Sunday, 9 February 2014

21st birthday!

On Thursday it was my 21st birthday! I even had the week off work to spend time with mum and Adam, who arrived last Saturday and stayed for a week! They were very impressed with their hotel, which was the TRYP Melilla Puerto Hotel. It took them 9 hours to get here, so we went out for a quick pizza after they arrived and then they had a well deserved early night.

I think they needed to rest a little bit on Sunday, so I showed them around the city. We went shopping, although we always seemed to be in town during the siesta (2:30-5:30), when most of the shops close. I took them to La Cervecería, where they were excited and surprised to receive free tapas (small portions of food) with every drink. Then we looked around Parque Hernandez, where they seemed to enjoy the exotic plants and animals.

On Monday I showed them my flat and Melilla la Vieja (Old Melilla, the fortress north of the port). Unfortunately I became really ill because of something I ate in the morning, so I went home later in the afternoon. I had a nap and thought I felt better, so I went out to meet them, but to my embarrassment I threw up on the promenade and had to go back home. This worried me because earlier that day we had changed some euros to Moroccan dirham (or dinas or dinner money, as Adam likes to call it) and planned to visit Fes on Tuesday.

However, I woke up early on Tuesday morning after eating nothing but a Magnum and throwing up everything I had drank and felt a lot better, so we decided to catch the 6 hour train the Fes. I made sure that I remembered the time difference so that I didn't arrive an hour early like last time! Morocco is an hour behind Melilla, therefore it is in the same time zone as the UK. It feels very strange to walk a few miles down the road and be in a different time zone. Each time I'd been, I'd taken a taxi to Nador station to catch the train at 8:45. However, on the way back I'd gotten off at Beni Ansar station, which is a 5 minute walk from the border between Morocco and Melilla. It made more sense to me to get on at Beni Ansar and it said it departed at 8:25 online and on the timetable. There was no ticket office, but we were able to buy the ticket on the train and this was much easier and cheaper than going to Nador. I think they both enjoyed the views on the way, as the train travels through valleys and semi-arid landscapes (like desert but with a bit more greenery). We all saw wild flamingos for the first time!

We we arrived we checked into a triple room in the same hotel that I had stayed in previously, so I had to put up with their snoring duet during the night. After dumping our stuff at the hotel we had a Moroccan meal at a cafe. Whilst at the cafe, some cars and police escorts arrived and somebody very official looking got out and went through Bab Boujloud (the blue gate). I managed to take a photo before the police told everybody not to! Adam asked a waiter who it was and they said it was the Moroccan president! Then we had a walk around the medina and went back to the hotel. It was quite cold because, like Melilla, for the majority of the time it doesn't need central heating so I guess there's no point in having it. I think they were both feeling a bit disappointed about the experience at this point and I remember both Maria and I felt the same at first. They were hesitant to take a tour guide, but I knew they would be fascinated to see all the Moroccan artisans at work.

The President of Morocco is there somewhere

Bab Boujloud hotel
(it's nicer on the inside)

We checked out the next day and Adam pointed out to me that I had previously been calculating exchange rate incorrectly, so I thought I was spending more than I was. The hotel cost us 175 dirham each, which is around 15.60 euros. Originally I had just taken off the last digit of the dirham value and assumed it was the equivalent in euros. For my British friends, this is around 13 pounds for a night in a hotel and breakfast! The next day we went out and almost immediately we were approached by a tour guide called Abdel offering us a tour with Mohammed in a taxi for 200 dirham (17.80 euros). This was ideal, because mum can't walk long distances and my ankle injury has been quite bad recently. 

First he took us to the Merenid tombs, which mum didn't seem to appreciate because it involved going up a large hill at fast speeds and she's scared of heights. Then we were taken a ceramic workshop, which was really interesting because I hadn't seen it on my previous tours and it was a nice opportunity to buy a few birthday presents for some friends (not naming anybody, but you have summer birthdays!). Afterwards he took us through the medina to see a leather tannery, a pharmacy and an antiques shop (which mum and Adam appreciated).

In the leather tannery they have a colour
for each week. The previous week was yellow,
which is why there are yellow skins drying.
That week was red.

I had wanted to buy a leather handbag or rucksack with Berber carpet for some time, but they seem make the prices very high when they see that you are a tourist. I saw one camel skin bag I particularly liked and asked the price, which was 140 euros. I know I'm a vegetarian, but I'm also an environmentalist and in my opinion, leather is a good use of a material that would probably otherwise be wasted. There was no way I was going to pay anything like that for a bag, no matter how beautiful it was. After some negotiating, walking away and help from mum I managed to crank the price down the 55 euros. Normally I wouldn't spend that much money on any kind of clothing or accessories, but I this was my third time in Moroccco and I still hadn't bought myself any souvenirs. I thought I'd got myself a good deal, but upon returning to Melilla I discovered I can buy similar bags here for half the price! At least I found my perfect bag (although it does smell a bit bad), and because they are cheaper here I can look into getting myself a rucksack as well.

We said we wanted to eat, so he took us to an expensive Moroccan restaurant. The meals only cost about 15 euros each, but by Moroccan standards that is a lot of money. It was a beautifully decorated restaurant and we were given a massive variety of starters, a main course and a fruit platter for dessert (we stocked up on fruit to save for the train journey)! We then made our way out of the medina, stopping at embroidery, carpet weaving and artists shops. We were starting to get irritated with merchants trying to sell us table cloths and rugs that would cost us 100-200 euros that we didn't have, so were happy to leave the medina.

Then the tour guide left us with Mohammed the taxi driver, who took us to see the doors to the King's palace and the Jewish area, which I hadn't seen before. He then drove us back to the station and charged us 300 dirham just for the taxi, under the impression that Abdel had agreed this price with mum. We ended up paying almost twice the original agreed price for the tour, but by then the tour guide had made himself scare. I have to say I was disappointed with him compared to the first tour guide I had, because he didn't answer questions properly, kept talking on his phone and deceived us.

We caught the 17:15 train and arrived in Beni Ansar port at 23:33. We were crossing the border at midnight Moroccan/ UK time and 1am Spanish time, so I was happy to have a stamp in my passport on 6th February for my 21st birthday! I was secretly hoping that someone would wish me happy birthday after looking at my passport, but they didn't. We got a taxi from the border back to my flat and their hotel. I came home, excited about checking my post box, only to find nothing. I'm not really sure what I was expecting! I did have 2 cards from Helen and Maria and 2 missed post slips from my my family in America and Vicky, which had arrived before I left.

There are two main post offices in Melilla and I eventually learnt that the one closest to me is for sending things and the one in the city centre is for collecting things, which explains the long queuing times. I went to the post office in the centre with my missed post slips. For some reason they told me to go to the post office closer to me, but when I went to the other one they said they didn't store any post, which left me feeling confused. I went back to the post office in the centre a few days later and I managed to collect my post, so I'm not really sure why they messed me about, but at least I had my post.

I went to sleep and checked the mail box several times the next day, but still found nothing. I tried to stay positive so went to mum and Adam's hotel to enjoy an amazing buffet breakfast, which involved cakes. I then went to their hotel room, where they had put a 21st birthday banner on the door. I opened all the cards and presents from my family that they had brought from England. I received a ring, 2 necklaces, earrings, a small clutch bag, a 21st birthday photo frame, baked beans, salt and vinegar crisps (which I later found out I can buy here) and some euros! My sister Charlotte bought me a "I love you sister" silver heart necklace, which was really beautiful and sweet.

We went to change the rest of Adam's dirham to euros and spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach. The water felt a bit chilly, but it was a warm day, so to the horror of the locals (who still wear coats in 20 degree heat) I paddled deep and Adam went for a swim. Afterwards we went to my favourite cream cake cafe to enjoy more cakes, then went shopping. After washing half the beach out of my clothes, we went out for a meal at my favourite restaurant, Anthony's Pizzeria with Rachel, Siobhan and Ana, which was a lovely evening. Ana and Mariola gave me some Moroccan gifts, which was really unexpected and kind. Being in February, I can't say I've ever experienced such weather on my birthday! I have to say enjoying the sun and relaxing on the beach on my birthday was a first. Despite the disappointment with post, it was one of the best birthdays I've ever had!

 On Friday we had a much needed lay in and went shopping, then had a late lunch in a cafe. We relaxed in Parque Hernandez before taking the tourist train around the city. It was the third time I'd tried to take the tourist train, but each time before it had been broken or not running. There aren't many tourists here, especially during the off-peak seasons. There were only 2 other people on the train with us. Unfortunately it was quite windy and it took us to places we had already been, but I think it was nice to relax and soak in the atmosphere. Then we went back to the hotel for a few snacks whilst waiting for La Pérgola restaurant to open. We'd been there for a few drinks before, and it has really nice views of the port and sea. They both liked the look of the menu, so we went there for dinner. It took time to translate the menu, because although they had a menu in English, it was really badly written and difficult to understand. I couldn't eat anything on the menu except starters, but thankfully they cooked a special vegetable paella for me and mum to share, which I was happy about because I wanted mum to try it. Adam had a monk fish, which he seemed to enjoy.

Yesterday we went to the cream cake cafe and then mum and Adam flew back to England. They hadn't flown in about 10 years and it was very humbling to see how excited they became about the cuisine, wildlife and atmosphere in both Melilla and Morocco. I know I've been feeling down quite a lot since I've been here, but spending time with them has encouraged me try and appreciate my time here more, no matter how I feel. I'm used to spending a significant amount of time alone here because of the language barrier, my short working week and me being shy. I don't really mind this, but it can feel quite lonely sometimes. Its felt so good to be able to be myself and have a laugh this week with mum and Adam. 

Now that they're gone I have that empty feeling in my stomach and I know next week will be hard because I have to get back into the normal routine. It was Ana's birthday yesterday, so after they left I went straight to her meal in the Club Marítimo (Maritime Club) and drinks in La Pérgola, which was really nice and cheered me up. The restaurant in the in Club Marítimo was really lovely with nice sea views, but unfortunately it's private so I can't visit again. 
The good news is that in just over a week Maria is coming to stay for 2 weeks and my new flat mate arrives. Then I will visit Amy and afterwards I have the Easter holidays to look forward to. I'm not sure what I'll do for Easter. I don't want to go back home because I think I may as well make the most of being abroad and I can't visit Maria in Finland because she has her dissertation to write. I'm hoping either someone will visit me or I'll travel somewhere (I really want to go to the Sahara desert), but really I'm in need of a travel buddy.


  1. hello, I am Tone from Noway. I saw that you have been to Melilla. Do you know if they use their own stamps there, or do they use ordinary spanish stamps?

    1. Hello Tone! I was under the impression that you cannot get stamps for Europe from the kiosks on the street. I just went to the post office where they ink stamped it. I hope this helps!