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Private Tour Chefchaouen, MOROCCO

Our private tour of Chefchaoen was a mixed bag. I was probably blinded by the prospect of visiting one of the most beautiful cities in the world, so I didn’t prepare myself well enough and made a few rookie errors.

First of all, Chefchaoen is over three hours from Fez. Bring something to do in the car because it’s just a lot of countryside otherwise. Our tour guide was an hour late, and we were picked up only because I called enquiringly where he was.

Second of all, clarify with your tour guide before hand that you’ll be given a tour of the city. I was under the impression that we would be given a private tour of the Blue Pearl, but we had a guy who said he ‘didn’t have a tourist permit’ so he ‘wasn’t able to actually escort’ us through the streets. This didn’t seem very legitimate, nor did it instil much confidence in us. I appreciate free time to explore, but we were told to meet him at the Kazbah at 5pm, and that we should try and get to a few of his recommended landmarks, such as the Spanish mosque. He didn’t give us directions or a map, and we couldn’t speak Moroccan, and there are no street signs. So we were left in a maze for 3 hours. We got lost.

Chefchaoen is a labyrinth. Winding streets and alleyways. There’s a tourist belt with typical wares and crafts, and there’s the residential side. Somehow we made it to the residential side, in the sweltering heat. We nearly melted. Bring water, buy water, stay hydrated.

Lastly, the tour guide took us to a local restaurant and recommended we try the fish Tagine- a delicacy. Beware the fish tagine. My partner and I were violently ill, night of a thousand deaths style, for three days and nights afterwards. We had to cancel the Casablanca leg of our trip and spent a week recuperating. Beware the fish tagine.

Look, I think there are other ways to get to Chefchaoen. It’s a magical city, but I didn’t really get a chance to love it between all the palava that happened on my tour.

Disclaimer: This review was also posted by me on TripAdvisor. This blog has no affiliation with TripAdvisor. I just share my experiences to spread the love to fellow travelers.

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Pastelaria Belus, Marid, Spain

On our first morning in Madrid, we had the classic traveler’s fog: you want breakfast, you need coffee, you have never been to this city before, you don’t know where’s good. So we walked. We didn’t speak any Spanish, and we walked. We chanced upon this very small, clean, bright cafe boasting sweet and savoury pastries. We tentatively slipped inside.

They have a basic breakfast menu, cute pastry and coffee deals which suited us just fine. My friend had croissants and a hot chocolate, while I had some savoury morsels and a life-affirming coffee. I enjoyed my treats, something with beef, something with cheese.

Despite the language barrier, the server was particularly accommodating. Quaint, bathrooms, wifi- everything a weary traveler could want.

Disclaimer: This review was also posted by me on TripAdvisor. This blog has no affiliation with TripAdvisor. I just share my experiences to spread the love to fellow travelers.

Cuff Food and Wine, Melbourne CBD, AUSTRALIA

We came to Melbourne on a public holiday. It was the night before the AFL Grand Finals, and the streets became a river of people jostling and restless like caged animals freed. The usual brunch spots, like Degraves Street, were swamped by out of towners and locals alike, all under siege from the 10% public holiday surcharge on all service.

The Cuff Café was down Flinders Lane, away from the crowd. Solace. My friends ordered variations of the basic avocado on toast, while I had the corn and leek fritters with avocado and smoked salmon.

The food is homey. There aren’t bells and whistles, no blob of mystery coulis, no floral garnish. It was everything we wanted and more. I recommend the cafe as one off the main drag, one with a satisfying brunch and burger menu, one that becomes a wine bar come nightfall.

Disclaimer: This review was also posted by me on TripAdvisor. This blog has no affiliation with TripAdvisor. I just share my experiences to spread the love to fellow travelers.

Flinders Backpackers, Melbourne, AUSTRALIA

Flinders Backpackers is your conventional backpackers hostel. Basic. Weird stain on the mattress. Paper thin walls.

The only common space is an all in one. As you exit the elevator, the first thing you see are the lines for the front office. Look left and there’s the huge kitchen space, tables and chairs, piles of luggage that didn’t fit inside the $2 lockers. Look right and there’s a mess of people, playing games, reading, eating, drinking. Some call this a homely vibe, communal and inviting. I found it chaotic and overwhelming.

I shared a room with friends on level 9. We could still feel the bass from the nightclub on the first floor through the walls. I know we paid basic rates for bare minimum facilities, and I wasn’t expecting the Ritz. But I felt uncomfortable with the ultra-sterile chlorine/bleach smell that permeated even the curtains.

Honestly, the hostel forced me out onto the streets and into the city. For that, I am grateful. I did not wish to stay in that place any longer than I needed to.

Disclaimer: This review was also posted by me on TripAdvisor. This blog has no affiliation with TripAdvisor. I just share my experiences to spread the love to fellow travelers.

Hard Rock Café, Lisbon, PORTUGAL

The Hard Rock Cafe in Lisbon promises a hearty meal and a time to recuperate. One goes to Hard Rock Cafe in order to savour the familiar, to hang their hat, plop into a seat and know what to expect. It’s stock standard, it’s a sense of home in a foreign place and it’s good food.

I had the local burger; a signature beef burger with egg and iberico ham and it was to die for. The flavours were a perfect match and it was the perfect little taste of unique Lisbon in an otherwise uniform menu. My strawberry and basil mock tail was saccharine, energising and refreshing on a summers day.

As to be expected, the venue is bouncing with music memorabilia and sweet tunes. The staff were particularly friendly and personable. Hard Rock Cafe is the place to be for a taste of home.

Disclaimer: This review was also posted by me on TripAdvisor. This blog has no affiliation with TripAdvisor. I just share my experiences to spread the love to fellow travelers.

Lantau Island, HONG KONG

I didn’t do as much of Lantau Island as I could have, but I left feeling as if I had seen what I needed to see. This island left me with mixed feelings; I was overwhelmed by the attraction of it as a tourist trap. I was curious about the opportunity to visit a local village, but wary that it may be tainted by manufactured superficiality. I was gobsmacked by the amount of retail stores that boasts teachings of piety and self-reflections from Buddha, on commercial wares flogged at obscene prices. I was floored by the irony. And the Starbucks and the wifi. I hope that the Shaolin Monastery practiced Buddha’s ways of freedom from material possessions, but I was uninspired by the copious trinkets and wares for sale. And the fact that the 30m bronze Big Buddha was only erected for the masses in recent decades.

I’m still reeling from the contradiction of it all.

Disclaimer: This review was also posted by me on TripAdvisor. This blog has no affiliation with TripAdvisor. I just share my experiences to spread the love to fellow travelers.

Grand Mercure Xi’an on Renmin Square, CHINA

The Grand Mercure is a fantastic hotel to stay at in Xi’an. It’s central to most of the sightseeing landmarks around the city centre and is within walking distance from the Muslim Quarter, Bell Tower and night markets.

The hotel staff spoke limited English which made transactions a little confusing; we had trouble confirming the logistics of a deposit using credit card. We also had miscommunication around how many beds were available in our room.

However, the language barriers aren’t a reflection on the service or the hotel, just keep in mind that Xi’an is less cosmopolitan than other Chinese cities like Shanghai.

We were very pleased with our room and we’re warm and comfortable through snowy winter nights. Would definitely stay here again.

Disclaimer: This review was also posted by me on TripAdvisor. This blog has no affiliation with TripAdvisor. I just share my experiences to spread the love to fellow travelers.