A Surprise Holiday!

I had dreams that our 30th wedding anniversary would involve my husband whisking me off to an exotic island –I have been hinting about Bora Bora for an awfully long time, after all! But deep down, I knew this was never going to happen – for several reasons:

  1. Bora Bora is VERY expensive to get to.
  2. Despite leaving suitable travel brochures laying around, with pages turned down and hotel descriptions heavily ringed in black biro, my husband has not noticed that Bora Bora is El Numero Uno on my bucket list. I suppose the fact that there are always numerous holiday brochures, travel magazines and guide books covering every surface in our house may make it easy for these to be overlooked….
  3. Bora Bora is VERY, VERY expensive to get to.
  4. My husband – bless him – readily admits he would have no idea of where to start when it comes to booking a holiday, even though I have travel agent friends who would hold his hand and gently guide him through the whole process! My fault, I know; having had a travel-obsessed travel consultant as a wife does rather mean he has had no involvement in organizing any of our travel plans…
  5. My husband would be terrified of Getting It Wrong….he knows there would be dire consequences if he booked the wrong flights/airlines/hotels!!!
  6. Bora Bora is NOT CHEAP.

An expensive trip to a tiny speck in a distant ocean on the other side of the world merits a stay of at least two weeks; Hubby would have to clear it with my employers behind my back and it wouldn’t be easy for him to take time off (he’s self employed…)

So…..it was up to ME to surprise HIM.

And now the tables were turned, I realised that it’s actually not quite that easy to organise a surprise holiday; I asked him if he’d be happy for me to surprise him, and gave him some rough dates. Yes, that was fine, he said (with a slightly worried expression).

So; where to go? Bora Bora is out of the question until we win the lottery. We couldn’t be away for more than a week due to work constraints. We both hate the idea of spending all day, every day on a beach. I didn’t want to stay in a bland hotel.

My first thought was Madrid. I love Madrid with a passion, and I’ve been there several times, although Hubby has never been. But I’ll be going again in September – maybe better to look at somewhere I’d never been before. Cordoba? Granada? Seville…?

I looked at Seville; cheap flights, some beautiful, Moorish hotels….which made me think of Morocco. Marrakech – perfect!! Both our son and my aunt have been to Morocco and loved it. It’s very cheap to get to, it’s a perfect destination for a shorter break, it would be a new experience for both of us and it would be full of colour and noise and smells and…..well, exotic-ness!!!

I found the flights. I found a BEAUTIFUL Riad within the walls of the Medina – small and romantic, so perfect for the occasion. I booked the airport parking. I organized the travel insurance. I checked our passports…….Oh dear: Hubby’s passport would expire less than 3 months after our return date, and the Moroccan websites all told us that he’d need at least 6 months remaining. I told him he’d have to renew his passport.

I spoke to a nurse at our local GP surgery to check that we were up to date with our travel vaccinations. Although not compulsory, she strongly recommended that we had the appropriate jabs, although she couldn’t fit us in for the same appointment. I had to explain that my husband had no idea where we were going, so she was under strict orders not to give the game away! So off he went, bless him, to be prodded and pricked….he came back with a glint in his eye, though; “Well, that rules Madrid out!” he said.

Then, as the holiday got nearer, I asked Hubby to get together some clothes that he might like to take; I could help him decide what would be suitable and what else he might need to buy. “Will I need beach clothes?” he asked. “…..Possibly,” I told him, mysteriously (I knew we might have a day trip to the coast). “Will it be hot?” he asked. “Hmmmnn…hotter than here, I expect,” I said, trying to look as though I’d had to think very hard about that one. “How much money will I need to take?” he asked. “Well, just enough for food, and a little extra in case we take an excursion, and some more for bits and pieces, ice creams, souvenirs, postcards……” “OK; Euros….?”

In Morocco the currency is the Dirham. It is possible to use Euros in a few places over there, particularly in Marrakech, but it is expected that visitors bring Dirhams – which you can’t get until you arrive in Morocco. “Maybe you should just bring all your currency in Sterling?” I told him. “But you always tell me it’s not safe to take too much cash on holiday,“ he said; “Will I be able to use my cards while we’re away? Shouldn’t I advise my bank in advance…?”

With just a few days to go, I realised that it wasn’t so easy to keep everything secret. Perhaps, if we’d been going off on a standard package tour to a Mediterranean beach resort, it would have been simpler. Regardless of which country you’re in, you kind of know what to expect from a beach package. But I was beginning to realise that he needed to have an idea of the destination; even though I could tell him what clothes, toiletries and currency to bring, he needed to mentally prepare for where we were going – just as I would have wanted to. It also gave him a chance to read a little about Marrakech, to get an idea of what he might not want to miss when we were there. Perhaps keeping the whole thing secret was more for my own benefit – it gave me total control, and I had an excuse for not sharing the planning and the details with anybody else. But it can’t have been easy for him. So, two days before we left, I told him that we were going to Morocco. Which he’d already guessed, anyway.

An olive stall in Marrakech.
An olive stall in Marrakech.

I still had the satisfaction of knowing that the location inside the Medina walls would be a surprise, as would the tasteful, romantic and exotic Riad that I had chosen. I knew the holiday would be special, because of the occasion it was celebrating. And to an extent, it would be a surprise to both of us – however much I’d been told by other people, however many photos I’d seen, however many books I’d read, I knew Marrakech would be different to anywhere I’d been before, so I hoped and expected that it would still surprise me.

And I’m still hoping that, one day, he’ll tell me to book two weeks off work and to stock up on sun cream, ready for when he whisks me off to…….well, hopefully it’ll be a surprise…!!!

 

 

 

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Where did my wanderlust come from?

We never had lots of money when I was young – we certainly weren’t poor, but family holidays tended to involve staying with relatives, or in a caravan on the south coast. I never felt I was missing out as a child; until I was in my teens, I didn’t really know anyone who went abroad on holiday.

I'll never get tired of this view....!
I’ll never get tired of this view….!

When I was very young, we lived for a few years in my grandparents’ home. This was great – I had wonderful aunties and uncles around who spoilt me rotten – and a Nana and Grandad who were EXACTLY what a good Nana and Grandad should be; Nana would take me to the bottom of the garden to feed the chickens and collect the eggs, and Grandad would sit me on his knee, and tell me about his travels. He smelt of tobacco and I used to love looking at the tattoos on his arms.

Grandad

My Grandad, and his eldest son (my Uncle Dave), were both in the Navy, and the house was full of special treasures from all over the world: carved ivory (I know, I know – not something any of us would want to buy now), dark wooden tribal masks, and my favourite of all – a tiny, delicate Chinese tea set, made with china so fine that it was almost transparent; when you tipped it up, the face of a Chinese lady appeared in the base of the cup!  Grandad must have told me about the places he’d been to buy such treasures, and although I don’t remember any stories in particular, I think he must have unlocked something deep within me.

I was also an avid reader, and my favourite books of all were tales from other lands. Tales from Scandinavia, where it was always twilight and the silent, snowy land was ruled by evil Ice Queens. Oriental stories of dragons and pagodas, and Folk tales from central and eastern Europe, full of tiny villages nestling among forested mountain sides inhabited by wolves. Stories from Africa or South America, where witch doctors danced around fires, and concocted strange herbal potions; and tales from the Middle East, where a dusky-skinned princess gazed out across endless deserts, waiting for an Arab prince to come galloping up to her marble palace (on a jet black stallion, of course), where he would summon a Djinn to create a magic carpet and whisk her away to a sultry oasis (I particularly liked this scenario…!). In my mind I would imagine myself there, the warm breeze playing through the leaves of the date palms, a subtle hint of incense carried across the sand, and the dark sky pierced by millions of the brightest twinkling stars….

A typical alleyway in the Medina of Marrakech
A typical alleyway in the Medina of Marrakech

At junior school, my somewhat romanticised view of All Things Foreign was brought down to earth by a series of geography programmes on TV, which we watched occasionally during lessons. They showed us what life was like for children living in dusty villages in Africa, in jungle clearings in South America, and in Inuit communities in the Arctic. I was fascinated by how similar – yet how different – their lives were to mine. I wondered what it would be like to have to catch or gather your food each day, to wear heavy animal skins to keep warm or to wear as little as possible to keep cool. I tried to imagine having to keep an eye out for tarantulas, snakes or polar bears all the time. Their lives were worlds apart from mine, but I found every detail and every difference fascinating.

The Great Big World Out There suddenly came within my grasp when a schoolfriend’s next door neighbour, who was a teacher at another school, was taking a group of pupils on a trip to Paris. My friend and I were offered places on the trip to fill up the seats, and this meant that I would leave England for the very first time in my life. For a 13-year-old with a serious motion sickness problem, the journey (by coach and ferry) was horrendous. But every second of heaving into paper bags was worth it as we drove along the Peripherique – the Paris equivalent of the M25 – and I experienced a life-changing moment: there, in the distance, if I craned my neck and squinted through the sunlight, I could – just – make out the iconic shape of the Eiffel Tower….

THE EIFFEL TOWER!!! I had seen hundreds of photos of it, seen it represented in paintings, and watched programmes on TV about it. But this was the Real Thing – I was in France – in Paris – without anyone else from my family – and I could see the real, actual, proper Eiffel Tower!

It was a great trip, full of little experiences and discoveries that completely overwhemed me: they call chips ‘frites’! Their money is different! They drive on the other side of the road! Their policemen wear funny hats! Everything about Paris impressed me so much that when I returned home I announced to everybody that I was going to live there when I was older…

In the seventies, package holidays offered a relatively cheap and easy way to visit the sun-drenched beaches of the Mediterranean, and suddenly people we knew were jetting off to Spain, returning with suntans, sombreros and almost life-sized straw donkeys. My parents seemed to be determined that we would continue with our annual family holidays to a beautiful seaside village in Devon, a little slice of English heaven called Branscombe, which I will always love;

but I was beginning to realise that there’s an awfully big and exciting world out there, and I desperately wanted to explore it. A family holiday abroad would cost more than my parents were willing to spend, but I saved up money from my Saturday job and put it towards another trip with my fiend’s neighbour’s school (this time to Belgium, with day trips to The Netherlands and Luxembourg), and then a Spanish exchange trip organised by my own school. Having now visited France, Belgium, Holland (we never called it The Netherlands in those days!), Luxembourg and Spain – and all without my parents – I felt like a regular little globetrotter!

Cocktail time!
Cocktail time!

When I was growing up, there was a TV advert that just got to me. It showed beautiful people arriving at the rooftop of a castle by hot air balloons, where they watch the sun go down across a beautiful landscape as they sipped their Martinis. The song hinted at a lifestyle full of the promise of luxury in special places: “Any time, any place, anywhere…there’s a wonderful world you can share…”. That was the life I wanted. There was an even better ad for Martini showing at cinemas – instead of balloons, the Beautiful People were meeting for sundowners on a secluded, rocky beach by seaplane. You saw the seaplanes skimming across a sparkling azure sea and soaring over a little archipelago before bobbing gently on the darkening water as the Beatiful People clinked their ice-filled Martini glasses and the sun slipped lower in the sky. Oh, heaven! This is how the Jet Set live!

I never had a hope in hell of belonging to the Jet Set while (a) I was still at school (and my Saturday job at the local greengrocer’s didn’t quite give me the millionaire’s lifestyle I wanted), and (b) I had never yet been on a plane! And then….”Why don’t we all go on holiday?….” said one of my friends, “….before we get to our final year and have loads of exams to do..?” So then we all started saving, all six of us – all girls; and we started planning The Best Holiday Ever…..(but that’s another story)!