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Saturday, 13 May 2017

Morocco - phone calls and obtaining sim card

Tips and things to know before you visit Morocco

Now you have picked all the hotspots to visit in Fez or Marrakech, piled up a few maps but ....what about phone calls and Internet? As you can imagine, these rascals from your mobile operator will charge you outrageous fee if you call while on roaming. How to avoid that? It’s easy, just follow along.

Internet is available in most cafes and hotels, so you can ask for the password. No matter where you come from - USA, Europe or some other country, when you first arrive at Morocco you should look for a SIM card to feed your phone. That is valid especially if you will stay for more than a couple of days. You can obtain the card from some of the major airports, railway stations or kiosks in city centers. Just ask the person behind the desk to help you with inserting the card and passing through all the necessary formalities. I believe they won’t need any prompt if they see you are a foreigner. They will ask you for a passport. Make a test call to verify that everything is running as expected, once everything is settled.

General information:

There are three big telecoms: Maroc Telecom, Orange and inwi. After a quick online I chose to go with the first one. Most people recommended it and what’s more it is the leader of the market. 50 Dhs is the price for a standard prepaid SIM Card. Unfortunately, I don’t remember all the details but you can ask the person behind the counter. The coverage and speed is pretty decent. After you purchase and use the available limit you can top up.

Possible pitfalls:

  • Make sure your phone is not locked by your mobile operator. That happened to me and I had to buy the cheapest apparatus (220 – 250 Dirhams is still economically plausible) to get me going. It makes sense to speak back home to your own company in order to avoid unpleasant surprises.
  • On two occasions when there was some problem causing delay, the guy at the kiosk served the next customers. That is a bit different to what you are used to if you are coming from European country, let’s say. My advice is to insist that you are in a hurry (if you have waited for more than several minutes) and that he should speed up the process.

Enjoy your stay at Morocco and B’slema!
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Sunday, 8 January 2017

HuangShan peaks - one of the most surreal places you have visited

Ganshou Huang shan, tian xia wushan. That year this advertisement was often heard on the CCTV channel. Which more or less translates once you experience Huangshan there is no (other) mountain below the heavens. 

I squeezed my time but it was hell of a hectic rush. Don’t do as I did on that sunny day. If my memory serves me well you have to take one bus to the city TangKou and then transfer to a second which will bring you exactly to the needed starting point. Early morning my intend was to start the hike from the foot (not taking the cable car) and then going clockwise to my final destination – western steps on the other side of the mountain. You will have to decide which direction you will go for. My plan was to go from the more popular to the less trodden road.

I would advise you to buy a map (check out these useful materials - or use your smartphone because the path has a lot of twists, you may lose the direction if not so experienced. The small terraces and scenic spots tend to be overcrowded and you will have difficult time to find some privacy. Despite that fact, wait till the chosen small area is empty and enjoy the nature’s splendour in silence. Sometimes the path crosses stone bridges and narrow staircases so you will have to be in good shape. At one place you have to literally pass through the rock – the Bridge of Immortals.

Huangdi – the famous Yellow Emperor is said to dwell in this place in ancient times, according to the legend. He is the mythical ancient emperor to whom the Chinese attribute most of their civilization – medicine, writings, Daoism and he was known to have found the elixir of the eternal life.

Close to the famous Flying-Over Stone scenic spot where all people gathered to take snaps of the
majestic, foggy carpet of cotton I the dusk started to conquer the land. Well, I did not have camera, back then. Don’t judge me – everything is embedded in my mind. So it was time to find a place to sleep, lucky as usual I saw a small stone bench - Paiyun Pavilion and a tent in front. After a brief word exchange with a young fellow, working in the hotel nearby, I was invited to take the bench. Ask a person who is travelling more “hippy” style but even lying on your shoulder has its own charms.

By the way there is an option to sleep in the tents outside in some of the hotels if the time of the year allows it.

Thanks to the negligible chill in the morning, I was up early enough to conquer more land and carry out the mighty plan set on the previous day. I stole a few moments to enjoy the gorgeous scenery which attracted people with professional cameras early in the morning and I believe even during harsh winter time.

The descent from the peaks is not so popular route and was definitely worth taking. Even a few Ni haos along the way won’t spoil the feeling of something reserved entirely for your own self. I had the chance to enjoy the fresh, cascading water along the way, as well.

There are multiple scenic spot notorious for catching the perfect angle of this surreal mountain – Lotus Peak, Refreshing Terrace, Bright Top, and Flying-Over Stone. Throughout all the seasons people are drawn to this place, looking for inspiration. Always book in advance because the HuangShan mountain is attracting many visitors both from China and abroad.

What to bring:
  • Food and plenty of water
  • Warm clothes
  • High walking shoes (trekking) 
  • Jacket or hoodie in case of rain
  •  Patience

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Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Huangyaguan Pass Great Wall of China, near Tianjin - less crowds and less flashes.

Great Wall is seen from the Moon, at least that is what the Urban Legends say. Although, the majority of the foreign tourists go to Beijing to catch a few snaps of the relatively new version of The Great Wall, I wasn’t born to follow. That is why I embarked on a trip to the not so well known Huangyaguan Pass, seen near Tianjin. Yes, you can see great walls everywhere around China (sorry to break your image) – they come in various shapes and forms. Having said that, bear in mind that from what I’ve heard in China there are only few sites left that are actual remnants of the original constructions.

On this day, I was accompanied by a friend of mine and two local ladies. We got the bus from the Tianjin railway station and full of excitement chatted about useless stuff. The small traffic congestion (1 hour) passed almost unnoticed - after all I had been living in China for a while so patience was among my virtues.

From the base of the site you will take opened taxis that go straight to the top. Thus you can start from the distant gate and slowly climb down. My eyes were desperate for greenery and wilderness, all that smog and grayness took their share. Still in elated spirit we arrived at our starting point and looked down. Impressive and enticing! 

The route is descending from the top section. While on our way down, after having a quick snack we observed the wave-like terraces on both sides. The village down below seemed distant and foggy. Behind our backs the high rocky mountains were glaring at us in contempt.

When you approach the small village keep your eyes open for the BaGua labyrinth. In accordance with the traditions there is a temple (no surprise) and the typical incense aromas floating in the air.

Just outside the exit there are small stands offering local products – fruits and nuts. Remember, don’t bring your naive foreigner expression. Be like locals – cut the price when buying 2 packs.

We jumped on the bus and dozed off.

Although, I haven’t been to the Beijing section of the Great Wall, from what I’ve heard it is likely to be overcrowded. So, if you prefer more secluded and intimate places where you can enjoy the breathtaking view without constant flashes give it a try!

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Friday, 26 February 2016

Malta's Cart Ruts - an enigma yet to be solved

What a coincidence it was to have peeked into an article about Turkey's ancient and mysterious Cart Ruts, before heading out to Malta. Somewhere, deep in my mind (subconscious) that peculiar detail have sticked and waited for its time patiently.

Panoramic view of Dingli Cliff

There I was in the Malta's National Museum of Archaeology in Valetta (5 Euro - ticket). Totally
recommended for history geeks and people that can't be diverted from the Malta's hidden gems by swimming and bourgeois touristy stuff. I am joking, don't skip them, just keep your eyes open –Malta's surprises wait around the corner!
Cart Ruts information in National Museum Archaeology Malta

To my amazement, one small corridor in the museum offered a vivid reconstruction of an actual Cart Rut with a short video guide. Well, it turns out the small island is traversed in and out by these strange lines. They run parallel and are of a specific diameter and depth, often forming railway like net. That information got me hooked and slowly I came to connect the dots. These are the .... famous Cart Ruts (my memory clicked – Turkey, I could have overlooked this aspect of Malta).

Wow, no matter whether you are into Ancient Aliens or are a die-hard sceptic that will cause you shaking head. "Wait, why this diameter, and depth and so much like train line tracks?"

It is not by chance, one region (close to Dingli Cliffs) is called Clapham Junction (former Misrah Ghar il-Kbir). People, who have visited the hectic London, will know what I mean. Just like the traffic intersections of the modern metropolis. There are few clues to where to find directions to the actual Cart Rut sites, the once I saw can be attributed to providence.

Another striking coincidence, my hostel happened to be close to one small, unpretencious site on Tal-Mensija street (San Gwann Junction Cart Ruts). It is a small plot of land, protected by a fence. It is a shame this is not a popular touristic spot.

San Gwann Junction Cart Ruts close view

San Gwann Junction Cart Ruts several parallel lines

If you are planning to go to the Ta Hagrat and Skorba temples I strongly encourage you to make the effort and walk the distance between them. Not to keep your body muscles in shape, but so that you don't miss a small area, guarded by bins section, rich in the same mysterious lines.

One pleasant and envigorating walk can be made from Valetta to the Sliemma Bay. Do pay attention to the rocky beach, especially when you discover the same strange Cart Ruts, we were discussing. From the street they look so precise, almost machine like. According to the scarce information (and some things I read on social media) here the Ruts are said to go into the water. Amazing, isn't it.

The major ancient ruins for the avarage tempted traveller are definately hotspot. However, should you decide to move away and see something away from the crowds, don't miss the Cart Ruts. They spark imagination and you will end up asking yourself what may lay hidden on the Earth and this very intrigueing, plot of land - irrigation, transportation, too many questions – few answers.

Should you happen to be willing to dig deeper into the matter – a good starting point.

Cart Ruts between Ta Hagat and Skorba temples

Between Ta Hagat and Skorba temples - rails like lines

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Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Pictish symbols in Dyce, Aberdeenshire. 

After a thorough investigation on the net about that location, I was finally about to go for it on one nice Saturday. The fact that it was on the route to the airport, made it quite easy to get to with the public transport.

You can ride the bus N80 from Central Station. When you reach the final stop head towards the Church and ask around for directions. The person at the Church, cutting the lawn, was polite enough to guide us to the beginning of the path. The famous Scottish hospitality, even with its help, we managed to stray away and lost 1 hour.

I got a bit confused and actually took the wrong path which brought me to a nice river curve. The local fisherman enthusiasts guided me to the right direction. Off I am again. How tantalising the small grove looked! 

Most of the time you will be walking on the car road just when you see the sign you turn right. 

The marvellous view of the river meanders invigorates your spirit, especially during the summer. There is something about that black and explosive water in the whole Grampian region. 

Once you get there you can be struck by the fact nobody has placed any restrictions on the site. All the stones and stellas are just lying around for you to make your facebook photos. No fence, no nothing, maybe just the spells protect that pictish sanctuary. In proximity to the ruined St Fergus' Chapel, there are many tombstones and every rock captures your imagination. 

Picts, oh the picts, these guys had it all. Magic, ancient wisdom, lost rituals. Strange symbols and animals, mythological creatures and spiral symbols have embodied the sacred ideas on the ancients. Yet one is not able to comprehend what urges them to put so many petroglyphs on stone. Maybe they are trying to convince us that there is something hidden in our everyday reality? 

In case you came with a car you can spend some time to look for the stone circles, located somewhere in the region. Due to the time constraint, we were not able to hunt for them, maybe the next time.

Back to my reality. Modest Scotchman keeping these hot spots not so popular. Maybe the mass public should deserve to set their eyes on such fine examples of ancient cultures. Well, I felt obliged.
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Thursday, 14 May 2015

Chinese food – multitude of aromas, flavours and colors  

Chinese food. Where to begin? I remember on one occasion I was invited for a breakfast in mainland at one cafeteria, which offered variety of snacks, rich in taste and color. I got so filled up that I was forced to sit for a while for half an hour in order to come back to normal. 

The predominant myth about the Chinese restaurants

The first thing that should be debunked is the myth that the Chinese restaurants outside mainland offer traditional Chinese cuisine. I have traveled and tried Chinese restaurants in various countries but they all look the same. Some claim they adapted the taste to the western standards. Believe me, the dishes, noodles and even sweets bear no comparison with their western counterparts. You have heard the jokes that Chinese eat only the garnish but, hey, what I saw over there prompted just the opposite. These guys eat a lot, in the morning people are crowding to get the street snacks and doufu (original soy milk), during the noon you will have to fight your way to get a small portion of fried vegetables or pork. 

Chinese cuisine 

As you may have guessed, the Chinese cuisine varies from North to South and East to West. The southern Sicuan is characterized with a lot of spice and is hot. Hot pots from the region at the centre of the table are ushering the puzzled tourist to dip his own meal. In the Tianjin and Beijing a common breakfast is comprises of doufu and fried dough sticks. I have mentioned elsewhere that one peculiar tradition in Chinese restaurants is the customers to order more food than they could eat. Some claim this is to compensate for the dark period of famine in the reign of Mao Tze Dong. 

What about cockroaches? 

I know at the back of your Western mind a questions keeps popping up – do they eat some weird stuff as cockroaches and scorpions. I do not dare to say so. Needless to say, at Wang Fu Jing you can see those type of snacks but it is more of a cunning marketing strategy to attract more customers (my opinion). I , honestly, don’t think the Chinese put insects in their morning muesli. Having said that, there are some really wicked meals I discovered during my stay in that fascinating country. One of them is a clear soup with cucumber in it and another was a sort of marinated (I assume) egg which got a black color instead of white. Cool, isn’t it?

Photo credit: 
1. Beijing Roast Duck Restaurant - taken from Charles Haybes, flickr  
2. Xian street food - taken from David Gordillo, flickr  

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