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Friday, 9 September 2016

I bet you've never thought of going to Africa for the weekend? But what if I told you could enjoy a city break in Marrakech in two short days and it is less than 4 hours from Dublin? I have been captivated by Marrakech for a long time and had it on my must-visit list. A cheap (ish) Ryanair flight and a super cool Riad for accommodation meant that this pipedream could very easy become reality. It also served as a rather unconventional hen weekend for my best friend. So here are ten things to do in 2 days in Marrakech!

1. Shop til you Drop
Marrakech is famous for it's Souks, where you can buy just about anything from spices to shoes, lanterns, jewelry, mirrors and teapots. You simply can't go to Marrakech without at least dabbling in the art of haggling in the bustling markets.
 You have to be firm, because the sellers will chance their arm to over charge you for items, but you will soon get into the swing of things and pick up some pretty special souvenirs. Sadly, if you're like me and only bring hand luggage, you may have to leave most of your desired items behind.



2. Eat some street food at Djemma El Fna

Undoubtedly the biggest culture shock of the trip was this chaotic square. At every turn, musicians, dancers and large groups of local people make this the loudest and most boisterous place I have ever been in my life. Try avoid the local women who will attempt to grab you and brand you with some pretty bad henna! But once you make it through the crowds, you can graze on some fantastic street food. My friend and I had a vegetarian feast washed down with some sweet peppermint tea. 


3. Enjoy a coffee with a view

Marrakech is full of cafes and restaurants with stunning rooftop terraces. You can choose to eat a tasty tagine, sip on mint tea or coffee or even smoke a shisha pipe, all the while taking in the incredible views of the city. 


4. Jardin de Majorelle

The gardens at Majorelle are easily one of the brightest and most popular attractions in Marrakech. It is a quiet and tranquil place, by comparison to the rest of the city. It doesn't take long to wander around, but the vivid blues and mustard colours are a sight to behold. A tribute to Yves St Laurent lies in the garden, marking the spot where his ashes were scattered. Other interesting featres include a sophisticated cafe, a rather expensive gift shop and a gallery of Yves Saint Laurent "Love" collection. 




5. Learn about the history in pictures

Marrakech Mueseum of Photography provides a very interesting insight to the history of Morroco through it's collection of monochrome photographs. After browsing the old photographs and learning more about the Berber people, you can enjoy a coffee on the trendy rooftop terrace and look out over the city once more.


6. Explore Ben Youssef Madrassa
Ben Youssef Madrassa is an old Islamic college connected to the nearby Ben Youssef Mosque. Home to some of the most beautiful Islamic architecture and mosaics, you can wander around the students quarters and quite literally get lost. The Madrassa, obviously no longer functions as a school, but is open for the public to enjoy.



7. Take a day trip to the Atlas Mountains
This may be a stretch, as it will take up most of a day, but if you want something really different, you can easily take a trip to Ouzoud Waterfalls, approximately 3 hours drive from Marrakech. Pass through a traditional Berber village on the way and you can stop for some mint tea or even buy some locally produced Argan Oil on the way. 

Ouzoud Falls in the Atlas mountains can provide a welcome change of scenery with it's beautiful views of the mountains nearby. A short walk downhill through olive trees brings you to the foot of the waterfall, where you can take a boat ride right under the waterfall to cool down. Afterwards you can enjoy lunch with a view and a dessert of juicy oranges.


8. Experience a Hamam
This is certainly one of the stranger experiences, but a must. Hamams can range greatly in price so we chose one of the more budget friendly at around €25. In some cities you will find people trying to coax you into night clubs, but in Marrakech it is luxury spas. We opted for a traditional Hamam with a mud body mask and scrub. The experience was..... interesting, but I'm not going to give too much away, you'll have to try it out for yourself!

9. Get Fruity
Ever health conscious, my friend and I were very excited to find a smoothie bar just of the Medina. So Fruity has a vast menu of fruit juices, smoothies and crepes and we actually went back twice for our fruity fix. I tried a smoothie with avocado as a base, which was very interesting and made me feel a little bit better after all of the tagines!

10. Stay in an Amazing Riad
If you want to get a real authentic experience then stay in the heart of the city in a traditional Riad. I have to say that the highlight of our trip was our amazing accommodation. We stayed in Riad Chafia right in the Medina area. Not only was the location perfect for us, the little Riad gave us a real experience of Morocco, from its gorgeous furnishings to traditional breakfast and plenty of spaces to chill out. The owners could not have been more helpful, advising us on everything from shopping to eating and things to look out for. There were only 5 rooms, which allowed us to chat to other guests and relax at the end of a long day. I also have to mention that the rooms are absolutely gorgeous!



For more info see http://riadchafia-marrakech.com/

So there you have it. 10 Fab things you can do in 2 days in Marrakech. So you can't make the excuse that you don't have time to visit! 


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Monday, 29 August 2016

After our bad experience in Paris I was feeling a little bit of French-fatigue. Never-the-less, one last attempt couldn’t do any harm. So, we flew to La Rochelle with a cheap and cheerful flight and landed in their little tin-can like airport and snapped up a rental car. The 2 hour drive south to Bordeaux was pleasant and comfortable (that said I wasn’t driving). If I could get the bad stuff out of the way, we were met by a very unstable weather forecast, quickly moving from rain to blistering heat. I was drenched with rain and managed to get sunburnt in the same weekend. That complaint was the only one I had. Bordeaux, completely redeemed France for me in just 2 short days.

Bordeaux

We arrived in the city to be met with bright floral baskets and vibrant architecture. Expensive cruise ships adorned the port along a plethora of restaurants serving seafood al fresco. We only had one day to explore the city, so we rambled along taking in the sights of gothic churches and expensive designer shops. It was cold and raining so we had had to stop a number of times to take shelter in the pub (Of course). However the city was quite compact and we managed to cover a lot of ground in one day.

We walked out to Place de la Bourse which was one of the coolest sights in Bordeaux. Built in the 1700’s it’s symmetry lends perfectly to the effect of the Miroir d’eau (or water Mirror) that was placed in front of it in 2006. I was really intrigued by this, the World’s largest reflecting pool,  as the 2cm of water drains every 15 minutes in Summer allowing you to wander in and see your own reflection.
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We wandered around taking in the other main sights including the Column of the Girondins, and a stroll down the shopping street of Rue Sainte-Catherine.
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We began to wind up our day by stopping for a bite to eat in one of the many restaurants facing the port and of course had the mandatory icecream. I went for the lavender ice cream which was sweet smelling and above all, so pretty!

We returned to the Place de la Bourse at night, to see the spectacular reflection of light in the water. I was completely fascinated by the engineering of the water mirror and the beauty of the buildings and felt it was a perfect example of how to blend two elements built 300 years apart.

Arcachon

On Sunday we woke early, ready for a completely jam-packed day. It helped that the sun was splitting the stones so a little summer dress and sandals were the order of the day. Just the day before I had been covered up in jeans and a coat, so sunshine was a novelty. We set out to visit the seaside town of Arcachon an hours’ drive from Bordeaux. As we arrived into the city, we were immediately met with that French seaside feel as we wandered in along Sunday markets down towards the beach. It was reasonably quiet and we took a leisurely stroll out towards the beach.

 In the distance you could just about make out what we had come here for, the small outline of Europe’s biggest sand dune.

Dune du Pyla (or the dune of Pilat) measures 2.7km in length and sits 110 meters in height above sea level. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions at la Teste de Buche beach. Visitors can climb to the top of the sand dune to witness the incredible views from the top. There are two ways of climbing, one being the conveniently placed steps right up the centre of the dune, or, if you are really brave, you can climb up the side of the dune in the sand. I decided that using the steps was cheating, and so made the decision to battle up through the sand. This is a lot easier said, than done, since each step forward results in a gentle slide back down the sand. I would liken the experience to walking up a downward moving escalator…. in a sauna. However, the satisfaction of eventually making it, combined with the sweet views from above made it worth all of the effort.


St Émilion

The second stop on our road trip today was the famous wine producing town of St Émilion. We drove an hour and a half back past Bordeaux until the views suddenly changed and the atmosphere slowed down. Suddenly we were there in the picturesque, stereotypical wine country. Bountiful vineyards and vast chateaux surrounded us. We parked up and walked up the cobbled streets past rustic stores selling wine and cheese. 

The village was romantic and full of charm. It was well into the afternoon and we arrived just in time to climb up the king’s tower for a breath taking view of the UNESCO town and surrounding vineyards.



Following this we rambled up towards the monolithic church as we were offered wine to taste at every turn. Prices of wine ranged from €6 to €60,000 so there was certainly something for every budget. At the top of the town we stopped to have dinner and I indulged in a lovely glass of Sauvignon Blanc. When in St Émilion eh?



This topped off a fantastic weekend and I can honestly say that I could definitely have stayed for more. The Bordeaux region certainly redeemed itself and I think I can give France another try again. 
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Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Recently I attended Kelly Donegan's fundraiser for the Irish Cancer Society #Trek4Life campaign at which a number of bloggers spoke about the challenges which shaped them. It happens to be quite poignant for me as it has been 2 years since a very low period in my life where I found myself with nothing but a suitcase full of clothes and living in the boxroom of my parents house. I feel enough time has passed for me to finally tell the story about how my life fell apart and I picked up the pieces.

The Ten Year Plan
I had it all planned out. I would be married at 27, start a family at 28. I would have a big house and a beautiful Audi in the drive. I would have a successful career and wear a power suit and have perfectly manicured nails. At least that’s how I saw myself at the age of 18. It was my ten year plan and I was focused on chasing all of these warped measures of success.

The Crash
Fast forward ten years. The only box I had ticked was the big house, but I would often neglect to admit that the big house was accompanied by an even bigger mortgage. I was so far away from being married, instead I was clinging to a relationship that made us both deeply unhappy, but I couldn’t leave. I was afraid. Afraid of being single, afraid of being alone, afraid of what people might think, afraid that I might never meet another person who would accept me. In terms of my career I was working in an entry level job that I despised. Having recently completed my Master’s degree in psychology and pouring all of my savings into tuition, I had no choice but to take on every shift that I could. I didn’t wear a power suit to work. Instead I wore a tracksuit or jeans. I won’t even mention that state of my nails, because grooming was a luxury I couldn’t afford. The years of neglect and unhappiness had taken its toll and I was overweight and under stimulated. Children were a no-go area since I had sworn that I would never bring a baby into the world while I was so unhappy. Finally the Audi? Well, I couldn't even drive. 

I had to do something. I had to change my entire life in one foul swoop. I had to walk away from my life. I had the heart breaking conversation and I left my relationship of 9 years. I walked away from the house that I thought I would raise my children in and moved into my parent’s box room. I realised that I had nothing to show for the last decade of my life other than a suitcase of clothes. A suitcase of plus sized clothes.

It was tough. I had to admit to myself that I had been on the wrong path and I had walked so far down that path that I had almost forgotten the way out. What followed was a frenzied attempt to pretend everything was wonderful. “Celebrating” my new found freedom by drinking every night for a fortnight. But the party couldn’t go on. All of the people who had rallied around me slowly eased back into their own lives and then there was just me. Just little old me, in my parents box room with my suitcase full of plus sized clothes and turning 29 years of age. 

I realised that it wasn't enough to simply walk away from unhappiness. Happiness is something that you have to make for yourself. I decided first to start with myself. My first step throw myself into work and I started to achieve little things here and there. Work became something I loved and was interested in.

Down-sizing Me 

I then started to work on reducing the size of the clothes in that suitcase. The years of neglect on my mind and body had rendered me unfit, unhealthy and unattractive. So I contacted a personal trainer. I was so nervous and unfit but Michael from Bodycoach helped me to overcome all of my fears and body issues. I lost 12 kilos and began to feel confident again. I started to do things for myself again. I took a course on how to do my own make-up and I finally felt comfortable in buying new clothes and making the most of my appearance.
Getting stronger

Getting out of my comfort zone
I started to date and I won't lie to you this was pretty terrifying. I had never really dated before and I didn't even know what people did on dates! I met some really lovely people and some not so nice. Some dated me for weeks and never called again, some told me I was fat and some verbally abused me. Before I would have let this get to me but the New Clair was stronger than that.
Learning to Love myself again

Broadening my Horizons 
The third step was the reason I write to you today. I began to travel at every available opportunity. I travelled with friends and I travelled solo. I made my mind up where I wanted to go and I used all of my free time travelling to 12 countries and 4 continents in 12 months. Travelling made me feel alive again. I realised that I was far more resilient than I ever gave myself credit for. I danced salsa, drank Mojitos and smoked cigars in Cuba. I watched a bollywood movie, saw the Taj Mahal, crashed a wedding, survived a sleeper train and sailed on the Ganges in India. I saw the Northern Lights in Iceland. I haggled in the Souks in Morocco. Above all of this I fell in love on the beach in Latvia.
Getting spiritual in Jaipur

This blog was created to tell my story and this has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. By continuing to push myself out of my comfort zone I have experienced more in the last 2 years alone, than in the decade before. I am finally learning to drive and have signed up for a comedy improv class. I will turn 30 fitter, healthier and happier than I was when I turned 21. It feels hard to believe that just 2 years ago I felt like my whole World had fallen apart. To anyone who is reading and feels this way, just know that you are the creators of your own happiness. Only you can change and direct you life in the way you want.

This is the challenge that shaped me.
The future is bright


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Thursday, 11 August 2016

I've written before about how disappointed I was with my recent trip to Paris. It's true to say that I did not exactly fall in love with the place, but there were a few things that I did enjoy. Ironically these things had a distinctly patriotic feel to them. So here is a little list of the three things every Irish person should do in Paris.

1. Visit the grave of a literary genius. 
In a bid to be the World's most Irish tourist after frequenting a hoard of Irish pubs, we went to visit the grave of one of Dublin's most flamboyant, and celebrated literary greats, Mr Oscar Wilde. I have been a huge fan of his work for a very long time and The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of my favourite books to this day.

It is no surprise that Oscar Wilde's tombstone sticks out a mile in Pére Lachaise cemetery. Towering over many, the huge modernist construction depicting an angel is easily identifiable among the traditional gravestones and tombs. It looks almost Egyptian in style and it felt so apt for Oscar.
 Tradition dictates that visitors to the grave don brightly coloured lipstick and kissed the gravestone in tribute. You can see the reminiscence of previous fans who have come to pay respects all over the sides of the tomb. Sadly the act is now prohibited and a large glass wall surrounds the tomb. Due to the cost of cleaning the stone, a fine has been instated for those caught defacing the grave, but I think Oscar would have rather liked it.  
So did I rebel against the law and pay my respects? Well...... that would be telling!

Other famous people buried at Pére Lachaise include Victor Noir, heralded a bit of a stud, the French Journalist's grave has become a well known fertility symptom. It is believed that rubbing the crotch of the bronze statue brings fertility, so I had a little try and I will let you know how I get on!
The grave of Victor Noir
Don't forget to also visit the grave of musician Jim Morrison where fans have been known to sit and drink beer, leave souvenirs and wrap bracelets around the barriers and bizarrely, stick half eaten chewing gum on a nearby tree.


2. Find a bit of Grá
Located in the Montematre area, Le mur des je t'aime (I love you: the wall) provides a dash of calm in an otherwise hectic city. The mural was inspired by Frédéric Baron who dreamed of travelling the World to find 80 I love yous. He didn't actually leave, instead asking neighbours to write the phrase in his notebook in different languages. By the time he was done, the book contained over 1000 I love Yous in over 300 languages.


Of course one of the essential things for any Irish person to do is the find the words "T'áim i ngrá leat" if you want to be a true Irish tourist. You won't be looking for long. Promise.



3. Do us Proud 

The final thing that every Irish person should do in Paris is do our country proud. This goes for every place we visit, but particularly in the aftermath of an incredible Euro 2016 which saw Irish fans win the hearts of all of Europe. 
 From winning the City's Grand Vermeil medal, to turning the Eiffel Tower green, white and orange, Irish fans truly left their mark. So wherever we go, lets all continue to bring that Irish charm.

So there we have it. My three things that every Irish person needs to do in Paris and I didn't even include a single pub!

Bon Vacances x
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Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Dear Paris, I’m so sorry, but I just don’t get you. Maybe it’s not you, it’s me. Then again, maybe it is you Paris.

I realise that this might be controversial but I have really tried to love Paris. So much so, that I have been to Paris 5 times. I’ve gone with family, with friends and (ahem) “lovers”, but I have just failed to get that “Wow” moment every time. Sure it’s place packed full of things to do and see but I have not been able to fall in love.

So on my most recent trip, I decided to try to do things that were a little different - A few things that I had never done before. So after you have visited the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arch de Triumph, wandered down the Champs Elysee and spent a full day browsing artwork at the Louvre, what is there left to do in Paris?

Well my quest to find fun in Paris started off on a sour note. Paris was closed. Well, almost! The French were on strike. The first stop on our trip was to see the palace at Versailles but unfortunately this was closed. I was majorly peeved, since we had prepaid for tickets and hired a rental car especially to drive to Versailles, but we were greeted with a sign that said the Palace was closed on account of the strike, but no further information as to how we could get a refund for our tickets or when it would reopen again. BOO!

So we decided next to drive into the city centre. Sure we may as well see the Eiffel tower while we’re here we thought. Wrong! The Eiffel Tower was also closed. We took a token picture and got back in the car.

Disaster! We had no idea, but tens of thousands of French had come to protest on the streets of Paris. The roads were closed and what followed was a 2 hour journey trying to get out of the city. So unfortunate as it may seem, Paris... You left a a terrible taste in my mouth and sadly I have no desire to hurry back.......

No hard feelings,

Clair x 


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Tuesday, 19 July 2016


I’m TERRIBLE… I have not been keeping up to date with my adventures at all because I basically keep getting distracted. I STILL haven’t filled you lot in on the second part of Euro 2016 for me and I’m sure it’s old news by now, but nevertheless, I still do want to tell you about my time in Bordeaux.
So we flew into La Rochelle, one of the teeniest little tin sheds of an airport and picked up our rental car for the week. Of course we firstly had to decorate it with Irish flags and wing mirror covers – God forbid that people might think that we were French!

We weren’t alone with our public display of patriotism and we spent most of the journey beeping at fellow supporters all heading to Bordeaux for the game. While stopping at a petrol station for reserves, we bumped into a hilarious group of lads driving the wittingly named “Wes Hooley Van”. There were 12 of them all bunched into this minibus and they kindly gave it a wash when I asked them for a picture. Sound lads!


We stayed in the Ibis Budget hotel in Bordeaux…. That’s right you heard me, the Ibis budget. We were made immediately aware of this when we arrived to check in and were told that our separate “budget” reception was around the back….. so we checked into our tiny lime green room and made a mutual decision not to spend too much time in the room! We headed off to explore the city and found a few poor Scottish football fans who were clearly lost.

The excitement got a little too much for me when I bumped into Matt Holland on the street. I totally fangirled it, and without shame jumped in for a photo!

The Irish had well and truly descended on Bordeaux and you couldn’t move for green shirts and Irish accents, but the Belgians were out in force too. Every bar was full, and the fun was incredible, so much so that the fanzone, set up to house thousands of fans was almost empty. The craic was in the Irish pubs!

A short walk from our hotel a local police man began to sing along with the lads and a chorus of “Stand up for the French Police” started up. I also had to drag my other half away from a group of lads who decided that he was the image of Martin O’Neill and told me how lucky I was to be with him. We exited just as they began to chant and made a lucky escape before the thousands of others joined in.

On match day we hopped on the tram out to the new Stade de Bordeaux, an interesting box shaped stadium. Here we mixed with the Belgians in stark contrast to the reports of fights between English and Russian supporters.
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There were dance offs, brass bands and general merriment. I also saw some good natured political activism, who said sport and politics don’t mix?

We were literally sitting in the back row of the stadium and I had to climb up like a mountain goat, but the view of the game from up there was pretty decent.


Sadly the result didn’t go our way and the Belgians trounced us 3-0. Somehow, this didn’t dampen our moods much and we enjoyed some friendly banter with the Belgians after the game. I want to tell you more about our tour de France and I will! But that’s all from me for now! 

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