beautiful, handmade wares before us, we had a hard time choosing where to even begin.

As we browsed one shop’s selections, we were once again ushered up another store’s back stairs. The shop owner wanted to show us how he made their beautiful handmade rugs. Upstairs was a giant wooden loom with a half-finished rug. Piles of rugs were stacked throughout the floor in every room. The rugs’ intricacy, color, and craftsmanship was a juxtaposition to the crude wooden room.

And that’s when we decided that we wanted to bring home a genuine Moroccan rug. Back home, we were in the process of purchasing our first home, and frankly, we couldn’t think of a more perfect housewarming gift to ourselves than a gorgeous rug from one of the most arresting countries either of us had ever visited.

And this is where the fun of shopping in Morocco began. We haggled and haggled and refused his prices, and even went so far as to walk down the steps and out of the shop when the shopkeeper chased us down and finally offered the rug for 300 euros, less than what he said he refused to go below.

So my husband and I walked back to the bus with a giant carpet under his arm and a sense of triumph clouding our heads. It was exhilarating. And we had a beautiful rug to show for it. When we finally made it back to the bus, we dropped into our seats, put our bags down, and let out a long contented sigh. Our excitement of exploring the kasbah had overshadowed the exhausting that had been building throughout the day. Now that we were on our way back to the Louis Majesty, we felt it consume us.

Our time in Tangier was absolutely incredible, and as our bus pulled away from the city walls I already couldn’t wait to experience more of Morocco the next day in Casablanca.

Morocco: What you should know before you go

STUNNING: Koutoubia mosque, Marrakesh

When I heard from Peggy that Friendly Planet was introducing a nine-day Treasures of Morocco tour, it brought back a flood of images from my trip to this exotic country.

I’ve never been anywhere quite as bizarre, exotic, and diverse as this North African country, the world’s oldest surviving monarchy, dating to AD 788. Here African, Arab, Berber, and French influences have produced a culture as ancient as Fez’s medieval walled city and as cosmopolitan as Casablanca’s Hyatt Hotel, where bar staff dress in costume from the classic film “Casablanca.”

This predominately Muslim country was a French protectorate from 1900-1956. The two cultures, and some 270 different ethnic groups, raise interesting contrasts.

One day I sunbathed at a Casablanca hotel pool with bikini-clad Europeans. On another, I explored Old Town Fez, a walled medieval maze where mules carry goods, and veiled Muslim women sweep through narrow passageways.

One magical night I found myself in a nomad’s tent in the desert, sitting on carpets around a huge, low table, eating aromatic lamb stew and being entertained by belly dancers and horseback riders.

A few days later I was shopping trendy boutiques in Casablanca. The namesake of the famous Humphrey Bogart film is also home of Hassan II Mosque, one of only a few that is open to Westerners.

To me, the excitement of Morocco culminates in Marrakesh’s market square, Djemaa el Fna. In its “Court of Marvels,” snake charmers compete with acrobats and musicians. A turbaned man threw a small chattering monkey on my shoulder for a photo op. A few coins were expected in return, a small price to pay for entering this enchanting world where so many cultures mingle.

Unlike visiting a homogeneous country with one language and one set of traditions, visitors to Morocco will need a few tips for navigating this complex culture. It might feel like a movie set, but there are some things to keep watch for.

Shopping
Bargaining is standard practice. Offer half the price and work from there.
Shops close at noon and re-open around 2 p.m.
Stick close to your guide in Old Town Fez to avoid getting lost in the intricate maze of passageways.
Reserve the word “imshee” (Arabic for “take a hike”) for overly aggressive vendors and unofficial guides.
Keep your bag or wallet secure and consider a money belt.

Dining
Eating is one of the great adventures in Morocco, where you can dine on elegant French or Mediterranean fare accompanied by fine wines in European restaurants, but I recommend trying the flavorful Moroccan dishes.
Try my favorite dish, the traditional lamb stew of raisins, garlic, ginger, cumin, and curry atop a bed of couscous.
Order the sweet tea as your drink. It’s served hot in a glass stuffed with fresh mint leaves.

Manners
Never eat with your left hand; it’s taboo. The left hand is the “toilet” hand in many African and Muslim cultures. Never pat a person on the head or take a photograph without permission. Be discreet drinking alcohol in public.

Hygiene
Bring some toilet paper in your purse. It’s optional in Arabic bathrooms, and you might be required to pay for a few squares.

Language
French is widely spoken, and so is Arabic.
Practice these helpful Arabic phrases:
Hello: salaam wa laykoom
Goodbye: ma’salaama
Please: afak Thank you: shukran
Where is the bathroom?: Ayna Al Hammam?
How much?: bish-hal?
That’s too much: ghalee
Take a walk/leave me alone: imshee

I had a great time traveling through this country, and I can assure you that it’s an experience you won’t forget.

A look inside Friendly Planet Travel’s Iberian Coasts Cruise

I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that here at Friendly Planet Travel, we can’t ever over-emphasize the importance of world travel and cultural discovery. That’s why Peggy makes a point of encouraging everyone in the office to get out and explore Earth’s riches whenever possible.

ALL ABOARD: The M/V Louis Majesty

The benefit, besides being surrounded by travel enthusiasts, is that every Friendly Planet Travel employee can talk your ear off about how a trek to Machu Picchu or a cruise down the Yangtze River or a meal of tapas y cervezas in a Spanish piazza changed their life. That’s one of the reasons Peggy sent me off on Friendly Planet’s Iberian Coasts Cruise the other week. And over the next few weeks, I’m going to tell you ALL about it.

The nine-day cruise aboard the M/V Louis Majesty embarks from Genoa, Italy and spends time at fascinating ports of call in Marseille, France; Barcelona, Spain; Alicante, Spain; Gibraltar, B.C.C.; Tangier, Morocco; Casablanca, Morocco; and Malaga, Spain. As you can imagine, it’s a dizzying adventure to some of the most culturally significant and extraordinarily beautiful sights of Europe and Northern Africa.

Here on the blog, I’m going to tell you about my own experience on the Iberian Coasts Cruise, and give you an in-depth look at life on and off the Louis Majesty. So stay tuned, because I’ve got a head teeming with stories, a camera brimming with photos, and fingers that are itching to unload them all here!

Hot new holiday tour: Cruise the Iberian Coasts!

If the idea of icy roads, frigid temperatures, and chapped lips doesn’t appeal to you for the holiday season, take heart. Along with our Mediterranean Highlights by the Sea cruise, we’re also christening an Iberian Coasts Cruise this upcoming holiday season!

FP_France.jpgOn the Iberian Coasts Cruise, travelers will visit fascinating ports of call in France, Gibraltar, Morocco, Spain, and Italy, while enjoying superior accommodations aboard the cruise ship M/V Louis Majesty.

Let’s get the nitty gritties out of the way first, shall we? The package includes roundtrip flights from New York, an eight-night Iberian Coast cruise, a two-night bonus stay in Rome, all meals aboard the cruise, and daily breakfast in Rome. Vacationers can explore the ports-of-call on their own, or take inexpensive optional shore excursions. For all of this? $1,399.

FP_Barcelona.jpgNow for some of the juicy details. After arriving in Genoa, Italy from New York, travelers board the M/V Louis Majesty and head for Marseilles, France. Vacationers can enjoy all the splendor of Marseilles by visiting independently its must-see sites, including the Old Port, the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, Phare de Sainte Marie lighthouse, the Centre Bourse, and the adjacent rue St Ferreol district (the main shopping district in central Marseilles), just to name a few.

After a day at sea, the M/V Louis Majesty will then dock at the British colony, Gibraltar, and then continue on to Tangier, Morocco. Outside Tangier’s bustling port, vacationers can take in the city’s stunning environs: hills surrounding a broad bay with a long stretch of beach.

For travelers interested in learning more about Morocco’s diverse cultural heritage as the closest major African city to Europe, a visit to Tangier’s Museum of Moroccan Arts and Antiquities would be a fascinating stop. Another not-to-be-missed experience is a visit to the Grand Souk, where  bargaining skills are put to the test while shopping for treasures such as brass, leather, rugs, and silver.

The next morning, the ship docks at Casablanca, Morocco, the largest city and main port of Morocco. And a city that I have a feeling travelers might feel to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. ;)

After Casablanca, it’s back to the European side of things with Málaga, Spain. Málaga is one of the liveliest cities on the Costa del Sol, a 100-mile stretch of gorgeous Mediterranean coastline which boasts some of the best beaches in Spain.

FP_Barc2.jpgMálaga is also the birthplace of Pablo Picasso and home to the renowned Picasso Museum. There’s time to explore independently, as well as an array of optional shore excursions. But of course, travelers must be sure to sample some of Málaga’s sweet wine and tasty tapas.

The cruise continues along Spain’s coast with two more stops at ports of call at Alicante and Barcelona, before finally arriving back in Genoa on the tenth day of the journey. From there, vacationers will be treated to two more bonus nights in Rome at absolutely no cost to them.

The season’s first Iberian Coasts cruise takes place Dec. 25 to Jan. 5, and promises to be a culturally rich, historically fascinating, and scenically beautiful holiday trip. There are four other departure dates throughout 2010, running from February to December.

Friendly Planet Travel in the news

Instead of ringing a bell here every time Friendly Planet Travel makes headlines, I thought it would be easier to provide a wrap up post every week or so that highlights some of the recent press coverage we’ve gotten. Way to go, FPT team!

Thumbnail image for New Picture (1).jpgAugust 20

USAToday.com: Athens & Greek Isles Cruise package

MSNBC.com: Athens & Greek Isles Cruise package

Diva in a Carry On: Friendly Planet Travel and Kiva partnership

August 24

MSNBC.com: Morocco package

Budget Travel Real Deals: Morocco package

August 25

Treehugger.com: Morocco package

August 26

Topix.com: Morocco package

Hot deal alert: Eight days in Morocco for $1,899

There’s little wonder why Morocco is one of Africa’s most popular travel destinations. The country offers a dazzling mosaic of Arab and Berber cultures, with a dash of African and European influence thrown in for good measure.

FP_Morocco.jpg

From its beautiful Atlantic and Mediterranean beaches, deserts complete with oases and towering sand dunes, magnificent imperial cities, Islamic landmarks, Joujoukan and Gnaoua trance music, fantastic food, Roman antiquities, and mountain villages, even the most experienced globetrotter will find plenty to see and do in Morocco.

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Our eight-day escorted Discover Morocco tour includes non-stop flights, transfers, beautiful first-class and deluxe hotels, most meals, and comprehensive guided touring, all at prices that are as impossible to resist as the incredible places you’ll visit. But don’t wait too long to reserve your spot. With prices so low and value so high, this tour will sell out quickly.

Our Discover Morocco tour takes travelers through four of the country’s most culturally significant and breathtakingly magnificent cities: Casablanca, Fez, Marrakesh, and Rabat.

For $1,899 travelers get:

  • Round-trip, non-stop flights from JFK via Royal Air Moroc
  • All intra-Morocco ground transportation
  • Deluxe and first-class hotel accommodations
  • Daily breakfast and dinner
  • Comprehensive touring with an English-speaking guide
  • For more information about Discover Morocco, please visit our Web site, or feel free to contact us with any questions or to book your trip.

    And stay tuned, because we’ll have even more information about Discover Morocco here on the blog.

Featured Deal: Discover Morocco

Morocco is one of Africa’s most popular travel destinations. The country offers visitors a dazzling mosaic of Arab and Berber cultures, with a dash of African and European influence thrown in for good measure.
From its beautiful Atlantic and Mediterranean beaches, deserts complete with oases and towering sand dunes, magnificent imperial cities, Islamic landmarks, Joujoukan and Gnaoua trance music, fantastic food, Roman antiquities, and mountain villages, even the most experienced globetrotter will find plenty to see and do in Morocco.
And with Friendly Planet Travel, you can see and do it all in eight days for only $1,999. Our sale prices include savings of up to $600 per couple if you reserve before July 9. Of course, that includes round trip flights from JFK International, all fuel surcharges, great hotels, transfers, most meals, guided touring, and more.
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Your adventure begins in Casablanca, the largest city and main port of Morocco. Your guide will take you through the city’s most important and historical mosques; most beautiful city and ocean views; and most splendid examples of architecture, the design style known as Mooresque, a combination of both Moroccan and French architectural elements.
From there, you’ll travel on to Rabat, Volubilis, Meknes, Fez, and Marrakesh, before boarding a plane back to the U.S. on the eighth day. Your days will be delightfully packed with bustling outdoor markets, Roman ruins, imperial cities, and busy night life.
And each night you’ll bed down in style and comfort, with some nights spent in five-star hotels. Have a look at the Friendly Planet Travel Web site for more information on our Discover Morocco vacation.
As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, no matter how small, about the Discover Morocco, or if you would like to talk to some folks who have enjoyed the tour.
If you would like to book now, simply visit our online booking engine, or call us at 1-800-555-5765.

About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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