Mark Holmes

Travel Agent. Former German Teacher. Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker. B&B Manager. Transportation Manager Interested in all things travel, blogging, apps, electronics, reading, music
Living in: Winston-Salem, NC, United States
  • Day0

    Itinerary for Morocco

    December 26, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 9 °C

    Our itinerary for this Spring's Gate1 small group tour of Morocco -

    DAY 1, Thursday - Depart for Morocco
    Depart for Morocco

    DAY 2, Friday - Arrive in Casablanca, Transfer to Rabat
    Arrive in Casablanca this morning and transfer to Rabat, a heady swirl of color, culture, and history. Arrive at your hotel and spend the afternoon at leisure. Tonight, your tour will begin with an orientation meeting lead by your Tour Manager at approximately 6:00 pm, followed by a Welcome Dinner. We recommend that you select flights which arrive in your destination no later than 3:00 pm on day 2 of the itinerary or earlier, if possible
    Overnight: Rabat
    Meals: Dinner

    DAY 3, Saturday - Rabat City Tour
    After breakfast, you tour the capital. Begin with a drive past the beautifully tiled entrance to the Royal Palace, followed by a stop at Bab Rouah, or the city's "Gate of the Winds," so called because it's been battered by Atlantic winds since its construction in 1197. Visit Hassan Tower, part of an unfinished mosque started by a 12th-century caliph. At the incredibly preserved Kasbah of the Udayas, explore the fortress and take a stroll in the French-colonial Andalusian gardens. End the day at Chellah, the necropolis and ruins of an ancient Roman outpost. Balance of the day is at leisure
    Overnight: Rabat
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    DAY 4, Sunday - Explore Volubilis & Meknes, Overland to Fez
    This morning, drive inland to Fez. Along the way, stop to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Volubilis, the once-bustling city and African administrative center of the Roman Empire. The site also has vestiges of the Berber civilization that took the city from Rome in AD 270. Continue to Meknes and view the Bab Mansour gate, beautifully patterned with zellij mosaics. This evening, you're the guests of a local Fez family for dinner. Over typical Moroccan, home-prepared food, you'll connect with your hosts
    Overnight: Fez
    Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

    DAY 5, Monday - Tour Fez
    Explore the sprawling medina of Fez on foot this morning. It's said that this is the world's largest car-free urban area; undistracted by traffic, you're sure to agree that strolling here is a feast for the senses. You'll enter via the Bab Boujloud, or "Blue Gate" and visit the famed Al-Bou Inania Madrasa. Afterward, you will have an opportunity to shop for authentic Moroccan carpets. Then, stop at the Chouara Tannery to see how leather is cut and dyed using traditional techniques. At the Nejjarine Museum, browse the collection of wooden arts and crafts, then view copper craftsmen at work in Seffarine Square. The tour ends outside the Karaouine Mosque and University, the oldest continuously functioning university in the world, founded in the year 859. After lunch in the medina, your guide leads you through the Jewish Quarter, or mellah, built in 1438. By the end of the walk, you'll be at the King's Palace. Enjoy dinner at the hotel later this evening
    Overnight: Fez
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    DAY 6, Tuesday - Cross Middle Atlas Mountains, Drive to Erfoud
    Today, experience a thrilling adventure into Morocco's Middle Atlas Mountains. Begin with a stop in Ifran, a Moroccan ski resort. Then ascend scenic roads past pine groves and giant cedar trees. Midmorning, you cross the 6,000-foot pass and continue west toward the great Sahara. Next, stop for lunch in the village of Midelt. Then as you approach Erfoud, enjoy views of the remarkable Ziz Gorges and vast valleys. Continue to Erfoud for dinner and overnight
    Overnight: Erfoud
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    DAY 7, Wednesday - Experience Rissani, Sahara Camp
    This morning, explore the small city of Rissani on the edge of the Sahara. En route, stop at a fossil factory to learn more about this unique activity which is famous in the region. Then, wander its lively souk, and visit a 17th-century ksar. Afterward, pass by the ancient ruins of Sijilmasa on the River Ziz, once a bustling Berber city and medieval trade depot. You'll pause to visit a local bread shop, where you'll witness and sample an ancient culinary art. After lunch at the hotel, you journey into the Sahara Desert, stopping en route to share tea with some welcoming locals in a Berber tent. Later, settle into your Sahara camp, where dunes rise and fall around you and feel the adventuresome spirit of explorers of old. You'll even have the opportunity to enjoy a short camel ride. Witness an incredible sunset and enjoy traditional music under a canopy of stars
    Overnight: Sahara Tented Camps
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    DAY 8, Thursday - Explore Desert & Todra Gorge, Travel to Ait Benhaddou
    Awake amidst the silence of the desert this morning as Morocco's natural beauty continues to astound you. After breakfast, leave the camp and make your way to the lovely oasis of Tinghir for lunch. The real attraction here is the spectacular Todra Gorge, a deep ravine carved by the Todra River over millennia. There'll be time to marvel at this sight before you continue to the Dades Valley, where roses bloom in profusion in springtime. The locals make good use of the prolific flower by producing rose water here. Dinner tonight is at your hotel
    Overnight: Ait Benhaddou (Ouarzazate Region)
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    DAY 9, Friday - Visit Ait Benhaddou, Travel to Marrakesh
    After breakfast at the hotel, take time to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ait Benhaddou, a ksar - or fortified city - along a former caravan route. This is the true Morocco: a village that seems to rise from the sands. Its desert-dusted Kasbahs and maze-like warrens are sure to enthrall you. Next, make your way to the magical city of Marrakesh. Dinner tonight at your hotel
    Overnight: Marrakesh
    Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

    DAY 10, Saturday - City Tour of Marrakesh, Bahia Palace, Majorelle Gardens
    Discover historic and exotic Marrakesh today. Begin at Majorelle Gardens, a botanical marvel set in the heart of Marrakesh. Next visit the Koutoubia, a 12th-century Mosque and minaret, still topped with four copper globes. Then, explore Bahia Palace, where 360 rooms were once adorned with Italian marble and Sudanese gold. For a more recent archaeological find, you'll see the richly decorated tombs of the Saadi Dynasty. End your thrilling morning in the famed Djemaa el Fna square, a dazzling display of acrobats, story tellers, and snake charmers. Take your time and absorb this vibrant kaleidoscope of culture, torn from the pages of Ali Baba. Balance of the day at leisure. This evening, an optional horse-drawn carriage ride takes you through the lively streets of Marrakesh followed by a lavish dinner of Moroccan fare. Relive the days of Arabian folklore while enjoying classic Moroccan music and an elegant belly dancing performance
    Optional: Dinner with Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride (PM)
    Overnight: Marrakesh
    Meals: Breakfast

    DAY 11, Sunday - Full Day Marrakesh
    Spend the day at leisure or participate in the optional tour to the scenic Ourika Valley where typical Moroccan villages are scattered amidst the towering Atlas mountains. Here, discover the area’s natural herbs and their many uses. Before lunch at the gardens enjoy, a "Berber foot bath". Afterward, return to the hotel
    Optional: Ourika Valley and Botanical Gardens with Lunch (AM)
    Overnight: Marrakesh
    Meals: Breakfast

    DAY 12, Monday - Cooking Class, Travel to Essaouira
    This morning, enjoy a half day cooking class in an authentic Medina's Riad and learn from one of the best "Dada chefs" in town how to successfully prepare traditional Moroccan tajine and salads, as well as delicious Moroccan flatbread. After lunch, depart Marrakesh for Essaouira. Stop at the Argan Oil Women's Cooperative to learn how this skin-nutrifying elixir is extracted from the argan nut, rich in nutrients and antioxidants beneficial to skin and hair. Arrive in Essaouira in time for dinner on your own
    Overnight: Essaouira
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    DAY 13, Tuesday - Discover Essaouira, Gnawa Performance
    Seaside Essaouira has grown into an artist's enclave over the years, and this makes for a fascinating mix of ancient and modern sensibilities. You'll be introduced to its culture with a stroll through the vibrant medina and its bustling fish market. The rest of the afternoon is yours to explore its inviting ancient streets. This evening, learn about traditional music during a talk with a local expert. Get the details about henna painting along with a demonstration. Enjoy a refreshing cocktail while viewing a Gnawa performance and dance*
    *Gnawa performance will sometimes operate on Day 12.
    Overnight: Essaouira
    Meals: Breakfast

    DAY 14, Wednesday - Travel to Casablanca & City Tour
    Transfer to Casablanca today, stopping en route for lunch in a local restaurant. Upon arrival, see the fabled city's important sights, including the Mohammed V Square, the city's administrative seat. Next, marvel at the massive Hassan II Mosque*, dramatically perched on a promontory on the Atlantic. Its indoor and outdoor space can accommodate 105,000 worshippers. In the Habous district, peruse the market and admire the exterior of the Royal Palace. Tonight, enjoy a Farewell Dinner
    *Hassan II Mosque is subject to unexpected closures for local religious observances. Details will be provided locally by your Tour Manager.
    Overnight: Casablanca
    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    DAY 15, Thursday - Depart Morocco
    After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your departure flight
    Meals: Breakfast
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  • Oct28

    JFK

    October 28, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Despite leaving 20 minutes late from Istanbul we arrived at JFK about 40 minutes early but it took us 30 minutes to get to the gate. We got a chance to use our new global entry and that was really sweet. Cruised through in about 2 minutes. Waiting forever on our luggage now We have a separate flight on American leaving out of terminal 8 in about 4 hrs so will have to catch the air train. Air train took about 10 minutes to Terminal 8. Got our bags checked and were done by roughly 2:15. Flights goes out at 4:50. Ah, some McDonald’s burgers!!

    Got on the plane at 450 and everyone was just about settled when they had us all deplane to investigate a bird strike on the wing that must have happened to the plane when it had been coming in. After being off the plane for 20 minutes, they reboarded us and we took off at 5:45, about an hour late. My watch tells me it is now 1225 am Istanbul time. Been up for 21 hrs now
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  • Oct27

    At the airport (IST)

    October 27, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Up at 3:30 departed at 4:45. 30 minute drive to the airport. Security is insane. Basically went through 3 Security checks before sitting down at the gate. Once you’re seated, you’re stuck. You can’t exit to shops, restaurants - nothing. No drinking fountain, no trash can. Rock hard plastic seats. Fortunately the hotel gave us a lunch box before we left. At the gate at 0630.
    Not so good IST.
    Took off at 8:30 , about 20 mins behind schedule. Seating is 2-4-2 so Janet and I got lucky. Had a decent breakfast onboard. Watched a movie about the sinking of the Russian submarine , “the Kurst” back in 2000. True story. Then listened to Turkish instrumental music whole typing journal notes. I like their instrumental music. Janet and I bought a couple of CDs for $6-7 each in a museum shop. Good memories of a great trip despite my nasty fall.
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  • Oct27

    Chora Museum (Kariye Museum)

    October 27, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    The building was originally known as the Church of the Holy Saviour Outside the Walls (Chora literally means 'country'), reflecting the fact that when it was first built it was located outside the original city walls constructed by Constantine the Great.
    What you see today isn't the original church. Instead, it was reconstructed at least five times, most significantly in the 11th, 12th and 14th centuries. Virtually all of the interior decoration – the famous mosaics and the less renowned but equally striking frescos – dates from circa 1320 and was funded by Theodore Metochites, a poet and man of letters who was logothetes, the official responsible for the Byzantine treasury, under Emperor Andronikos II (r 1282–1328). One of the museum's most wonderful mosaics, found above the door to the nave in the inner narthex, depicts Theodore offering the church to Christ.

    It cost us about $10 (50 lira) to catch a cab from our hotel to the museum. The hotel arranged the cab. On the way back, I tried out the Uber app which was an interesting experience. It identified cabs with a number, but when we saw cabs, they had big numbers on the side of the car and that is what we were looking for. All the license plates started with the same number and we weren’t really paying attention to that. So one driver who claimed to be at our location, we never saw, even though he actually tried to call us (big fail in communication). Eventually, we figured out we needed to be looking at the plate number and a guy showed up. What was a bit spooky is that the Uber app didn’t tell us what it was going to cost, but since we were in a hurry to make it to the Final Dinner, we just said, oh who cares and jumped in. The guy seemed to be heading in the right direction (rather than driving us to an Isis encampment!), but as we neared the hotel, he got stuck in some nasty traffic and then didn’t seem to know where the hotel was (even though he had 2 GPS units running!). He even stopped once and leaned out and asked another cabbie where the hotel was. Finally, after driving around and around in the same vicinity, we finally begged him to stop and let us out, which he did. You could tell he felt bad and he only charged us 50 lira which turned out to be about $7 on our credit card. Of course once out of the cab my gps on the phone couldn’t get a signal (too many buildings), so although I knew we were close, I didn’t really have an idea which way to go, so we ducked into a cafe and asked the guy there who gave us the general direction. As we headed that way, as fortune would have it, we bumped into two folks from our tour group who knew where the hotel was and pointed us that way. An adventure!
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  • Oct26

    Departure for Istanbul

    October 26, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Up at 5 am. Breakfast at 6 on bus at 7. Went across from the hotel last night for some kebabs and a beer. Pretty spicy!!

    Hotel was quite swanky. Not sure how Gate 1 delivers such nice hotels and great tour directors for the price but it is hard to resist. This tour covered some long stretches on the bus but we had plenty of breaks and the landscape and the social/history lessons from our tour director kept us entertained. Pretty nice bunch of people, no major whiners fortunately Not having to worry about luggage or much of anything becomes a blessing the older I get. Could we do this on our own? Absolutely, but could never have covered all that we did when you consider the logistics, language, etc

    Drove past the presidential palace on the way out of town. Damn - makes the White House look like a shack. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidential_Complex?wprov=sfti1https://maps.apple.com/?ll=39.931130,32.798873&q=Presidential Complex&_ext=EiQpiSmRRC/3Q0AxJlRweEFmQEA5iSmRRC/3Q0BBJlRweEFmQEA=

    Janet and I are planning to take a taxi to a church to check out some amazing mosaics. Was thinking about Uber, then I read this - https://www.quora.com/Is-Uber-available-in-Turkey. Think we’ll stick to the taxi!

    Spent some time writing out thank you notes in Turkish to our bus driver and tour director. Thank you Google translate!

    The Chora Church we will visit this afternoon - https://www.lonelyplanet.com/turkey/istanbul/attractions/kariye-museum-chora-church/a/poi-sig/402174/360887

    As a commentary on what I’m seeing in tourism, I’m thinking of writing Apple and Samsung and suggesting that they develop software that limits the number of selfies you can take in a day to 5. I can understand someone wanting to have a picture of themselves somewhere but 50 in the same place? How do you find time to look at what you came to see? (You don’t). It would cut crowds down considerably because everyone would leave after their first selfie. I know I sound grumpy but it drives Janet and I both insane. I can see why tourists are annoying to locals. The tour director makes no comments about it but that must drive him (and other tour directors) a bit bonkers when he is trying to educate the group.

    Some 50 miles east of Istanbul we are in the earthquake zone that killed 17000 back in 1999. ( see map with caption)

    As we pull into Istanbul about 1:30pm, I spot Krispy Kreme so to my WINSTON friends, they are alive and well in Turkey!
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  • Oct26

    Mövenpick Hotel - Ankara

    October 26, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Dinner on our own tonight. Trying to do some packing. We bought much more stuff than usual so now trying to cram a bunch of stuff into our two carryons and ship them as regular luggage. We each get 2 bags free on Turkish Air ( hopefully I’m reading that correctly!). So we can take our backpacks and 2 bags full of goodies on the plane. Janet is taking this on as a master challenge.

    Tomorrow we travel 5 hrs to Istanbul and have the rest of the afternoon off before doing dinner at 7. We’re skipping the 90 minute Bospherus cruise
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  • Oct26

    Museum - archeological

    October 26, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Ancient civilization museum. I think my brain is blasted by this time but here are a few pics to demonstrate just a few of the treasures in here. Bought a few Turkish CD’s of instrumental music - cheap too - like $6-7. And that’s from a Museum shop where nothing is ever cheap!

  • Oct26

    Ataturk memorial

    October 26, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    https://www.planetware.com/ankara/ataturk-mausoleum-tr-an-aam.htm

    A monument to the founder of the Republic. The Turkish people wish he were still alive. 85% of Turks don’t like the current ruler Erdigan who represents the religious right. Atturturk, who founded the Republic in 1923 was a secularist which most Turks preferRead more

  • Oct26

    On the road to Ankara

    October 26, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ 🌙 5 °C

    Our Plan for the day -

    “Saturday - Travel to Ankara, Mausoleum of Kemal Ataturk
    This morning depart for Ankara, the capital and the second largest city of Turkey. Upon arrival, visit the Mausoleum of Kemal Ataturk, founder and first president of the Turkish Republic. Leading up to the Mausoleum, view the vast brick courtyard and monumental avenue lined with Neo-Hittite stone statues and cenotaphs beneath its colonnades. The most noted cenotaphs within the complex are those of General Ismet Inonu, a close comrade of Ataturk's and that of Ataturk himself, beneath which lies his tomb. Continue to the Anatolian Civlizations Museum - built in two Ottoman buildings located near Ankara Castle. The Museum's unique exhibits feature Anatolian archaeological artifacts dating back to the Paleolithic Age
    Overnight: Ankara Meals: Breakfast

    Up at 5:30

    8:40. Saw hundreds of balloons riding this morning as we headed out of town. Traveling note through the high plateau- Open farmland, distant foothills (see pic).
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