Venezia Island Hopping

Today was an exhausting day of island hopping in Venice; but I would not trade it for any other Venetian activity. We started of visiting St. Mark’s Square and waiting in line to enter St. Mark’s Basilica. It was worth the wait. The entire ceiling of the church was covered by golden mosaics. It was so beautiful that, unless you make a point to look for it, you’ll totally miss the understated tomb of St. Mark (yes, Mark from the Gospel of Mark in the Bible). I know I did. And I nearly left the basilica without seeing it, if not for my husband’s presence of mind. We asked one of the guards, and he pointed us to where we already have been!




Entrance to St. Mark’s Square


Façade of St. Mark’s Basilica


Golden frescos inside St. Mark’s Basilica


Tomb of St. Mark

After St. Mark’s Square, we took the vaporetto to Murano, had a panini and toast, and then walked around town to look for a interesting Murano glass creations that we could bring back to Copenhagen with us. And find them, we did. Beautiful glass creations that I’m saving for when I finally have my own place to decorate.


Murano!!! 🙂


My lunch: toast!


Taking a gelato break on the island of Murano

From Murano, we took another vaporetto to Burano, the island famous for its laces. But the laces are not the only thing that’s interesting about the island. Burano is the most picturesque Venetian island I have ever been to. The colored houses are amazing. I could stay at them, standing on the slides of the canal, and never get tired.


The colorful houses is a dead give away that you are on Burano


Color blocking on Burano :p


More colorful houses!

Now, back at our apartment. We’re making ourselves spaghetti with a sauce we bought from Conrad. We’re matching it with Chardonnay from Cantine Azienda Agricole. It comes highly recommended by us.


Back on island of Cannaregio, where we’re staying for the night 🙂

Indeed, my legs are aching, and I feel I’m about to have cramps. But I wouldn’t trade this day for any other Venetian day. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

April 04, 2017 | Venice, Italy

Morocco on a Shoestring

I’m finally feeling better. At least, better enough to write a blog entry. It’s been a tough 2 months to say the least. It started out with a conference in Norway, followed by a teaching stint in Kyrgyzstan, a 4-city trip in Morocco, and a 3-city trip in Turkey. Before leaving for Morocco, I had guests in Copenhagen that I felt only right to show around. I have not been in the office for a month and a half since the crazy travels started. I miss working.

Three weeks ago, Andrew and I spent 5 full days in Morocco visiting Casablanca, Fes, Chefchaouen, and Marrakech. It was hectic. We spent one full day in each of these cities and almost a day (in sum) of traveling. It might not look like it in the map, but the distance between cities is huge and it takes a least 3-4 hours to get from one city to another.

We were supposed to meet up with two of my college friends and then go to Turkey together, but that did not happen. While they decided to do a 6-day Private Tour via Morocco Sahara Holiday for 549 EUR (582.60 USD) per person (check out their tour here), we decided to keep our budget within 500 USD for two people (250 USD per person). And surprise, surprise (or maybe not :p), it worked +/- a few dollars! We pre-booked our hotels using Expedia, ate local cuisine, and took public transportation. It was an amazing experience that did not leave a gaping hole in our wallets. We got to interact with the locals and saw how Moroccans are in Morocco. Public transportation was quite comfortable. Comfortable enough that if I had an option between sitting in a car or sitting in a train to get from one Moroccan city to the next, I’d sit in a train. Trains allowed me to walk around and stretch my legs. Rest rooms were available, food and drinks were carted off every so often, and seats can be transformed to beds when traveling after rush hour (For more information on traveling in Morocco, check out my blog entry on Moroccan commute).

Our first city for the trip was Fes. It’s the second largest city in Morocco and was the capital city of modern Morocco until 1925. To get there from the Casablanca Mohammed V International Airport (Station: Aeroport Med V), we took a train from the airport to Casablanca (Station: Casa Voyageurs) and from Casa Voyageurs to Fes (Station: Fes). Since the trip from airport to Casablanca only took 30 minutes, we decided to buy second class train tickets. It was not bad. There were no reserved seats and just one big space at one end of the compartment to store bags, but the seats were comfortable and there was enough space for everyone’s bags. The travel from Casablanca to Fes, on the other hand, was a different story. The trip was estimated to take 3-4 hours. So we decided to buy first class train tickets. We were so happy we did since, for reasons we cannot fully understand (because they were in French), the train took 6 hours to get from Casablanca to Fes.



Upon arriving in Fes, we needed to get to our from the train station to the medina (the old town, city center) and find Dar Al Ouali, our hotel in Fes booked via Expedia. We took a cab, haggled it down to 20 MAD. The cab driver agreed but asked us if he could pick up one other passenger. That did not sound so bad for us, so we agreed. He never found that one  other passenger.

With Google Maps on our smartphones, it was not difficult to find our hotel. It was crazy inside the medina. The streets were narrow, souks lined the streets, and there were people everywhere! My first impression of it was a very colorful, very lively, and slightly more organized version of Divisoria in the Philippines. The Moroccan lamps were eye-catching, the leather jackets hung like they were not genuine leather, and stomach growled to the smell of tangine and couscous.

When we arrived at the hotel, we were met by a receptionist who knew very little English. She called the hotel owner and it was him who checked us in. The hotel is a riad, a traditional Moroccan house with a garden or a courtyard. The courtyard was the size of a normal living room. There were four floors and a rooftop room that guests can use to hangout. Our room was on the second floor (thank goodness for that, because the staircase was pretty narrow). We had a double sized bed, a ensuite shower area with toilet, airconditioning, free towels, and a small TV. Half the room was carpeted, and the carpet looked old. Other than that, and especially for the price that we paid for it, it was not bad. And it came with a traditional Moroccan breakfast, which was one of the things I have learned to look forward to in Morocco. Breakfast was amazing. 🙂

The hotel owner, recommended that we eat at Restaurant Salon de thé Hiba Chez Hakim (or Restaurant Hakim, for short). It is his favorite restaurant in the medina. Since the owner knows him, he asked us to mention his name so that we get treated well. And so, like the obedient tourists that we were, we went there, mentioned his name, and yes, we were treated well. Andrew and I both ordered the tangine set menu with Moroccan mint tea, and we both loved it (enough to return to the restaurant at another day). I should say that one should NEVER leave Fes without having a tangine and a cactus fruit.


The hotel owner also recommended that we rent a tour guide for 3 hours for 200 MAD. The tour guide was local and trained by the state, so he should be knowledgeable. He also should not try to rip us off. What we were NOT told, however, was that the tour guide does not keep time and if we exceed 3 hours of touring, we get charged 500 MAD (for a 5-hour tour). Our tour guide was pretty good. He showed us the architecture in the Fes medina, described the history and what the government is doing to preserve that. He took us to the famous mosques, explained what made them famous and willingly took our photos. We went to the tanneries, the carpet maker, the cactus scarf maker, the carpenter, an embroidery shop, and the argan oil maker. In each of these places, someone would explain how the good was created and then showed us samples of finished products. I especially enjoyed the visit to the carpet maker. The owner was very warm and welcoming. He served us tea, had us sit down and rolled carpets in front of us while explaining the difference between carpets. We then get to decide (by swiping our hands back and forth) whether we want to keep or reject a carpet, just like they do in the movies. After the tour, our guide brought us to an extravagant looking restaurant for lunch. We enjoyed the views but not the prices. After lunch, he picked us up from the restaurant and brought us back to our hotel. It was only when we got to our hotel that he asked for additional money because they tour went beyond 3 hours. Since we were unwilling to give him 500 MAD, we agreed on 250 MAD.


NOTE: We tried buying leather jackets. They’re more expensive near the tanneries. The one from the tannery started at 8000 MAD while the one just beside our hotel started at 800 MAD. The one from the tannery was made of camel skin but the lining was not very well done. The one near our hotel was made of sheep skin but the lining was very good. According to online guides to haggling, you should start at 1/4 of the opening price. So if the opening price is 800 MAD, you should counter with 200 MAD. Very slowly go up (slower than the salesperson). Ideally, you should end up at either 1/3 or 1/2 the opening price.


Chefchaouen is my favorite city in Morocco. Since it was at the foot of the Rif mountains, the weather was cool. To get there from Fes, we had to take a cab from the medina to the CTM bus station. The day before we were scheduled to leave for Chefchaouen, we had our hotel owner buy us tickets for CTM, to reserve our seats. At the CTM bus station, we checked in our luggages (I think it was 5 MAD per bag). The bus stopped halfway to Chefchaouen for lunch and a toilet break. The lunch place only accepts cash, which, unfortunately for us, we did not have enough of. Good thing we came prepared with sandwiches of our own and a couple of bread that we packed from last night’s dinner.

We stayed at the extremely charming Casa Annasr, just 5 minutes walk from the CTM bus station. From Casa Annasr, we had to walk uphill for 20-30 minutes to get to the medina. Breakfast was not free and cost 50 MAD per person. Our hotel room was amazing. The bed was comfortable and the ensuite bathroom was squeaky clean. In fact, our rooms look like it was newly renovated. The hotel is owned by a family: 2 brothers (we assume). The older brother is bossy and short tempered, but the younger brother is very friendly and accommodating.

The medina in Chefchaouen was blueeeeeee, and we spent most of our day walking and exploring and looking at what the souks had to offer. It was lovely and relaxing. We had lunch at Sindibad Restaurant (which had pretty good desserts!) and dinner at Aladdin Restaurant. The latter is highly, highly recommended. It’s a bit pricey for a Moroccan meal, but the food is delicious (and servings are huge), the view is amazing, and the ambiance is great. Right before dinner, we went inside the Kasbah Museum which only opened at 3pm (Opening Hours: 9-12, 15-18.30). There’s really nothing much there, except a breathtaking view of the medina from the tower. For that, it is worth the wait. 🙂



From Chefchaouen, we took the Supratours bus to Souk el-Arbaa and then the ONCF train from Souk el-Arbaa to Casablanca and then from Casablanca to Marrakech. It was a long day of mostly traveling. We left Chefchaouen around noon and arrived in Marrakech very late in the evening. Our train to Casablanca was delayed and we thought we would not make it to Marrakech. It turns out the train to Marrakech waited for us.

Upon arriving in Marrakech, we again took a cab to the medina. We were staying at another riad called Hotel Riad Dar Tuscia. The hotel was nice and breakfast was free. This was our most costly hotel, and I could already feel some sort of foreboding for the next day, when we tour the city. Marrakech was a city like many cities. The souks were organized into categories, the items were costlier (compared to Fes), and the salespeople were meaner. We visited a couple places of interest and rode a camel. Lunch was at Jemaa El Fna. Food was not exceptional, and it was expensive. I did enjoy (and highly recommend), drinking a fresh orange juice from one of the fruit stands. It was heaven! Just perfect for the hot summer weather.



Our last stop was Casablanca. By then we were extremely exhausted from all the traveling. It was not fun to travel through desert sands so much. If I were to do this trip again, I’d pick 2-3 cities and stay longer in each city. If I had a longer time in Fes, I would have loved to explore the souks some more (and maybe eat more cactus fruits). If I had a longer time in Chefchaouen, I would have liked to see the waterfalls that everyone is raving about.

We stayed at Manzil Hotel. Also booked using Expedia. In fact, all our hotels and flights were booked via Expedia while all bus and train tickets were bought in Morocco. Manzil Hotel was in an industrial zone. It was near the train station though, so it was easy to find it. Rooms were clean and spacious. Breakfast was not free. We didn’t really get to see much of Casablanca. By this time, we were so exhausted all we wanted to do was go home. I do recommend seeing the largest mosque in Africa, Hassan II Mosque.

This is what I have to say at the end of the trip: it was fun, but extremely exhausting. I’m pretty sure our friends who travelled to more cities that we did are more exhausted. Here’s a summary of our expenses. Not bad, eh? You can download our full itinerary here. If you have questions, holler! 😀

Item Description MAD USD
Breakfast 2 days 200 20
Lunch 5 days 470 47
Dinner 5 days 590 59
Fes Hotel: 2 nights 532.4 53.24
Chefchaouen Hotel: 2 nights 819.4 81.94
Marrakech Hotel: 2 nights 283.6 28.36
Casablanca Hotel: 2 nights 488.7 48.87
Tavel: Airport to Casablanca 42 4.2
Travel: Casablanca to Fes 348 34.8
Travel: Fes to Chechaouen 150 15
Travel: Chefchaouen to Marrakech 610 61
Travel: Marrakech to Casablanca 296 29.6
Travel: Casablanca to Airport 42 4.2
Fes Cab 40 4
Marrakech Cab 40 4
Casablanca Cab 40 4
Tour Guide Fes 250 25
TOTAL 5242.1 MAD 524.21 USD
Notes: Items in red are the actual amounts.

First written: November 22, 2016 | Published: December 18, 2016 | Copenhagen, Denmark

To Helsingor or Not To Helsingor

Two days ago, Andrew and I decided to do an overnight trip to Helsingor. I’ve always wanted to go, but could never find the time. I’ve also been traveling so much the last few weeks by myself. I just wanted to travel with Andrew for fun before another crazy amount of solo-traveling for work.

So here we are. Elsinore. Also called Helsingor; mostly known for its Kronborg Castle, where Shakespeare’s Hamlet is set. We arrived yesterday from an hour long train ride from Copenhagen, just in time for a surprisingly delicious Chinese lunch at Asia House Restaurant (click here to virtually visit the restaurant). We both had Peking Soup (which seems to be served in most Asian cuisine places in Helsingor), which came as part of the lunch menu. Andrew ordered roast duck with mushrooms. I ordered beef with vegetables. Both orders were served with rice and the servings were enough for one moderately hungry person. Both orders and the soup were quite delicious. In fact, this may be the most authentic-tasting Chinese food I’ve had in Europe since I moved; enough for me to consider taking another one-hour train ride one day just to eat Chinese food.

After lunch, visited the Kronborg Castle. The castle closes at 4pm. It was already 2pm when we got there, so we had to quickly deposit our carry-on bag into one of the castle’s free lockers and move as fast as we can so as to make our entrance well worth it. Luckily, we finished viewing all opened rooms in the castle and even spent a bit of time browsing the gift shop. Embarrassingly, we may have been the last to leave the castle premises. They had to re-open the big doors to let us out, and we had to profusely apologize for putting more work on them.

A recycled fish exhibit just right outside the Kronborg Castle


A recycled fish exhibit right outside Kronborg Castle

My most and least favorite part of the Kronborg castle where the castle’s casemates. The casemates are gloomy, cold and dark underground passages under the castle. Some of the passages were open to the public. This is by far the longest and most complicated underground passage I’ve ever been to. But I don’t really have much to compare. My only other underground passage experience was in the old city in Accra, Israel. When I visited Accra, most of the passages were blocked, so the entire experience only took 5 minutes. But this one – in Kronborg – took a loooong time. Other than the arrows on the wall, I did not have a guide to lead me. It was eerie. And I had to freakin’ use my cellphone flashlight to help me see the way. I also had to mind my step. Not only was the ground uneven, some had cobblestones, some  were cemented, and some just had sand.

The Kronborg Castle tower offers magnificent views of the city, the Øresund Strait and Sweden at a distance. There are 145 round tower steps, which surprisingly were not as narrow as many round tower steps I’ve taken. I usually hate steps, but this one was not really much of a chore. Other than occasional dizzy spells (because I felt like I was going round in circles both going up and going down the tower), I didn’t really feel a need to stop and catch my breath. In comparison, I would say the Møns Klint staircase is far worse than this.

After 4pm, Andrew and I left the Kronborg castle, walked along the banks and caught a bus to our hotel which was 30 minutes away from the city center. It was the only hotel available at a fairly reasonable price at such a short notice. The hotel has its own restaurant and serves free breakfast.

Unfortunately, if you want to have your lunch and dinner at the hotel as well, you will need to order in advance. The nearest restaurant is 15 minutes west of the hotel (by feet). It’s called the Hamlet Asia Restaurant, an all-you-can-eat fusion Asian cuisine (I know, Asian cuisine in Denmark) for 139 DKK. Soup, main course, and desserts are all in. Drinks are 45 DKK on average.

Tomorrow, we check out of our hotel and travel back to the city center to explore some more. We are also thinking of taking the 7 EUR ferry to Helsingborg, Sweden. Perhaps go shopping at the H&M store there. We’ll see. But we look forward to more adventures. 🙂

October 08, 2016 | Helsingor, Denmark

To Hven

I’m going to Hven for a faculty excursion in a few days; and other than the information provided by the excursion organizers in my department, I have absolutely no idea what to expect from this little island off the coast of Denmark, right on the Øresund Strait. Hven is a contested territory (still is, according to my Danish colleagues), despite legally belonging to Sweden. The Swedes took control of the island in 1658 when Scania was ceded to Sweden under the Treaty of Roskilde. However, many Danes at that time claim that Hven was in fact not part of Scania but of Zealand and therefore, was still under Danish rule. On May 6, 1658, Swedish troops were sent to the island to defend it against the Danes and on 1660,  the official transfer of Hven to Sweden was made under the Treaty of Copenhagen. My Danish colleagues seem to enjoy calling Hven “technically” a Swedish territory.

According to Google Maps, this small, 7.5 square km island with just 715 inhabitants is closer to Denmark than to Sweden. Other than national pride, I cannot think of any other reason why Sweden wanted it enough to send troops. Neither can I think of any other reason why Denmark wanted it enough to reject Sweden’s ownership of it after signing the Treaty of Roskilde. It makes for a good historical site though. Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe, built two observatories here – Uraniborg and Stjerneborg. Many also think that Johannes Kepler spent time on the island.

SO. Being the mastermind planner that I am, I have made a list of interesting things to see and do in Hven. There won’t much personal time during this trip, but we do get a few hours in the afternoon to do whatever it is that we want to do. So, while my colleagues go for a swim on warm summer waters [ahem!], maybe I can do a mini-historical/cultural tour of my own. Here’s my list:

  1. Tycho Brahe Museum which houses a Rennaisance garden where Brahe’s reconstructing the garden at Brahe’s Uraniborg Castle, the Stjerneborg Observatory, and an interactive weather station from the 16th century.
  2. Church of Saint Ibb, a 13th century church whose front altar was designed by Tobias Gemperlin and donated by Tycho Brahe
  3. Spirit of Hven Backafallsbyn for food and drinks 🙂
  4. Beaches and the yellowish limestone cliffs the island is famous for.

I also created a Pinterest board for Hven (click here). We shall see how much I can see and do from this list, shall we? It’s not a long list, but I don’t have enough time either. And it’s a small island. I must remember though to bring sun block and withdraw a couple of Swedish crowns. Until the next update. 🙂

August 24, 2016 | Copenhagen, Denmark