Snake-charmer at the Jemaa el Fna

I woke up on Friday morning very exited as my husband had booked a weekend at a SPA near Gatwick to celebrate our 6th anniversary. He didn’t tell me exactly where it was nor its name. We got in the car and, half way through he asked me to get the hotel details in the gloves compartment. That’s when I found out we were actually going to Marrakesh! That explained why he asked me to take some dresses and skirts when we were packing on the previous night. What an amazing surprise!

Getting there was quicker than I thought. Perhaps because of my excitement… And my first impression after leaving the airport to our hotel wasn’t that good. The traffic is absolutely crazy and I truly thought we were not going to make it there. Motorbikes cutting through everywhere and a two lane road fits three cars easily! Hard shoulder? Who needs it??? I seems the basic rule is, if there’s enough space to fit your vehicle, then do it! People will honk their horn at you if you’re driving too slow or leaving a great gap between your car and the car in front, and if you take more than half a second to move when the traffic light changes to green.

We finally got at our hotel at about 4pm! It was absolutely gorgeous, with an indoor and outdoor swimming pool. We dropped our stuff and went straight out to La place Jemaa el Fna. It’s a square surrounded with cafes and restaurants and in the evenings the place comes alive and turns into an open-air stage filled with acrobats, storytellers, snake charmers and musicians. There are literally hundreds of food stalls to choose from, selling anything from snail soup and lamb head to couscous, grilled meats and french fries. Jemaa el Fna leads in to the medina, or old quarter, where the famous souks can be found.

The next day we were very lucky to find a really nice taxi driver who took us around and gave us a lot of tips regarding prices and places to visit. The first place we went to was the Majorelle Gardens, also known as the Yves Saint Laurent gardens. I was absolutely enchanted with the beauty of this place. It has some blue buildings which have a nice contrast with the garden. Totally worth the visit. After that we did the famous dromedary ride and, of course, some shopping, or should I say haggling, at the souks.

The souks are the best place to be if you’re a shopaholic! There are so many beautiful handmade crafts, clothes and rugs that you don’t know where to begin. The souks are huge and you can easily get lost in there. And the crazy thing is you need to watch out for motorbikes passing by thought the tight alleys whilst trying to figure out where you are. I suppose this is what makes this place so original.

We decided to buy a rug, and I have to say, what an experience! They take you inside their shop and ask you to sit down. Sometimes they even offer you a nice mint tea while all these assistants show you all sort of rugs. After a long time of demonstration, they try to give you extraordinary high prices, and that’s when the haggling starts. And they’re very good at it!

Well, as all good things in life never lasts long, out trip came to an end and we had to leave bringing good memories home with us and a certainty that we will definitely come back very soon. And when we do, there are a few things I’d like to remember:

  • Never get into a taxi without setting the price, otherwise they’ll charge you an arm and a leg.
  • When you arrive at the Marrakech airport, check the prices at the shops there to use as a reference. You can get it for at least half that price at the souks. If you’re good at haggling, you might be able to drop the price even further.
  • People with snakes and monkeys will try to get as much money as possible from you if you take a picture of their animals. So, be careful with that.
  • And last but not least, saying I’m Brazilian can help a lot when haggling.

Rio's FavelaThe city hall of Rio de Janeiro will be removing 119 favelas entirely by the end of 2012. There are over 12,000 homes occupying an area of 2,34 million square meters – it’s an area larger than the whole borough of Leblon.

The decision has been made after all the recent floods that happened during this rainy season. Floods and huge landslides are sadly becoming very common and threatening, not only in Rio de Janeiro, but in São Paulo and other states on the south of the country, claiming a great number of fatalities.

All the favela residents will have to register and have their properties evaluated in order to take part on a programme that will assist them finding a new home. No one will receive money for their properties, so they either need to enroll for the programme “My Home, My Life” provided by the Federal Government, or the “Assisted Purchase”, where the house owner will have to find another property of the same value to exchange them. Rio’s city hall has raised an estimate of R$ 244 million to move all these families from the favelas to another place.

I do believe this decision has been very well planned and carefully thought through. With the 2016 Olympics just around the corner, and comments from abroad raising questions if the hosting city is secure enough, getting rid of this much favelas seems to be a good and, never less than, convenient decision. Of course the city hall couldn’t possibly justify it as being a security measure to combat crime.

In one way or another, Rio has been trying to fight violence and crime for a very long time. Meanwhile, the wonderful city, as it’s known in Brazil, is losing its sparkle and all the great features are slowly being overshadowed by the horrible things we hear on the daily news. Rio should be known as the beautiful city of the colourful Carnival, the warmth of the people, the beaches and great weather.

Perhaps now the city where Tom Jobim and his famous Girl of Ipanema were born will begin to be seen for its great wonders once again!

You might also want to read: Living on the edge

Palying with an inner tireI saw on Metro newspaper this morning pictures of people form everywhere in Britain having fun in the snow. One picture, however, brought back some really nice memories from my childhood in Brazil. It’s a couple of teenagers using those huge green recycling bins to sledge in the snow. Well, of course we couldn’t do the same due to the lack of snow, but we also had our ways to improvise and have fun!

A few years ago, it wasn’t very common to see these colourful kids floats we find everywhere nowadays. The greatest thing was to use an inner-tire to play with. And because it’s so robust, you could play with it on the water, roll it on the grass or even tie some ropes on it and create a lovely swing. The limits were really your imagination! Any inner-tire would do, but the best ones were the trucks or tractors ones, for obvious reasons.

This last decade has been pretty much indoors. We seem to be always very busy with our computers, gadgets and, even having fun now means playing with a video game, or managing a digital farm on Facebook. A lot of parents probably struggle to get their kids out to play a football, for instance, because they rather sit in front of a telly. Then comes obesity and all those problems we hear all the time.

I remember how it is to live without computers and all the digital stuff that surround us, but children born in the 90’s will never understand what’s a non-digital world. This makes me wonder what would happen to the world if all the sudden we saw ourselves without computers, mobiles and navigation systems we are so dependent on. I guess, after a lot of chaos, we would have to learn how to live again! But dreaming a little, I think it would be amazing to re-discover what it is to have a doll that belonged to your mum, learn and have fun with things your dad or even granddad use to do as a child, wear a pair of shoes until there’s a hole on the sole! Meet people and make new friends face to face once again.

Perhaps we can’t go back and live like we used to a little more than a decade ago, but we can, however, bring some of those memories back and possibly revive a few things we had fun with back then. What’s stopping us? Let’s not be so concerned about what’s being launched next month and take advantage of good things in life. Sledging on the snow with a recycling bin is a good start!

It’s all over the news! The UK will get an extra bank holiday in 2012 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. The one-off holiday marks the monarch’s 60 years on the throne. She will be the first English head of state to celebrate the diamond jubilee since Queen Victoria.

What always amazed me is this great necessity of British people to plan everything with plenty of time. Not that I find it wrong, however, informing the country of a one-off holiday with two years of notice sounds a bit too much. In a way, it leaves no margin for odd complaints later.

Having said that, after spending a long time away form Brazil, you get used to planning ahead, and the problem with that is when you go back to visit your family, it’s a struggle to fit in with the laid back life. And you end up being the one everyone takes the piss out with easy.

Brazil has about twelve National Holidays every year. This includes Carnival, Independence Day and, funny enough, Day of Work! Yes, we celebrate the National Day of Work not going to work! If you’re studying in Brazil, you know classes start for real only after Carnival, because more than half the students will merge the New Year’s Eve holiday with this festive break in February. And not to mention when the holiday happens to be on a Thursday or Tuesday, guess who’ll turn up for work on Friday or Monday? Yes, you know the answer… What a huge difference from the miserable eight Public Holidays (all on Mondays) in the United Kingdom.

It’s a huge gap from an extremely festive and laid back country and one of the most famous countries for its punctuality. I really like the happy and stress free life we have in Brazil, but also the fact Britain doesn’t like to waste time. And planning ahead means it’s less likely you’ll waste any time due to any sudden incident that may occur. It’s a matter of learning how to be organised.

Well, that’s it then. The answer is to absorb all the great things from both cultures and carry on with your life!

Winter has arrived without any mercy at all. It’s been very cold, wet and windy. As I heard a comedian the other day on the telly, all the countries are getting hotter due to global warming, and Britain’s weather is getting even shittier! This is my fifth winter and I kind of agree with this theory. Apparently it’s the coldest winter in thirty years. And trust me, you don’t need to be here that long to notice the difference.

Snow is really a great fun when you come from a tropical country and see it for the first time. After that, you need to face the cold weather, footpaths covered in slippery ice and chaotic public transport, it makes you forget about all the existing problems in Brazil and, for a moment, you regret ever leaving your nice and warm country.

The trouble when it snows is that the city stops. No buses, no trains, no nothing! You hear on the news women giving birth in the back of a taxi stranded somewhere on the way to the hospital, people walking miles trying to get home and needless to mention all the road accidents or those who slept in their cars because they simply couldn’t make it home.

I didn’t mind the snow until a little more than a month ago, when I still didn’t have my driving license. Now I totally understand why people panic when they hear it’ll snow on the weather forecast. It’s just chaotic! You cannot see properly or trust your breaks and still need to get to work!

It’s been snowing since I arrived home at 6pm this evening. The forecast for tomorrow is 4-6 inches (10-15 cm). If this really happens, it’ll be absolutely horrible! Having said that, I love when it snows this much just to see my dog Benny, the Jack Russell Terrier play with the falling flakes. I don’t know what goes through his mind, but I’m sure he thinks it’s one of the best things of life ever. You can really tell.

Why can’t we get everything we want from life? Unfortunately we can’t have it all. The best thing to do, as we all know from Monty Python, is always look on the bright side of life.

Another year has finished. And even though 2009 was a great year, it’s gone in a blink of an eye!

I remember setting a few challenging targets at the beginning of last year that even I doubted myself. I decided all those things I always wanted to do would never become a reality unless I did something about it. And I did! I took on classic guitar lessons, managed to get my UK driving license sorted, went to a good number of great concerts and did so many small things I kept postponing for such a long time.

The greatest thing that marked the end of 2009 to me was the Goldman’s case. If you haven’t heard about it yet, click here for an update. I was very glad to see Sean Goldman to be reunited with his dad after four years apart. A happy end at last!

2010 has arrived! But not so well, I have to say. There are so many catastrophes happening around the globe that makes you wonder if this year will make it to the end at all. But we have to be optimistic and find good things out of what surround us.

Well, I thought, what a better way to be optimistic other than setting new targets to look forward to throughout 2010? It’s hard to decide in January what you’ll do till the end of the year… but if I need to think big, I’d say why not try to get my British passport sorted? I’ve lived in the United Kingdom for five years and am entitled to apply for one. It may not sound that hard, but I have some nice and nasty feedback about the test I need to pass. Let’s see how it goes… The next huge thing I need is definitely a new job. It’s been great working where I am at now, but sadly it got to a point where it’s not as exciting as it was any more. Apart from that, of course there are loads of small things I’d like to do! Including more travelling, more concerts and theatres, small courses related to arts, etc. There are so much I’d like to do… But I need to stick to a short list, otherwise I’ll end up not meeting my target!

Have you decided your targets yet? Good luck to you and me!