Fifty Shades of Blue in Chefchaouen

Finally I get to publish some pictures from the beautiful blue medina of Chefchaouen in Northern Morocco. It’s a place I’ve been hoping to see for several years now, and now that we headed for Morocco, it was on our must-see list. When arriving to Morocco, we started to doubt if we had time for a visit to this remote mountain town after all. Luckily all the fuzzing and buzzing of the locals and our travel companions made us arrange some time! I’m so happy we did it!

The different shades of blue and lilac are covering the buildings in this old medina embraced by the Rif Mountains. even the name of the town means looking at the mountains. The city was founded in 1471, and a small fortress from that time still remains in the heart of the medina.  Until the 1930’s it was forbidden for christians to enter this town, under the pain of death.

We spent our New Year’s in Chefchaouen. Muslim New Year is celebrated this year later in January, and the town in the evening was now quiet and deserted. Only the tourists filled in the restaurants to celebrate a little. We were lucky to find a athmospheric quality restaurant Aladdin La Lampe Magique that was still very reasonably priced. The ambiance was cosy and oriental, with some real fireplaces warming up the chilly evening of Chaouen. Especially happy we were with their starter salads, they were both different, but propably one of the tastiest of our lives!

I wish that one day, I find myself walking these narrow, heavenly soloured alleys again. Until then, let the pictures speak for themselves!

Weekend’s gourmet experiences – Sandro Eira and Bergga Sunday Roast Brunch

So, last saturday I turned thirty. Feels a little old, knowing I’m not, but at the same time, I can’t believe I’d be a day over 20! Well to be or not to be…  I’m so happy and life is just great! ❤

For my birthday, I organized a little party for my friends on friday. It was a success. My boyfriend made a delicious New York Rasberry Cheesecake and in addition, there were some cocktailfood: Caprese-cocktail salads (mozzarella, cherry tomato and basil), toasted avokado-spinach-mozzarella mini sandwiches, crunchy rye bread buttons filled with cold-smoked salmon paste, grape poppers with white chocolate and nut crunch (this didn’t really work out cause the chocolate solified too much, ooops…) olives, cheese and grapes, and of course several types of snacks and dips.  For welcome drinks we offered some Bellinis.

Evening was great, time flew by and for an afterparty we headed to a cosy bar playing ’black rythm music’ in Southern Helsinki, called Tres Bones. It’s nice to check out some new places like this from time to time.

Sandro Eira – oriental street gourmet

On saturday, my real birthday, we headed to one of the most intresting newish restaurants in town: the awesome Sandro in Kallio district with Middle-Easter-Moroccoan food has now a little brother in Southern Helsinki: Sandro Eira! The readers of local Street Newspaper, City readers chose Sandro Eira the best restaurant of the year as well as Sandro Brunch has been chosen the best in town several times. It’s not too fancy, no way too expensive and the food and cocktails are delicious and intresting. I really really do want to recommend this place!

I chose from the Beirut street kitchen the saffron cream mussels along with some amazing tabbouleh and hummus accompanied with some Riesling…The mussels were a little too salty, but not too much after all, the dish was heavenly! Lauri ordered the pulled lamb batbout burger accompanied with a Moroccoan wine and was satisfied with his dish aswell.

For the dessert I took some chocolate cake with caramelised carrots and pistachio ice cream and Lauri had grilled fruits with youghurt cream and fennel toulie both accompanied with some Royal Rabat mint tea. Awesome! We also tried some of the nice and original cocktails they had on their list.

Bergga Sunday Roast Brunch

The culinary weekend ended with  a Bergga Sunday Roast Brunch (19€). Bergga bar/coffee house is situated in a good spot just opposite to Karhupuisto in Kallio district.

The brunch was still in conclusion pretty simple and ordinary, except that the muesly (with some cinnamon?), bagels and variety of desert cakes were homemade (and delicious). The main course was ok, it was a plate of lamb, pork and cattle roast beef with carrots, onion, parsnip, sweet potato, Brussels sprout with rosépepper sauce that came from the kitchen straight to your table. There was also a veggie option – Tempeh with ginger and carrots.in a way I wouldn’t need that huge and meaty main course, it’s a brunch, not lunch after all.

For the dessert you could choose one of the awesome-looking and surely heavenly-tasting, huge cake pieces from the vitrine, except that we, being already too full, asked to choose it for one of Bergga’s amazing smoothies. The fruits were nice and fresh. To mention some bad sides, juice was made from concentrate and the coffee was just ordinary coffee even though they have some really nice ’special coffees’ in this coffee house.

So, all in all, not bad at all, but unfortunately, the Bergga Sunday Brunch wasn’t SO special compared to the tens of other brunches in town that it would stand out from them. To reach something more worth mentioning, the variety could have been a little broader or the special coffee and better juice included in the price.

Well anyways, Bergga is still one of my favourite coffee houses in town, and you can spend hours just reading some travel/ lifestyle magazines and drinking and eating their mainly ’homemade’ treats. Been there, done that. ❤

Sands of time

“Night poured over the desert. It came suddenly, in purple. In the clear air, the stars drilled down out of the sky, reminding any thoughtful watcher that it is in the deserts and high places that religions are generated. When men see nothing but bottomless infinity over their heads they have always had a driving and desperate urge to find someone to put in the way.”
Terry Pratchett, Jingo

It was clear from the start when we started planning our latest trip to Morocco, that one of the things we can not miss because of the lack of time would be the trip  to the desert. We stayed in Morocco only for a week, which is way too short a time for that country, since it is full of places and things to see, but once we had already bought the airplane tickets, that was the reality we had to face with. We even started to plan skiping Chefchaouen, if the time ran out, but desert trip was a must-do. Luckily, in the end, we got to see them both. Even a longer trip to desert would have been more ideal, but that has to wait until next time.

The Road to Merzouga

So, we headed to the Saharan dunes of Erg Chebbi near Merzouga on our third day of travel. Our trip started 7am from the imperial city of Fez, which was the basecamp on our trip. With all the short pitstops on the way the drive took us 9-10 hours! The route (Fez – Ifrane – Midelt – Ziz Gorges – Erfoud – Rissani – Merzouga) took us through the mostly unfertile but beatiful landscapes of the Middle Atlas. The weather in December wasn’t the most welcoming one, especially the breakfast break in Ifrane was quite a chilly experience.

Aside the Erg Chebbi dunes in Merzouga, there is one other dune area in Morocco, Erg Chigaga near M’hamid. Yet these dune areas are nothing compared to the vaste oceans of sand in Algheria or Libya, they were an amazing experience for a lakeside/ seaside dweller like me. Erg Chebbi dune area is about 5-10 km long east-west and 40 kms long north-south.

’Where the Religions are Generated’

Unfortunately we run a little late from the original schedule to see the sunset from the back of a camel. We left our backbags to the auberge/hotel in Merzouga and then hit the road to the desert and our berber camp in a pure starlight. The starry sky was amazing though. For me the dark two-hour-ride on a camelback after a 10-hour car drive was a little unconfortable, since I suffer from a slight travel sickness. Nevertheless the beauty of the sky and spotting the familiar star constellations offered some confort on the bumpy ride to the camp.

There were five tourists in our camp, me, Lauri, our travel companion from India and two other guys from Milan, who joined us on our ride on the dunes.

At the camp we were offered some mint tea, a nice dinner (chicken tajine with vegetables and berber soup) and some drum music by the arcane wood fire in the middle of the camp. Most of the time we layed on the carpets staring at the Milkyway curving above us. It was a pure spiritual experience.

The night in the camp was really cold, around zero degrees celcius I guess, but in the nomad tent we had warm wool blankets and only my nose was feeling cold that night after all. It was amazing to think that this was how the four tribes of Sahara had lived like for centuries and centuries. And how pride they were of their culture and even in the modernizating world many of them still chose to live the way their ancestors did. Our guide Mhammed told that the camp life was the only way he wanted to live. He could not imagine living in a city like Casablanca, but on the desert, under the stars, staring at the fire.

Sunrise From the Dunes

In the morning we woke up early in the morning before the sunrise happy and relaxed despite the odd sleeping conditions in order to go catch the first rays of light on the dunes. The highest dunes rise as high as 150 meters. We were told that the dunes don’t really move, only the tops of the dunes might move a little along the wind. These sands of time have been there for milleniums. The scenery from the dunes was amazingly serene and magical: The dunes were changing colours from light pink to different shades of yellow and orange along with the lighting changing from the first dawn to the full day light.

After returning back to camp from the dunes we headed back to Merzouga, camel riding again. This time, the ride wasn’t nearly as unconfortable as it was on the way there. Was it because of the day light or because the 10-hour car ride was only ahead of us this time… I don’t know. Nevertheless, it was all worth it.

Holidays are over -post

Tomorrow it is time to return back to work again. Everytime, every year, after every holiday it feel as – if not terrible, but unwelcome… And I, after all enjoy my work, even though how stressfull and frustrating it may sometimes feel like. Holidays are the best time of our lives, right?

In Finland, we get to enjoy exceptionally long vacations and quite often, too. And as a teacher, I get to enjoy even more holidays than an average Finn. The only bad side is, that we teachers don’t get to travel with offers, because we are only able to travel when it’s highseason. Thanks to some lovely taxreturns, me and my Mr. still had a change to travel this holiday too.

For the Christmas, we both went to see our relatives. Because of the limited time and long distance, we went separately. In Finland we truly celebrate Christmas, on the Christmas Eve. Atleast in our families, Christmas Day always comes second. So after some serious gulping and gobbling, it was already time to head back home for our travel preparations. The next seven days and nights we spent on a trip to Morocco, my long time dream destination. I will post about it soon, when I’ve had time to go through my pictures.  There are many of them…

There was some cat play to watch this holiday. My little furry cat Velho met my little sister’s kitten during the holidays, and after a hostile beginning, they seemingly got used to each other. My cat obviously realized, he’s old already, and didn’t enjoy the games the kitten tried to tempt him to. Now that our parents cat Rasmus is passed away, Velho prefers to play tag, lurk or hide and seek only with us humans. The kitten has to wait… Poor fellow.

The curious look
The curious look

Today, for the ending of this holiday, I went to see a musical with a choir friend: Houdini in Aleksanterinteatteri. Sad to say, but we weren’t too excited about the result as some of the audience seemed to be. There were some good things though, like the band, lights design and the acrobat girl playing Houdini’s wife Beth as a young woman.

My soon-to-come birthdays next weekend are actually stressing and depressing me a little. Thirty is quite a lot already and I’m getting more and more aware of the things that I’m not ready for, whatever my age says. Well, it’s alright, life is good as it is!

So , the good vibes are definately beating the depressed ones! There is a saying (I’ve heard it in french, but obviously it’s universal) that I heard on the trip: ”Smile to the life and the life will smile at you”. What could be a better guideline for life! Here’s my list of the stuff that make me feel greatat the moment!

1. The sun energy and the change of scenery we got from the Morocco trip! It’s giving some strength for the new term. No doubt I’m still eagerly waiting for my next holiday, which is in 7 weeks ;).

2. The last 2 sunny and beautiful frozen days in Finland

3. The new furniture and the travel souvenirs we bought for our home.

4. My piano is getting tuned this week and I finally get to restart serious practising of piano playing after a ten year pause. I play piano at work, accompaning mostly, so that doesn’t count.

5. We are turning towards the spring, light and summer!

6. You can still keep on the Christmas lights for sometime without feeling odd.

7. Waiting for the old and the new hobbies to start!

8. After all I’m inspired of my work!

9. On friday I will celebrate my next waypoint with my dear friends, even though there is lots to do before that, I enjoy planing a party, I am surely my dear old Granny’s grand daughter! 😉

10. My real birthday I’m celebrating with my dear Lauri along with delicious food.

Happy back-to-ordinary, everybody!