5 Reasons why Newcastle should be on your list when visiting England

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Facts & Figures: Newcastle Upon Tyne is located in the Northeast of England, within close proximity to the Scottish Borders. It is home to around 296,500 people and is the most populous city in the North East. Newcastle was part of the county of Northumberland until 1400, when it became a county of itself and its status retained until becoming part of Tyne and Wear in 1974. The regional dialect spoken by the locals and the surrounding areas is called ‘Geordie’.  Newcastle also houses Newcastle University, a member of the Russell Group, as well as Northumbria University.

The city grew as an important centre for the wool trade in the 14th century, and later became a major coal mining area. The port developed in the 16th century and, along with the shipyards on River Tyne, was amongst the world’s largest shipbuilding and ship-repairing centres. Among its icons are Newcastle United football club and the Tyne Bridge. Since 1981, the city has also hosted the Great North Run, a half marathon, which attracts over 57,000 runners each year. (Yes, I have completed the Great North Run!)

Newcastle is best known to have an amazing night life, however, I don’t feel this would be appealing to the majority of the readers. So, the first reason for visiting Newcastle is it’s friendly people. No matter where you go or who you speak to, the Geordies will ‘bend over backwards’ to help and guide you. Be it being lost on the streets or being served in a shop or restaurant, they will always have a smile on their faces when talking to you!

1. The Angel of the North

thumbnail_IMG_6444Firstly, the Angel of the North is believed to be the largest angel sculpture in the world!

The significance of an angel was three-fold: first, to signify that beneath the site of its construction, coal miners worked for two centuries; second, to grasp the transition from an industrial to an information age, and third, to serve as a focus for our evolving hopes and fears. It is one of the most viewed pieces of art in the world – seen by more than one person every second, 90,000 every day or 33 million every year!

2. An Architect’s dream

Newcastle is home to some of the most gorgeous buildings, bridges and alleyways, which are surrounded with welcoming restaurants and shops. This charming city attracts hundreds and thousands of eager students per year (42, 000 to be precise) to enrol at the two of the local Universities. Once those students arrive, it is very hard for them to leave because of Newcastle’s addictive charm.

Newcastle also has seven bridges within the space of half a mile, all visible from the world famous Quayside. The Tyne Bridge (top left in the picture) is an international icon and was the basis of architectural design for Australia’s Sydney Harbour Bridge, that was constructed three years later.

 3. Beautiful beaches

Although there isn’t a beach in Newcastle itself, there are gorgeous beaches across Tyneside, County Durham and Northumberland. All of which have their own charm and are oozing with character. Most of these beaches also have the most delicious Fish’N’Chip shops. My personal favourite is the one in South Shields, called Colman’s!

 

4. Great walking opportunities 

Newcastle’s surrounding areas also have the most beautiful landscapes and walking tracks. Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall and Simonside hills are two of the stunning places to name a few.

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The Sycamore Gap tree is one of most photographed in the country. It stands in a dramatic dip in Hadrian’s Wall in the Northumberland National Park. For around three centuries, Hadrian’s Wall was a vibrant, multi-cultured frontier sprawling almost 80 miles coast-to-coast. It was built by a force of 15,000 men in under six years, it’s as astounding today for its sheer vision as it is for its engineering.

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Simonside Hills, an hours drive away from Newcastle, are full of distinctive ridges and craggy profile. The breathtaking panorama from the top of mystical Simonside is one of the best in the whole of the North East of England. The Simonside Hills are a fabulous place for walkers with miles of footpaths taking you through woodland and moorland to wonderful viewpoints.

5. Castles and History

As well as all the above, there are at least TEN stunning castles you can visit within an hour’s drive of Newcastle. They are mostly located in Northumberland, which has more castles than ANY other county in England. I am going to share just a few of the ones that i have been to just this year!

  • Bamburgh Castle is a castle on the northeast coast of England, by the village of Bamburgh in Northumberland.

 

  • Raby Castle is near Staindrop in County Durham, England, among 200 acres of deer park.

 

  • Warkworth Castle is a ruined medieval building in the town of the same name in the English county of Northumberland.

 

  • Alnwick Castle is a castle and stately home in Alnwick in the English county of Northumberland. For those Harry Potter Fans- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone filmed on location at Alnwick Castle in autumn 2000!!

 

So folks, if you want to visit a truly amazing county while you are in the UK, look no further!

Next stop: Newcastle!

Morocco

Marrakesh

Riad Utopia Suites and Spa

(+) The breakfast was elaborate and it was lovely by the pool. Upon arrival, we were given a briefing by a member of staff about he neighbourhood, sights and social norms in the city. The bed was comfortable and the room was clean. The roof top was brilliant and it was extremely relaxing to lounge there. The staff gave complimentary Moroccan tea, which was very kind of them. You cannot go wrong with the location. It is within walking distance from the Fana Square, and very quiet at night.

(-) We stayed in a room called ‘Cozy’, and it was extremely awkward since there was only a curtain between the bed and the bath. What looked like the bath was only a shower, which was a let down. One end of the roof top stand of sewage, which was not pleasant to say the least.

Gorges Du Dades, Aït Ouaddar

Auberge Chez Pierre

(+) The room was extremely quirky. It was like being in a tree house. With a lounge area and bathroom/loo on the ground floor and the bed on the first floor, connected with a wooden staircase that adds character to the room. The food was a ‘special’ 5-course meal, that was incredible, accompanied by live entertainment/performance. With in brilliantly short commutable distance from the gorge.

(-) The staff was polite and accommodating in the beginning but on the way out after checking out, the staff didn’t even have the courtesy to ask if we needed help with the bags. On the contrary, they stood in one corner, enjoying their cigarettes/chat while we struggled with carrying the bags down the stairs to the car. The cars had been parked on the road, which wasn’t ideal. The hotel accepts only cash, which was not convenient. We were not told what the dinner options were, and were told ‘it was a surprise’, which didn’t help in decision making whether we fancied food at the hotel.

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Fès

Riad Palais Bahia

(+) The hotel manager, Ouday was exceptional in regards to his hospitality and service. The staff were welcoming and friendly as we arrived in Fes. Upon our arrival, we were served moroccan tea which was delicious. As we entered our hotel room, we found a fruit basket which was also a lovely gesture. The hotel was located within close proximity to the souks in the old medina. Everything was within walking distance. The views from the rooftop were absolutely amazing. We were able to see the sunset from our rooftop. Ouday also immediately asked us whether we required a tour guide the following morning. He was not pushy ad was open about what options were available. we opted for a 3 hour guide which meant we were able to see all important sites within the old medina.

(-) I think the hotel would be almost perfect if they could invest in some gowns and slippers!

Chefchaouen

La Petite

(+) La Petite, what a little gem! Our most favourite thing about this little hotel was the hotel employee ‘Aimen’ as well as the other gent (sorry we didn’t get your name!). Aimen was attentive to all our needs during our stay. Firstly he greeted us at the parking which was approximately 5 minutes walking distance from the hotel. The other employee helped us on two occasions, once when we wanted to find one of the local attractions, he took us there physically. Another time we ran out of money and needed to go to a money exchange and he took us there too. Overall the ambiance within the hotel was exceptional in terms of the service, the hospitality, comfort and the location. This hotel was by far the best hotel that we came across within the Chefchaouen region. The hotel rooftop overlooked the entire town where the Spanish Mosque at the top could also be seen very clearly. The sunrise as well as the sunset were both beautiful which made the breakfast in the morning a perfect experience.

(-) Nothing!

 

Tangier

Kasbah Rose

(+) The location of the hotel was pretty decent in terms of it being located near the Souks. It was not until the owner herself, Lorraine came to the hotel that we started to receive some service. The owners took time out to speak to us which was very welcoming of them. Thus, the best thing about this hotel were the owners and the deco around the hotel. It was beautifully decorated with lots of little intricate details and ornaments. The views from the rooftop as well as our room were absolutely gorgeous. We thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast on the rooftop.

(-) The employee that greeted us on the day we arrived at the hotel could not speak a word of English which made basic communication extremely difficult for us. He was more distracted by being on the phone to someone and texting them instead of showing us our room or offering us some tea which is something all the other hotels all over morocco did. The room had an extremely strong stench coming from the bathroom which made is difficult to use the bathroom when needed. The extractor fan had to be switched on at all times for the smell to stay out of the bedroom. There was no AC in the room which meant that the two nights that we spent in tangier we were fairly warm. During one of the days we came back after a long walk and the only way we could cool down was to have a shower. For anyone with mobility issues, we would not recommend this hotel as you have to walk up several stairs to get to the hotel. Oh and there wasn’t any bottled water in the room, so if anyone with delicate stomachs, we would advice that you purchase your own!

Scafell Pike, Scary, Splendid and Utterly stunning!

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Let me tell you a bit of a funny story to begin with. Actually it might not be as funny when you are reading it… more of a story to tell in person; but I will have a crack at it anyway. So before going to Scafell Pike, I had been boasting about how I had already ‘completed’ one peak and was about to do the second one. Whilst doing that, I was pronouncing it as ‘Scafell Pike’ – as in ‘scaffolding’ but without the ‘-ding’. It was until we got to the Lake District that I realised that I had been pronouncing it completely wrong! DUHH! Apparently it’s pronounced as ‘scaw-fell’ as our AirBnB host kept reminding me.

We got there in the end! Just something to keep in mind.

Ummm, where should i start with Scafell? Well it probably wasn’t as life changing as Snowdon, but I do have some stories to share.

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Before heading off to Scafell Pike, I had spent a fair few number of days and nights panicking about it. After ‘accomplishing’ Snowdon and struggling so much with the hike, I had build so much anxiety around Scafell Pike. I was fearful of not being able to do it, afraid to let people down. BUT, I did it and I did it with ease believe it or not.

Perhaps the weather played its part. Perhaps.

Firstly its important to talk about the most wonderful AirBnB hosts, Shelagh and David. Visiting these two felt like visiting some old relative that you hadn’t seen in a long time. Their cottage in Cumbria is a warm and welcoming, and perfectly located for anyone wanting to climb Scafell Pike. There is also a coastal route and a beach not far from their beautiful home in Drigg. Upon arrival, both Shelagh and David were extremely welcoming and generous in every way and we were well looked after from the moment we initially booked to stay at their place to the moment we said our goodbyes. Shelagh was kind enough to message driving routes well before our trip. The cottage was renovated recently and is absolutely spotless. The bedroom and the bathroom are both spacious and comfortable and all basic necessities are provided by these wonderful hosts. In fact, they go above and beyond with a well stocked up bedroom and bathroom, and a rather lavish breakfast included. They cater for any food preferences, which had all been catered for before our arrival. I would highly recommend you stay here if you’re ever in the area! You can find them here: https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/18815067

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Lets talk about the morning before the hike! We woke up bright and early and found ourselves being spoilt rotten by Shelagh and David. They had set out the table beautifully, with the most gorgeous crockery! It was a bit to early for us to have a ‘full english breakfast’ – the halal version of course, so we had some toast and tea and off we went. It might be a good bit of addition to know that there are two kind of hikers: 1. Eat-if-you-must like my husband, and 2. Eat-all-you-can like yours truly! The hosts offered advice on hiking gear and preferred routes.

As we sat in the car to set off, we noticed David coming out and gesturing for us to stop. I wondered what was going on… With my jacket in his hand, I soon realised that i must have left the bloody thing in their house! *face-palm* Can’t take me anywhere!

Arriving at the base of Scafell Pike, the sun was shining, the dogs were running and my heart was racing. I even needed to have a nervous loo break as we arrived. ONE WORD – actually two – NEVER AGAIN! The portable loo cabins smelt so bad, I was physically sick. I soon recovered though! The National Heritage bloke on site told us that he had cleaned them earlier in the morning; I guess a lot of people had had to go for their nervous loo breaks!

thumbnail_image1As we were headed up to Scafell Pike, the start was slow and steady, however, it soon became quite steep, although the path was fairly easy.  The pressure on my legs meant that they became tired real quick. The views during the hike made the journey and the pain worth it. And what a gorgeous beautiful splendid sunny day it was! 

We stopped number of times and noticed a father and a son; dressed like two men on the mission, with their hats, map and compass. They were attempting to take a selfie before I offered to take their picture, which of course went down really well as they were over the moon. We then got chatting and the father told us that he was from London, but was spending the weekend with his son to spend some quality time together. I praised the young boy on how well he was doing and off they went. This reminded me a little bit of the film Pursuit of Happiness. Don’t ask why. Perhaps the father and son story? Their unique relationship and the father aspiring to do what’s best for his son? Inspirational indeed. And I am sorry I didn’t get a picture of them for you you guys as you would have known where i was coming from!

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Overcoming fears! YASSSS!

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As we continued walking up this gigantic mountain (well it is THE tallest peak in England after all), we came across a gigantic Husky. Now, I am PETRIFIED of dogs, it’s an Asian thing i think, we are all bloody shit scared of dogs (Ahmed strongly disagrees though and thinks it’s all in my head!). I just don’t know what on earth to do when they’re near us and have been suffering from a ‘dog-phobia’ for quite some time. Actually that’s a blog for another time! Moving on, this dog was absolutely gorgeous to look at and I really wanted to feel whether he was as fluffy as he looked. I then whispered to Ahmed ‘I really want to touch him’ and before he could reply, I went running up to the owner and asked her if I could touch the dog. Overjoyed, she said of course I could and so I did it. I decided to stop over thinking and touched this enormous dog called ‘Max’. And yes, he really was as fluffy and soft as he looked. So this was one mission accomplished, so i felt good already!  Seriously though, have you seen the size of that Husky?!

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Mickledore Route!

We we walked a bit further up and decided to go towards the shortest route over Mickledore and past Scafell, the second highest mountain. This route was really tough on the feet and extremely dangerous if you struggle with balance.

The cliff scenery on Scafell is quite imposing and much more spectacular than Scafell Pike’s cliffs. Once on Mickledore near the first aid box, we took the route to the left and up to THE Pike. Going to the top, you have to cross huge, bulky and rocks which we did not feel were safe for everyone! The views are excellent!

We decided to have a break at this stop as we thought that the higher up we went, the winder and busier it would get. My legs felt like jelly at this point so I was over the moon at the thought of having a break and even more excited to eat my ‘walkers mix ups’ – chilli flavours of course! I quickly tucked into my bag of crisps and sipped on a chocolate flavoured protein shake. That exact moment was beautiful. It was beautiful until my husband decided to share my crisps and ended up dropping them all over! And guess what? Yep, I did not care at that point that they were on the floor. I scooped them up, put them back in the bag and ate them. The five second rule, right?

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Yes, it was right here where Ahmed managed to drop my crisps!

Getting to the top of Scafell was truly ‘Amaze-balls’ as one of my close friends often says! 20638815_10159463524080713_5126003701806054364_n

Lol at the lads photo-bombing our photo in the background! It’s moments like these that make you chuckle in years to come and the exact reason why I finally decided to start a blog!

We asked a group of lads to take a photo of me and husband, despite the fact that we had already taken a gazillion photos from our (read: my) selfie stick. Little did we know that we would end up walking down with the same boys and have lots of ‘Bantz’ (banter) along the way. They were lovely group of friends who we talked to about life, travels and family. Isn’t it absolutely amazing how soon you find common ground with complete strangers? And how even fast forwarding the next few years of our lives, our memories of these strangers will stick with us forever? That’s DEEP! I even remember that one of them was called ‘Dom’. I recall this because one of them had a little slip and fell onto the ground. His friend then went running behind him, asking him if he was okay. This right there made me burst with joy. Just to see such empathy and love amongst friends.

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So that was that. That was my journey to Scafell Pike. Tiring, yet terrific!

Remember, I am doing the Three Peaks Challenge to raise money for a charity called Human Appeal. It has been running for 25 years and the cause I am aiming to raise money for is called the ‘Winter Appeal Fund’. My aim is to raise £1000, in order for 10 Syrian families to get blankets and heaters for the winter. Please if you can, donate to this wonderful charity and help me make a difference. The Three Peaks so far has been tiring, exciting and beautiful. Not to forget how expensive it has been lol!

Here is the funding page you guys:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Natasha-Naveed1

Morocco 2017

Ten days, ten cities, thousands of miles and endless memories!”

Holiday makers are sold holidays based on what the destination has to offer. Be it excursions and adventures, beaches, cultural and history or even shopping.

And then there is Morocco… something for everyone and then a bit more.

We travelled through Morocco in ten days; covering 10 cities, thousands of miles, experiencing all nooks and crannies and making hundreds of memories while we were at it. It left us knackered and irritable towards end but oh boy what a journey it was. This was mainly because of the hundreds of miles we travelled in such a short space of time. Right, my first advice for anyone wanting to do a similar itinerary to us would be to stretch out your visit and do it in at least 14 days (unless you are as bat-shit crazy as we are!).

Given the amount of time and the distance we had planned on travelling in Morocco, we decided it was the best way forward to be driven around rather than driving ourselves or falling back to public transport. But then again, if you want to drive around and have the time for it, Morocco is not hard to navigate and the traffic is not as bad as some of the other places we have been to (especially when travelling between cities).

While planning for the trip, I quickly realised that hiring a driver in Morocco would cost an arm and a leg (and a bit of the nose)!). This is something I did not expect at all, as hiring drivers in some of the other countries has been substantially cheaper. So I had assumed that it would be the same in Morocco: bad thinking!

That aside, hiring Rachid our chauffeur to show us around was an amazing idea. After all, Rachid made the trip worth while and some of our special memories consist of Rachid’s generosity and humble demeanour.

I came to know about Rachid the chauffeur through Instagram. Not shy of interacting with people either from behind the keyboard or in person, I came across Claudia’s Instagram page, I sent her a message. One discussion led to another and I ended up with Rachid’s details and Claudia’s recommendation.

Day 1: Marrakesh

We were rather impressed with the airport experience. The queues were not horrendously long as one would come across in UAE or Qatar. The airport was clean and spacious, and one could tell that it was a fairly new facility. There are money changers near the baggage carousel, which we thought was conveniently located rather than outside of the terminal building.

We had arranged transport from the Riad we were staying at so were quickly ushered to the our vehicle by the driver (who was stood with a sign and our name on it). A riad is a traditional Moroccan house (or palace) with an interior garden, or courtyard (typically with a fountain/water feature). The one we stayed at was called ‘Riad UTIOPA’ – it can be found on bookings.com. We paid around £60-£70 but we think it was completely worth it as it’s very central, clean and provides great hospitality. The riad looked like it had been built around a swimming pool, with the swimming pool being right in the centre of the courtyard. As an option breakfast was served around the swimming pool, which was simply fabulous.

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img_7666The main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa:

Here they sell the most AMAZING orange juice we have ever tasted! It’s so good and around 50p per glass. The ambience and the culture really is quite visible in this part, although I personally felt that there were far too many tourists there and preferred walking around the souks. The Main Square gets busier towards the end of the day with a lot more tourists gathering around.

What not to do!

  • As you’re roaming around looking at the wonderful stalls, make sure not to take pictures of the dancing snakes and monkeys as the owners/handlers will pester you for money.
  • Also the ladies who apply the henna can be very aggressive as they grab your arms. Be firm and say no if you don’t want to have Henna on. You need to be mindful of allergic reactions, as the henna may have been ‘tweeked’ with colour enhancing chemicals, which might not do your skin any favours.

Sadiaan Tombs:

The Saadian tombs in Marrakech date back from the time of the Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur. The tombs were discovered in 1917 and were restored by the Beaux-arts service. The tickets to see the Tombs were cheeeeap. They were around £1 per person and so worth it. Lots of photography opportunities and amazing architecture. Not to forget the history.

 

                                                   

Koutobia Mosque:

The Koutoubia Mosque (Kutubiyya Mosque) is the largest mosque in Marrakesh, Morocco. It is quite central – but to be fair, all over Marrakesh pretty much is within walking distance! The mosque is a wonderful place to have a little break and you can even go inside to offer your prayers if you are muslim. Upon entering the mosque, the custodians or worshippers may ask if you are muslim; and if you are, you are greeted with a great warm welcoming smile. This is an amazing feeling and gives you the feeling of being part of something bigger, greater… a beautiful feeling.

Day 2: Marrakesh

YSL Gardens:

‘The Majorelle Garden is a twelve-acre botanical garden and artist’s landscape garden in Marrakech. An archaeological museum, it contains the Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech’. The more we walked around, the longer we wanted to stay. I don’t think photos do it justice as it really is so beautiful. The plants and the pond make the garden truely enchanting and mesmerising.

The Ben Youssef Madrassa and Mosque:

This is a mosque in the medina quarter of Marrakesh, named after the Almoravid Emir Ali ibn Yusuf. It is arguably the oldest and most important mosques in Marrakesh.

The first floor boasted the living quarters for people associated with the mosque and madrassa back in the day. One can see the old wooden staircase in the rooms, and peep through the windows down on the mosque courtyard.

 

 

Okay, so you see the outfit I am wearing right here? Keep this outfit in mind as I tell you a tale that will stay with me forever. It is my fondest memory from my trip to Morocco.

So the day we visited Ben Youssef, it was a Friday. Friday is also known as “Jummah”, where Muslims a compulsary congregational “Friday prayer” (ṣalāt), just after noon instead of the Zuhr prayer. Muslims pray ordinarily five times each day according to the sun’s sky path regardless of time zones.

Being in a muslim country meant that I had the luxury of being near a mosque at all times. Hence, I did not want to miss the opportunity to say my prayers. As you know, I don’t wear a Hijab, but I was carrying a scarf in my bag. So I quickly found a small little corner and put my scarf over my head before I went into a nearby mosque. The locals were staring and wondering what on earth was going on, why a ‘foreigner’ was attempting to put a scarf over her head and heading towards a mosque. Anyways, so off we went to a local mosque near Ben Youssaf Madrassa to say our prayers. Men and women offer prayers separately in a congregation, in line with which, the women were sat in their designated area in the mosque. The entrance to the mosque was through gates that were busy and congested. I eventually made my way through to the womens’ section… but I had not expected all that was about to happen.

As we were running fairly late, the Mosque was extremely busy. The women’s section was absolutely packed out, which meant that I had to tip-toe my way to a small space. My anxiety was overtaking my thought process and I quickly sat down and began fidgeting with my belongings. I looked around at all the locals and felt them staring at me – the only foreign looking girl. Feeling awkward and out-of-place, I began trying to distract myself by reminding myself of why I was there.

As I did that, I felt a light pat on my back. Ignoring it at first and thinking it was someone bumping against me due to the confined space we were in, I eventually turned around to find a lady who had been trying to attract my attention.

It was an older woman with beautiful sparkling eyes and the biggest smile, gesturinng me to follow her to the back of the rows and rows of women. I was confused and thought I had done something out of the ordinary to attract this lady’s attention. Having realised that she wanted me to sit next to her by the wall at the back, I was somewhat relieved but rather curious. I hurried over to her and felt that in doing so, I was no longer in the limelight.

It was clear that she had realised I was uncomfortable and was wanting to help. As I sat down she smiled at me and I smiled back. She then touched her Abaya [“cloak sometimes also called an abaya, is a simple, loose over-garment, essentially a robe-like dress, worn by some Muslim women] and pointed to me. Because we both could not speak the same language, we tried to communicate with hand gestures. I then explained that I did not have my abaya. At this point, I felt ridiculous for turning up to a mosque and felt completely out of my comfort zone. While all of this was going through my mind, the lady who had ushered me over had asked another woman sat in front of me to give me her spare Abaya. As the Abaya was handed over to me, I put it on without any hesitation and thanked both women. Full of nerves, I even had to ask the woman to help me put it on! Anyways, I eventually offered my prayers and hugged the lady and thanked her for her kindness.

This experience was so surreal. I felt so connected to my faith and humanity at this point. Some may think and argue that the woman was judgemental and forceful, but she really wasn’t . She meant well and I could tell it in her eyes that she felt so happy that I was there. Despite my clothing and the fact that I had nail polish on, she didn’t judge me, nor suggested that I should not be there. She merely offered her kindness to me, for which I will be forever grateful.

This example of acceptance in Islam is something the rest of the Muslim world is specific can learn. Tolerance is something that is taught widely in Islam but there are great shortcomings that one comes across in practice.

Day 3: Marrakech – Dades gorges

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Ait Ben Haddou:

We headed off bright and early, 9am to be precise (LOL!). We drove through valleys and gorges with views of the Atlas mountain range (tizi-n-tichka). After a tiring 4 hours drive, and we arrived at Ait Ben Haddou. We were told that lots of hollywood films were filmed here; including the likes of The Gladiator and Inception.

Meet Rachid and his parents!

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Ah, this was the best surprise ever! Just before heading to our hotel, Rachid asked if we would like to eat food at his family home. We were a bit hesitant at first and asked if it would be okay to pay towards the food. We were told that we were guests and his parents would be offended if we offered to pay for the food. Of course we said yes the food experience that entailed was just WOW!

Okay, so by this point me and Ahmed were contemplating and somewhat regretting paying Rachid so much money for our transport as in hindsight we could have drove ourselves for half the cost. HOWEVER, when we got to Ait Ben Haddou and Rachid offered us to visit his parents home, this changed things a little. Going into Rachid’s home to meet his parents was so exciting. Their house was full of gorgeous ornaments and gave us a glimpse of everyday like in Morocco. The parents seemed somewhat old and fragile, yet full of life as they embraced us into their home.

I asked Rachid’s mother if she needed any help in the kitchen. Although she said she didn’t need any help, I decided to go and help any way. As I entered the kitchen, I noticed nothing but 4-5 plates full of salad and thought to myself ‘is this the only food we’re going to eat for the rest of the day’. Now I am not really the salad kinda girl. I have probably had two or maybe three salads  as a meal in my 28 years of life. As we took the food into the living room, me and Ahmed devoured the salad within minutes (we were starving at this point). I even ate beetroot! After what seemed like a flash, it was time for the near empty plates to be taken away.

We expected Moroccan tea to be served next, but what came through the kitchen door was splendorous, as it was shocking.  As they took away the plate full of salad, I looked up and saw a massive tagine coming our way. Errrrrrr, awkward! Feeling absolutely full to the brim, I looked over to Ahmed and pulled a face to say ‘how on earth can i eat this’! Rachid’s mum lifted the lid off the tagine and my mouth started to water. Magically the salad had suddenly made room for tagine. Ahmed and I both ended up eating a fair portion of the tagine with Moroccan bread.

Food aside, we got chatting with the family and asked them about a picture that was hung high and proud in the living room. It was a picture from Makkah and as Rachid explained shortly after, his parents had been for Hajj 4 times!

SubhanAllah! I was so impressed and at that time felt so grateful to be in such pious and generous company.

Morrocan team followed and before we knew it, it was time to say our goodbyes and head off to our destination for the night.

However, not far in to the next phase of our journey for the day, we were faced with the King’s motorcade being in the vicinity and had to wait on the road side for a good hour or so.

Chez Pierre: This hotel was the most beautiful places that we stayed in. The decor was absolutely stunning and the bed was so cosy! It is surrounded by an oasis of tranquillity amongst the ruggedness of the mountains, a truly special place. From the moment you walk in you are struck by the attention to detail; a fusion of authentic Moroccan style and modern comfort. Although we were not massively hungry, we decided to get a 5 courses meal and shared it between us. And wow, what a pleasant surprise! We didn’t expect to be served the quality you would normally find in top french restaurants – the 5 course dinner was exceptional.


Day 4: Dades Gorges – Merzouga (Sahara)

Dades gorges. Isn’t it stunning? 

You get up there before you know it. But if you suffer from travel sickeness, I suggest that you take some travel sickness meds!

 

 

Dades toudra:

I think we could have given this place a miss! But I guess it had it’s own charm. There were lots of locals around here and little lads asking you to buy things from them – it got a little tiring.

After travelling for I don’t know how many hours, we went from Dades Valley to Merzouga Desert via Erfoud town and Rissani city. We finally arrived to our destination in the Sahara for the night! 

 

Kam kam dunes:

Kam Kam dunes is one of the few luxury camps out there in the sahara, under the stars. The rooms are cosy and well equipped. There’s a working toilet and shower.

We booked directly from the website and the company’s driver collected us and transported us to the campsite in the scorching heat!

This was NOT as amazing and out of the world as I had anticipated or imagined it would be for some reason. The camps themselves were STUNNING. Check them out at: https://www.kamkamdunes.com

Now I don’t know whether I did not enjoy this as much because I had seen and spent a lot of time in the desert in Qatar, or whether I was too exhausted to enjoy?

Anyway!

The staff at this luxury site were lazy and fairly boring. Paying a lot of money meant that the camps were not as packed and busy, which meant it was fairly quiet. I think i would have preferred the more noisy and loud camps that would encourage some singing and dancing!

To make matters worse, no one told us that the camel rides were ready until we asked. We eventually got on the camels for the camel ride. As we were taking pictures and heading towards the big dunes, we heard some screams in the back ground. Some very excitable, yet frightened group of Chinese friends were seen flying off the camels and falling onto the sand. Credit to them for getting up and back onto the camels after that experience!

We spent the rest of the couple of hours waiting for the sunset and taking some more pictures. I guess it is at least crossed off the bucket list!

Day 5: Merzouga – Fez

We started our day tour from Merzouga via Erfoud fossils city, Errachidia villages, Midelt town, Azrou forest and Ifrane (The Swiss city).

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Errachidia Villages: 

As we left Merzouga, there were lots of ‘nomads’ all over the mountains and roads. Rachid being Rachid, stopped along the road and gave the children some bananas.

 

 

Ifrane (Swiss City):

We continued our journey towards Fez and came across the most beautiful landscapes. I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of the shepherd. But Rachid stopped the car to give the shepherd some water. Rachid’s acts of generosity and kindness continued to put a smile on our faces during this never-ending 10-12 hour drive!

After travelling for so many hours, we finally arrived at our Riad in Fes, called: Bahia Palais.  Rated as being 9.0 and ‘Superb’ on Bookings.com, I am so glad we decided to stay at this amazing place. The views, the cleanliness, hospitality, location and everything else… this Riad was perfect!

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Day 6: Fes

The Riad in Fes arranged for us to get a tour guide for 3 hours for the day. It cost around €25 per person and we got to see all sorts of gorgeous architecture, historical buildings, mosques, tanneries, madrasahs, souks.

Fes was our favourite city by far during our trip to Morocco. This was for a number of reasons:

  • ‘In 859, the University of Karueein, as it is now called, was officially founded, giving the Fez Medina one of the oldest universities in the world.
  • Apparently, Idris I (or Idris ibn Abdullah) was the first Arab ruler and founder of the Idrisid dynasty, ruling from 788 to 791. He is credited with founding the dynasty that was instrumental in the early Islamization of Morocco. He was the great-great-great grandson of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed SAW.
  • Built in the 9th century, the Fez medina is a labyrinth of about 10,000 alleys that are too narrow for cars.
  • According to our tour guide, there are over 300 mosques within the old medina itself.
  • Walking around the old medina, you feel like you have travelled back months, years, decades and centuries!’

Day 7: Fes to Volubilis to Chefchouen

We decided to take a detour from the shortest route to Chefchouen to visit the ruins of Volubilis.

Volubilis:

Why Volubilis was such a surprise? ‘The Roman’s settled here in 25 BC till around 279 AD, there are a few structures still standing and some wonderful mosaics in excellent condition. It is about a 2 mile walk around and an outstanding piece of architecture amongst the ruins is the Victory Gate!

This city was built more than 2000 years ago with facilities and amenities that many in some parts of the modern world don’t even have today. It is equally amazing that so many of the structures and decorations, especially the mosaic floors, are so well preserved despite being open to the elements.’

We headed off after a swift visit around Volubilis to the one place I had anticipated visiting the most: Chefchouen!

I had been reading and researching for weeks and months, if not years! And dayuummm, I was so excited to see it for real… and dayuummm how it didn’t disappoint.

We eventually arrived at our hotel: La Petite. 

This hotel was by far the most modern and cosy place in Chefchaouen when I was doing my research. It couldn’t have been more central. From the views, to the service, to the breakfast, everything was perfect.

     

Day 8: Chefchaouen

I don’t really know what to say about Chefchouen. I felt like I had woken up in a story or some sort of a movie.

Spanish mosque:

‘The mosque was built by the Spanish in the 1920s, but never used. Walking to the mosque is a nice, steady little hike to the top and the views are amazing.

This stunning Moroccan city in the Rif Mountains was originally built as a fortress in the 15th century. The mountains towering over Chefchaouen resemble a pair of goat’s horns, and, perhaps not coincidentally, the creamy native goat cheese is one of the most popular regional treats.’

We generally spent the day walking around and enjoying the tranquillity of the Blue City. There were SO many photography opportunity as we walked around. Every corner and every street was unique in its own way.

Day 9: Chefchaouen to Asilah to Tangier

We left Chefchaouen fairly early in the morning and decided to stop off at Asilah before heading off to Tangier for our last stop. Fewf! I feel tired just thinking back at how much we packed into ten days!

Asilah:

‘Asilah is a magical coastal town filled with painted murals and breathtaking seascapes! Its located in the South of Tangier. Its old town, or medina, is enclosed by well-preserved 15th-century ramparts and gates, built by colonial Portuguese.

Asilah offers a refuge from the nearby bustling cities of Tangier and Tetouan. It features deserted, quiet beaches and a relaxing atmosphere. The town has Mediterranean-influenced buildings, including whitewashed houses with blue accents on walls and doors. The array of houses decorated with paintings highlights the island’s reputation as an artists’ hangout.’

We didn’t stay too long in Asilah as we managed to quickly visit all the alleyways with the pretty pictures due it being Jummah. The souks, alleyways and streets were completely empty during our visit which made it easier to take photos. We soon headed off to go to Tangier for our final stop.

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Kasbah Rose:

This hotel was a massive disappointment and we would not recommend it at all even though we spent two nights here.

The smells from the bathroom, going into the bedroom knocked you sick. There was no air con in the room which meant we spent half the night tossing and turning.

Here we also got to experience some ignorance from the owner who is originally German, but has lived in Tangier for many years.  As we sat and shared our thoughts and feelings about the Syrian war and our aim to raise money for Syrian children, it did not go down too well. The owner was fairly adamant that no one could make a difference. Well, I beg to differ, as I hope that raising £1000 doing the Three Peaks, will make a difference to someone! Or at least I would have done something to help!

She then had the ignorance to ask us about whether we as British Asians will have to surrender our nationalities and leave the UK. I replied by saying that I was born in England, to which she didn’t really give a response. Luckily for her, we couldn’t care less what she thought and continued to tuck into our breakfast.

Day 10: Tangier

We decided to google about ‘things to do’ in Tangier and to be honest, there wasn’t much. We DID however, realise that THE IBN- BATTUTA was buried in Tangier! I mean, what are the chances. To be fair, I only knew of Ibn-Battuta because of a bollywood song (to which Ahmed reaction was that to utter disbelief, followed with a strong desire to banging his head on Ibn-Battuta’s tomb in dismay), but maybe that is a topic for another time?

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Ibn-Battuta Grave:

So anyways, for those of you who like me didn’t know about Ibn- Battuta, ‘Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta, also known as Shams ad – Din, was born in Tangier, Morocco. He left Tangier when he was twenty one years of age. His travels lasted for about thirty years, after which he returned to Fez, Morocco at the court of Sultan Abu ‘Inan and dictated accounts of his journeys to Ibn Juzay. These are known as the famous Travels (Rihala) of Ibn Battuta. He died at Fez in 1369.’

This kind of made me question a lot of things. How once our souls depart, we are nothing but a memory. Luckily for Ibn-Battuta, he left his mark in this world as the ‘greatest muslim traveler of all times’. His tomb/grave is located in a random alleyway, away from the hustle and bustle of Tangier, and perhaps not treated with the greatest of respects as the empty bottle of water in the picture would reflect, it does not take away from the fact that his tales and travels are still talked about.

It made me think of many things, including this travel blog. Of course I am not comparing myself to the greatest travellers of all time, but it made me determined to write more about my experiences. So maybe one day, I will look back and be able to really soak in all these experiences and thank the Lord for giving me the opportunity for all that I have been able to see and do!

After visiting the tomb, we carried on walking towards the beach, had some McDonald’s (finally! couldn’t wait for the junk food fix) and then walked over to a cafe called the Panorama cafe overlooking the beach. Here we sat and ate some crepe with Nutella, and drank cold coffee. Pure bliss!

For us Tangier was definitely not the highlight of the trip. In fact we really didn’t like Tangier much at all, but it was a nice way to end the trip. It was nice to eat something familiar and to stroll around aimlessly, without an itinerary!

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Day 11: Tangier – Airport

Anddddd we finally said our goodbyes to Morocco… heading for sunny UK (LOL!)

Snowdonia


And so it begins. Who would have known that a cozy glamourous comedy night would lead me to venture to the highest peaks in three Nations of the Great Britain.
All set and ready to head to Wales with us?

Here we go, to Wales, home of Snowdonia! *grand entrance background music*
Visiting Wales is truly remarkable, given the fact that Welsh is so different to English. It is like visiting abroad while enjoying everything that you would in England and some more!

With hotel prices soaring, we resorted to Airbnb for accommodation, and boy were we lucky to find a hidden gem in Bethel, less than 10 miles from where we had planned to start the trek.

After much research and bothering people who had already done this walk, we had decided to ascent and descend via Miners’ route. After much debate whether we should tackle a full English (halal version of course) or a very healthy cereal, Ahmed and I went our separate ways – each to their own huh?

Nevertheless, we were able to get to the starting point (in this case a car park) a little shy of 9 am. On the left end of the car park was the Miners’ route, and on the right side was Pyg’s route; no brainer here.

“The Miners’ Track was built to serve the Britannia Copper Mine on Snowdon but it is not the route originally used to serve the mine.” A gold mine of information can be found at http://www.eryri-npa.gov.uk/visiting/walking/mountain-walks/miners-track
The walk starts at a very shallow gradient and gets steeper as you go along, getting to a rocky climb near the last third of the leg. The path passes along lakes and ruins of old buildings that adds to the scenery.


But my o my, is the scenery breathtaking!

Blood pumping, body aching, legs shaking, yet you look down and breathe a sigh of relief. You feel a sense of achievement and proudness (is that even a word?)! You look around and there are many faces telling you all sorts of stories. Just by looking at them and the charities they are raising money for, you know they’ve experienced some thing deep. They’ve seen and suffered some sort of pain. Like Bill, who has suffered and recovered from renal cancer.

But there are also happy faces, faces that are just there to have a laugh. Faces that you look at and you cannot help but smile back. Like the Lawson’s. The Lawson’s story is also special. Their story will make you smile, I promise!

But we were there for a number of reasons. To tick off something from a bucket list, to raise money for Human Appeal, to spend quality time with one another, to be honest the list could go on. But I am so super excited that we did it. And I am smiling because we have just created another special memory together. Alhamdulillah. I feel blessed to have a husband who is as supportive as Ahmed. Always there to help me see sense of things and guide me the right way, the righteous way.


So glad our love was arranged by our nearest and dearest! 

As we were walking up Snowdon, it was getting harder as the gradient got more steep. I stopped to take a break and have a sip of water. That’s when Bill also stopped and said hello. He told us that this was the second time he is climbing Snowdon. On his left arm he had a badge with a number on it.

Bill’s story is that of great courage in the face of uncertainty and fear. About a year ago, he noticed blood in his urine which prompted him to seek medical attention. The doctors at the NHS carried out tests immediately and soon diagnosed him with cancer. Bill had to undergo surgery to remove one of his kidneys, however, he recovered well and said he was shocked and surprised as he felt that he was the fittest anyone could be at his age. So he decided to challenge himself and climb Snowdon to raise money for prostate cancer (hence the armband with the number on it).

As we got to the top on Snowdon, we saw Bill again. Just like us, he was waiting on his family who had his sandwiches. We could see him pacing in and out of the cafe watching out for the train that his wife was on. An announcement was then made informing us that due to the poor weather conditions, the trains were not coming up to the summit. I asked Bill if we could share some of our lunch with him, but he kindly refused. But I couldn’t watch him go all the way back and not eat anything so I insisted that he had one of my protein bars and he finally accepted the offer. I felt that Bill and us bonded at that point.

We shared a special moment that no one could take away from us.

And as luck has it, Bill’s wife was sat next to my parents on the same train! We later found out that they too had similar conversations as us when they were stranded on the train together, wondering where their ‘climbing party’ was!

Not the best picture of me, but here’s me with Bill (eating the snack I forcefully gave him, lol) 

Meet the Lawsons; Andrew, Brian and Stephen Lawson. 

The Lawson’s were with us throughout the hike – from 9am until 12pm. But it wasn’t until our fourth break together that we finally got to talk and Brian told us that the “boys” were celebrating their 25 years today. A bit baffled by their response, I asked what he meant by that. He replied that 25 years ago, he came to Snowdonia with his sons and they thought they’d celebrate their Snowdon walk anniversary together by walking it again.

Brian was truly inspirational, unsteady on his feet and his hands shaking as he grabbed hold of his hiking stick. Yet he smiled and persevered. He took lots of pictures from his camera and when I offered to take a picture of all three of them, I saw his face bursting with happiness.

Truly inspirational. The bond between the three of them was so special.


As we ascended Snowdon, it got increasingly windy. The final few paces of the walk was behind a queue of people, waiting their turn to get to the top of the mountain, which is the perched rock with a metal plate on top. People could be seen celebrating their triumphant ascent to the top, with a party of people even flinging around a bottle of champagne.

Not far from the summit is the Snowdon Cafe (not the official name), which gives the visitors great panoramic views of the surrounding areas through the massive glass windows. The cafe offers seating areas (which is normally full to capacity), toilet facilities, and a coffee shop with a decent spread for the altitude.


The crowd is a diverse mix of all ages, even though one could have counted the non-caucasian bunch on their fingers. Perhaps there were caucasian muslims there, but there were only a few people of colour. Being an Asian, this in itself is a shame since more Asians (and Muslims) are not out there enjoying God’s creation. And while you are out there, one gets to mingle with people of all backgrounds with such interesting stories. Like Bill and Lawson’s.

More so, this is a form of Tabligh/Da’wah isn’t it? Being out there talking to people like normal human beings, about everyday things. It does not cost anything being nice to people. And while you are out there, you are a representative of your ethnic group, your cultural background, religion and your county!

From a more religious perspective, one must realise that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was the most eloquent of men.

Over the years I have heard some muslims comment how the ‘goray’ are unclean and not fit to be interacted with on a personal level. I have also come across muslims who wouldn’t give charity to non-muslims. Would it make Bill more human, since he along with his church were raising money for Syrian Children regardless of the religion the children followed?

While Islamic scholars like Mufti Ismail Menk and Zakir Naik talk about harmoniously co-existing with non-muslim countrymen (and women), I sometimes feel that some muslims are busy building barriers between not only muslims and other faiths, but also between the various muslim factions/sects.

Let us all make an effort with our neighbours this Ramadan, whether they are muslim or otherwise, and fight the stereotype that paints muslims in a negative light. By doing this, we shall not only be rendering a service towards community building and social welfare, but also working towards promoting the true meaning of the most beautiful religion, Islam.

A few pictures from Llandudno, Wales

Why the hashtag #TravelTalesOfaMuslim 

I imagine that those of you who know me well must be thinking “has she gone mad?” But hear me out as I explain the madness behind this new craze of mine. 

Everyone that I know loves weekends. Or at least those who work full time tend to look forward to being off on weekends. Well for me Saturdays are always a day for an adventure; new places and new foods. For me that’s what I do on my days off. I tend to grab the bare essentials; my hiking boots/trainers, a hat and some munchies in my backpack and off I go without looking back. 

Now here’s the thing.  During all of the hikes and walks I’ve ever been to, there are always other walkers/hikers that will stop and say hello or nod their heads as they pass us charming smile. It’s just a reminder that there’s more good out there than bad. Or so I’d like to think. After all ‘Smile, it’s Sunnah’. 

So during these trips and adventures there’s a real common theme. I never ever see any ‘brown’ faces! I mean EVER! (And before anyone points out, I know not all Muslims are brown- my grandmother is Muslim and she’s not brown either- but I hope you get my gist!). So Moving on, just last weekend, it kind of daunted on me that I have always met some wonderful people when I’ve been out on little adventures. However none of these individuals were Muslim or represented Islam. And yeah of course I’m not discriminatory in the slightest. After all “We are many, but we are one”. Yep, I strongly and truly believe that in terms of humanity. 

But over the last few years, the media has  developed such negativity and hatred towards Muslims, that I strongly feel that it is our duty to do more and to erase this misconception. I feel that we can do that by going out more, meeting new people and doing Dawah just by being kind. I want to be an inspiration to other Muslims by making people aware that we are harmless. Just like non-Muslims, we too enjoy having fun and view terrorists in the same light. To minimise their fears and apprehension. 

Hence, I urge you to travel more. And by that I don’t mean get on the next flight to somewhere abroad. But to start by just taking a short walk to the nearest park or attraction. While you’re there, just smile at a stranger, feed the birds, stroke a dog, you know it’s really not that hard! Do whatever makes you ‘human’ and then share your Travel Tales with friends and family because I guarantee that you’ll always have a tale. Like when I stopped hiking half way up to Sycamore Gap to say hello to the cutest little baby boy who was not more than 5 months, wearing cool glasses and being strapped on his dad’s tummy. It’s memories like those that stay with you forever and inspire you.

I am just attaching some pictures from some of my recent “wanderlust” moments! 

Enjoy and spread the word- or the hashtag in this case! Lawls!

 #TravelTalesOfaMuslim

A little sneak peak into who I am…..

          • A cocktail of East meets West •

Hi, I’m Natasha! An only child to two most incredible parents and a wife to an extremely supportive husband. Say Alhamdulillah! I am also a Social Worker by profession and a wanderlust at heart. A dreamer with an endless bucket list of things I have done and things I wish to do.

I have lived and moved around in three countries so far; Azad Kashmir, England and Qatar and have loved every second of all three experiences. 

I’m not quite sure what the blog will look like as it goes on, but what I do know is that it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while. So here I am. As you can tell, I love travelling so the main focus of the blog will be travel. But I will also do lifestyle, food and random rants and observations of the world as I travel through it, slowly but surely! 

Oh yeh! The other thing I must mention at this point is that a part of the rationale behind this blog is to inspire/encourage and motivate other Asians, Muslims and Desis to travel more. To inject a bit of wanderlust into them too!

Wish me luck and join me on this journey!