I first visited Dublin, the capital city of Ireland, when I was just 21 years old and even though I was with the most miserable company imaginable I had the best time.
I didn’t understand it. I went with the same miserable boyfriend to Spain on a holiday and refused to go back for eight years!
But Dublin was different.
I still remember one of the drivers of the big, red City Sightseeing buses singing Molly Malone on the way round and having a laugh at the expense of some tourists who didn’t speak English. I remember the statues dotted around the most beautiful park I’d ever seen, St. Stephen’s Green and the singers busking on Grafton Street. I walked so much for three days trying to take in everything and yet not realising at the time that there was so much more to Dublin than the small part I’d seen.
Since my first trip over 10 years ago now I’ve been back what seems like a million times. It didn’t help that it was quicker and cheaper for me to travel to Dublin than to Liverpool or Manchester, especially when the £ was stronger so I’d go on day trips shopping, take my son to the zoo there, and stay overnight with friends.
The more I have visited the place for differing reasons the more I have realised that, for me, there is something very special about this city. Put simply, I am head over heels in love with it. I love the music, culture, and passion that is evident all over the city. Being there makes me smile, even after seeing a loss at Croke Park in the League final and getting soaked walking back into town I was stood at the bus stop yearning to come back before I’d even left.
There is much to do that can immerse you into the history, the passion, and the culture of this vibrant place and even after the millions of times I’ve been there I’ve still not done it all. Dublin is a city that needs not just to be seen but to be experienced.
Edit: I’m in the middle of drafting some blogs about different aspects of Dublin as a city. If there’s anything you feel you’d like to know about, or hear more about, please comment and I’ll include them in later posts.
Morocco: a country that lies on the Northern coast of Africa, just nine miles from the Gibraltar Strait. Renowned for its bustling medinas, fantastic scenery, and amazing food there is something there to delight all types of traveler.
Marrakech is a mere three and a half hour flight from the UK and is surprisingly cheap to fly to. I bagged return flights from Liverpool with Ryanair for just £146; excellent value considering I was flying during the Whitsun school holidays and at the start of Ramadan.
A word of the warning before I continue though: Marrakech can get seriously hot and humid and will easily reach the 40’s even in May. I spent one night there and struggled to sleep. I would recommend if you wanted to visit somewhere inland that you book something during the winter months.
I stayed in Essaouira which is a coastal town famous for both its water sports and, more recently, being the setting for Daenerys and her dragons in Game of Thrones. That being said this place also has plenty more to offer than just waves and dragons.
The walled part of the town, which is also home to the Medina, is definitely worth a visit. It is listed as UNESCO World Heritage site owing to its 18th century European architecture and is a jewel of Essaouira. If you’re interested in reading up on the history, more information can be found on UNESCO’s site here.
Game of Thrones was filmed in part of the Medina although unfortunately this was closed off whilst we were there for building work. I am informed that there are tours that will take you round when it is open to the public though I can’t recommend any here, unfortunately.
The Medina is also home to the local market where you can indeed grab a bargain or six! Bartering skills will come in useful as most places won’t expect you to take the first price they offer. This is where I bought my Tagine and my spices, things of beauty that are now a staple with a lot of my cooking, like my Chicken and Sweet Potato Curry or Moroccan Meatballs.
There are also many bars, cafes and restaurants all serving excellent quality, local food at really good prices. **TOP TIP** the more you venture off the main street, the less you’ll pay for food and drinks and the better the quality of food and service. I prefer to go down the little side streets in search of a bargain as it feels like an adventure and who doesn’t love a bit of adventure!?
Down the little side streets you’ll find plenty of Moroccan Spas, also known as Hammams. I had the pleasure of a head and shoulders massage at Azur, situated within the walls and off the main roads. As spas go this one was up there with the best and it comes very much recommended. A big plus of this one was their roof terrace where they take you to wait for treatments. Take their offer of the mint tea too – you won’t be disappointed!
While in Essaouira I stayed in the Riad Zahra. It’s located just back from the beach and about a 20 minute walk from the Medina. I stayed for six nights and would recommend this Riad to anyone staying in Essaouira. During my time there I was made to feel very welcome and all staff were so helpful with many different queries that I had. From posting a letter for me, to cooking a meat tagine when fish was on the menu. What’s more the staff were good with all of their guests and it’s why I would also recommend this Riad to all guest types; couples, older guests, and families including those with younger children.
With regards to it’s amenities the Riad Zahra had a good wifi signal around the hotel and their restaurant served a range of meals throughout the day and evening. The pool wasn’t heated and so was a little cold but I did visit as it was coming into the warmer season and so I’d imagine a pool heater isn’t really necessary in summer. The rooms don’t have air conditioning but given that Essaouira is on the coast and cooler, it is not needed. I found I had six very restful nights’ sleep even with the window shut. The room is cleaned each morning and leave fresh towels and you are given mini soaps and body wash on arrival.
As I work in travel I have a pretty long list of places I’d like to visit and Morocco was never really up there with some of the more popular locations around the world. I suppose with having a closed currency it fell off my radar. My visit to Essaouira was my first time venturing out of Europe and I’m finding it hard to figure out why there are not more people exploring this gem of a place. It’s definitely got me wanting to go back and explore other regions in Morocco.
I was never taught to cook growing up and so the internet was my friend when I found myself at University and wanting to try my hand at foods I’d never made before. Looking back now it’s almost hard to believe I arrived there with one sharp knife, a pan, a chopping board, and a tin opener! You can just imagine the amazing meals I was cooking up using just those! My boyfriend at the time took great pleasure in laughing at me because I’d never even diced a chicken breast before. Breaking up with him gave me the motivation to move from my comfort zone and try cooking proper meals. In a like “I’ll show him” kinda way because he was pretty mean about it!
Now don’t get me wrong this isn’t a dig at my family life growing up. I was one of four to a single mother and she simply didn’t have time to show us stuff like cooking when we were younger. Usually because if there was one of us with her, that meant all four of us were and it’s not ideal in a kitchen! Also, secretly, I’m not sure her cooking skills were practised. Though to this day I’ve never had a nicer roast dinner from anyone but my mum! Just I don’t think she was able to experiment with flavours and that. One of my brothers was really fussy with what he ate and, again, she just had no time.
Food Technology lessons in school weren’t brilliant. In fact they were pretty useless. We were taught how to make specific things. A rice salad. Pizza with a pre-cooked base. I think quiche was our most adventurous bake but then we were taught nothing about seasoning and spices. About nutrition or healthy eating. The teacher was more concerned with the washing up at the end of the lesson.
So, back to Uni life. I started off by buying some better equipment. A knife block (multiple sharp knives!), a pan set, a slow cooker, Pyrex dishes. Then the basic food store stuffs. Oils, spices, condiments. And then I had a go. I was using the BBC Good Food website (and still do to this day) and found a great recipe for roast potatoes. By great I mean that it worked and I still stick to the same recipe I found all them years ago today! I’ll write up my version and link to it here.
Now my roasties (Scouse slang for roast potatoes!) were something else. They even had their own rep in our halls of residence. I had to make them for every Christmas dinner we had and they won in a face off between mine and a friend’s roasties who insisted his were better. Since uni I’ve had so many compliments about them. Even my Nanna going back for more when usually she’s full after the smallest meal. She still gushes over my roast dinner to this day! The recipe has been added here.
I learned how to use the Good Food website properly. I’d search recipes using specific ingredients. From stuff I had never tried before such as couscous and polenta to every day staples like minced beef. I’d print them off and take them home and try them out on myself. Then, if I liked it, I would carefully write it up in my notebook. I still have that notebook kept amongst all my recipe books and still go back to some recipes in there. It even has the recipe for a basic Victoria sponge cake and homemade lemonade!
One of my favourite recipes that I found on Good Food and still use to this day is one for Moroccan Meatballs. Though it’s taken on several forms since I first followed the recipe, the one I’ve developed from it has been a hit whenever I’ve used it on anybody! If you’re interested, find the recipe for it here. It was the first recipe that taught me about the importance of using spices in cooking, something most people take for granted but a concept I’d never considered.
With my cooking I don’t stick to, or specialise in, just one cuisine. I love to experiment with different flavours and combinations to create meals that are healthy(ish), tasty, and away from the same old. Being a single mum means that I can quite easily get into the same routine of the same meals; especially since children can be your biggest critic! I like to travel and have visited a fair few places around Europe and it’s become quite the obsession to pick up books and spices wherever I go. A spice stall in Morocco has been a personal favourite of mine and I’m not sure what I’ll do when I run out of my spice mix for lamb tagines!
The picture above was taken in the Old Town in Rhodes Town and was a gold mine of different spice mixes for different dishes. I love my gyros mix though it is running pretty low now. But since I love travelling is it not just another excuse to go visit another of the Dodecanese islands…?