Record Snow in the UK!!!

Trip Start Dec 16, 2009
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Trip End Jan 09, 2010


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Flag of Morocco  ,
Friday, December 18, 2009

Cold ... so cold ... has this place not heard of heat? Between the jacket/hoodie combo I've been wearing that is entirely inappropriate for London's bone-chilling damp, and the lack of proper heating in the hostel, the only time I've been warm so far in London has been in the shower!  The shower stall was quite odd, with one of the tiled walls replaced with a full-length mirror.  I really don't need to see my soaped-up body while showering, though I would be OK with this if it was a view of a soaped-up Spanish senorita's body :) 

After bringing my body-temperature above hypothermic levels, it was down for breakfast - it seems to have improved slightly over the last time I was here.  Gone was the crappy shredded wheat cereal, and replaced with sweet ones of the chocolatey variety.   But sadly ... there was no Nutella!!!  What kind of European breakfast does NOT have it?  Though they did have peanut butter, a nice touch, since it doesn't seem to be all that common in Europe.

The news today - snowstorms across the country created all kinds of havoc; schools closing, people stuck in their cars and either sleeping in them overnight or abandoning them in place, inbound flights canceled, rail services interrupted ... and the amount of snow?  Worst case - 20 cm, but the problems were mostly in places that only received a few centimetres!  That's what happens when it's a country unaccustomed to dealing with all that white stuff, and lacks any way of dealing with it.  It's kind of comical to a Calgarian, like it is when you hear of a city like Toronto shutting down because of 10 cm of snow. 

London itself was largely spared, other than a couple of centimetres that had started falling last night.  Having time before Mary was scheduled to meet me, I went in search of some bottled water and snacks for today's flight to Marrakech.  Heading over to a nearby strip of shops I continued walking, not seeing anything but convenience stores. 

There's something about the cold here that permeates clothing and feels like somebody is rubbing ice on your skin.  After about 20 minutes, my face felt like it was being pricked with little icicles.  It's probably comical to Londoners who are used to it, much like the UK's struggles with snow this morning were comical to me.

Back at the hostel, I killed time by constantly checking to see if our flight would still depart this afternoon.  Mary was late, to no surprise, given all the problems caused by the snow.  But surprisingly, it wasn't her train ride in from Basildon, but problems on the underground that caused her tardiness.  Funnily, Mary was shocked, even disappointed, that I wasn't panicking and running around like a headless chicken because my precious travel schedule was compromised!  See blog entry entitled "Stockholm Syndrome" http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/pwong/euro-2007/1190413080/tpod.html

Off to Victoria station to catch a train for Gatwick - our 12:02 train was going to be difficult to make, especially since we were expecting more issues with the underground.  The weather had caused all kinds of delays with Gatwick-bound trains which was surprising, since an earlier check of their website showed everything to be on schedule.  No information was available at the station, not even from employees of Southern Rail. 

Our scheduled train was delayed, but nobody could tell us when it was going to arrive, so we hopped on the first available one to Gatwick - given the mild chaos at the train station, we didn't know if we were actually on the right train until we were several minutes into the ride, and the itinerary of the train was announced.  Though the LED display at the platform listed Gatwick as a stop, we didn't fully trust the info since seemingly nobody had any idea what was going on today.

Lunch was on board, sausage rolls and steak pies from Gregg's, a chain of bakeries that is one of the few ways to eat on a budget in the UK.  Fruit salad and cherry tomatoes from Italy that had been bashed about in the frantic journey to the train, rounded out the meal.  I commented to Mary that I should have bought the Spanish tomatoes because like the women, they undoubtedly would've been sweeter :)

Gatwick - Easyjet really needs to update their records, as we showed up at the South terminal, where our flight confirmation email instructed us to go.  Some other guy on a flight to Athens ran into the same problem, showing up at the South terminal when it should've been the North terminal.  They're pretty stupid mistakes that could really cause somebody a lot of trouble, especially on a bad weather day like today. 

Security was another hassle, taking over an hour to get through.  There was a delay getting on board the plane, and we ended up sitting there for almost two hours, because of issues de-icing the wings.  The first de-icing truck had trouble getting out there and when it did, it promptly ran out of de-icing fluid.  By the time another truck was sent they had to re-do the wing that had been previously de-iced, because it was once again frozen over. 

It doesn't really matter, because we weren't scheduled to arrive in Marrakech until 19:00 anyway, so the most we would have done tonight was check-in, have dinner, and go for a walk.  Now it'll just be checking in and going for a walk, as dinner ended up being on the plane - a couple of granola bars, a bag of cashews, and some water.

Time passed quickly on the flight, between napping and watching an episode of "Spain: On the Road Again", featuring the ever-lovely Claudia Bassols, that was downloaded to the net book.  Mysteriously, the sound disappeared for the final 3 minutes of the episode, but it didn't matter – even without her sweet Spanish voice, watching her on screen was a delight! 

We were met at the airport by a taxi pre-booked with the hostel; I guess they never checked flight schedules before arriving at the airport and ended up waiting at the airport a couple of hours for us.  After quite the long ordeal today, we finally arrived at the medina – it was a good thing we had pre-booked a taxi with the hostel, because one of the hostel workers Hakim, took us through the dark and winding corridors of the medina to the hostel.  Given the instructions on the hostel’s website, I don’t see how we could’ve found the place on our own.  Once shown the way and given the tricks on how to locate the place, getting there was a breeze. 

The hostel’s manager greeted us upon arrival, fixing us a pot of the famous Moroccan mint tea – a mix of Chinese tea, mint, and sugar.  Very sweet, and very good – it was a nice welcome, and nice that the staff makes an effort to get to know you on an individual basis.  Both he and Hakim inquired as to what our itinerary for Morocco was, and both noted that it should be a good trip, with the exception of Casablanca.  They cited Casablanca’s lack of touristic sites, its lack of cleanliness, and its reputation of being a bit of a rough city.  They also mentioned the fact that the movie wasn’t even filmed in Casablanca!  Perhaps we’ll need to reconsider our stop there …

We settled in to the hostel, ending up in separate rooms – I ended up with a couple of Spaniards in my room, part of a group of five, and when I explained my affinity for Spanish women, one of them apologized for the lack of senoritas in their travel group.  It’s OK, I’ll soon be in senorita heaven! 

We did end up having a late dinner, and most restaurants were already closed, except for the vendor stalls in the middle of Place Jemaa El Fna, the medina’s main square.  It was a little chaotic, but a lot less bustling than I expected it to be – perhaps it’s busier in the daytime. 

Hustling is definitely a way of life here, and it was quite annoying having to deal with people constantly shoving menus in your face, or trying to pull you over to their stall.  I wonder if this practice actually works, or just annoys the hell out of potential customers?  Ignoring them seems to be the best way, as being polite seems to only encourage the harassment. 

The guidebook suggested that pretending to not speak English, and instead suggesting you speak some other language wasn’t the best way, as locals may speak more languages than you think.  I tried feigning being from Spain, but I don’t know how well that worked, as he ended up speaking better Spanish than I did!  We settled on a stall that was less annoying in its harassment and sat down to a cheap, but fairly pedestrian meal.  So far, Morocco is definitely different ... we'll see how it is in the morning! 
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