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Tuesday 1 April 2014

Casablanca, Here's Lookin' at You...


I keep hearing from passengers that they didn't enjoy Casablanca. I can understand why, but at the same time I can't.

Casablanca is really alien. I was prepared for it after Marrakesh, but it was a hyperactive version of the same. On my second visit I had an even better time.

I went to look for Rick's Bar, of movie fame. It isn't real, but I guess that's the done thing to do in Casablanca, and I figured I'd try. God knows where it was, I couldn't find it. Anyway, I found myself lost deep in the Souks miles away from the tourist track, where nobody spoke any English, or accepted Euros. The streets were dirty and smelt of everything under the sun, crowded, ramshackle and an impossible maze. Exactly where I wanted to be.

My first stop was bread. The Morrocans have this round flat bread, backed in stone ovens on wooden paddles over a wood fire. I’ve seen it made and it tastes like nothing you can possibly buy in a shop. I struggled for a while to find anyone who would sell me a loaf of bread. Be it the quantity of one loaf, or the Strange foreigner money I was trying to pay in, some just got annoyed. Eventually a man took my money. The bread tasted sweet, rich and refreshing, and could have been my meal for the whole day. For many people it would be.

I passed fish cooking on what looked like thick black garden barbecues, the smell was insane. Men with sheets on the floor sold electronic goods, multi-adapters and phono to scart leads. Surprisingly, SD cards were easy to obtain in Casablanca. One man even offered me Argon Oil, ceramics or some quality marijuana. Judging by the quality of all their other plant produce, he probably wasn't lying.

My big scoop came from a table chock full of strawberries. There weren't any flies around it, and the guy looked friendly, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Now Morrocan strawberries are nothing like English strawberries. You know when you really fancy some strawberries, you have that sweet sweet taste on your tongue, you go to the supermarket and buy a pack and that taste like misery objectified, all sour and yucky? Not in Morroco. And not just because the only supermarket for miles is the street itself. These strawberries are big, juicy rich and red, each one like a small heart, with two swelling chambers. You bite into it and receive a little head-rush from a taste so rich you believed it to be a mere fantasy of sugar and e-numbers. How could such a dry and barren land yield such glory?

I digress, so I found a strawberry seller. I asked him how much I could get for two Euros. He took it and looked at it suspiciously. He shouted over his friends, and before long a huge crowd had gathered, to watch the strange tourist buying strawberries. He loaded a Kilo of strawberries into a bag, while his seniors discussed the exchange rate. When they finally worked out what I was paying them, the shop owner crammed even more into the bulging plastic bag. As I left he clutched my hand and looked at me with delighted eyes and said 'My house is your house'. I had to smile. That's what I love about Morocco, it pokes you and reminds you how lucky you are.

On the way back to Majesty, two young Muslim women demonstrated to me the key to pulling in Casablanca. 'La Frais'.

Au Revoir x

Wet Portimao


I woke up with only an hour in this little port. I basically walked around in the pouring rain for an hour photographing all the things I couldn't last time having left my camera in my bag.

Because of this, I’m going to tell the story of the last time I went to Portimao which I seem to have saved over and doesn't feature on my blog.

I got off in the port, the first building I saw was a very old ramshackle, tumbled down fort. It was open to the sky, but gave the appearance of being lived in.

I went further into Portimao to discover that it was probably the poorest port I’ve been to. The shops were closed mostly, the ones that were open were often understocked. I bought my lunch there from two young kids who looked so surprised at having a customer and excited. They spoke brilliant English, and the younger boy was watching loud English cartoons on a laptop.

I ate my lunch on a bollard, and a beggar came over and asked me for money. I gave him what I had, and my apple. I was starting to think Portimao was in a bit of a rut.

Then on my way back I found the Musee De Portimao. It was a massive old Tuna factory (I think) on the waterfront, converted into this incredible museum. There was loads I took away from this, including the whole Tuna processing room exactly as it was.

There was even a picture of this beautiful old ruined hotel when it was new. I'd seen it in the square! There were two hotels in this picture, both brand new. In the square, one was in ruins, one was immaculate. It left a big impression on me.

The one thing I couldn't believe was that there was a giant sound and lighting shop! That made me laugh. Also a socialist cafe, with murals.


Adios! xxx  

Lisbon – The second time around

Oh, Lisbon you are so beautiful! Out of all the ports I’ve been too, I’m not sure if your my favourite, but your definitely a grade A fitty. Straight off the boat and right into the rambling hills and back-streets.

This time I went much deeper in and found just beauty on beauty. My favourite part was the trams – now only reserved for museums in the UK, Lisbon's trams are the antique 8-speed kind, still rattling through the streets functionally and practically. I loved watching the wheels on rods that skim along the wires, sparking and providing power to the motors. When the trams turn around, the conductor pulls it down with a rope and manually drags it around until it face the opposite direction. I love it.

I bought a few things in Lisbon, for fifty cents I bought a 1950's pulp fiction story book – by which I mean it's a cheap throwaway thing with beautiful 50's illustrations, and all in Portuguese, which I found fascinating.

The next thing I found was a sort of retro-vintage shop, run by the coolest looking guy ever. This gave birth to my first international vinyl scoop. Only the PATTI SMITH GROUP!!!! Radio Ethiopia. I can't wait to get this on my turntable.

I then bought a postcard made of cork. In a stroke of luck on my way back I deviated to kill some time, and found a street market selling everything – including guitars! I bought a cheap one for Joe, our entertainments manager, as he'd asked me to keep an eye out.

I wont even try to describe how wonderful Lisbon is. Around every corner is another bit, but it's built so high, you can't tell where you are, or how long it goes on for. All I know is that I could spend days there.

Sets were really good today! A lovely guy tipped me for playing Moonlight Sonata which gave me a lot of confidence with my piano.  

Hey Malaga, Do You Play Ukelele Too?


Today, I found out how to make friends in Spain. With my ukelele.

The day started with a birthday meal, in a little restaurant in Malaga. I went back to the ship, fetched my ukelele with bag, and set off exploring with the intention of practising a little later on the beach. I also had a package to post to England, so I was inclined to find a post office. With no idea of the spanish for post office, I felt I would wander until I found something that resembled said shop.

At the crossing from Malaga's beautiful green parks into the city shopping district, I met a girl and her boyfriend carrying of all things, a ukelele. So, I introduced myself to them, and the girl spoke perfect English. I was a little bit shocked when she kissed me on both cheeks. This is a custom I approve of. I wish I had the bollocks to do this every girl I met.

Anyway, I got chatting and found out quite a bit about her, she was from Madrid, I can't remember where the guy was from. They ended up walking me half way across town to a post office! Two nicer people couldn't have been met.

After that, I had an explore and ended up in a shop trying to buy prit stick. I succeeded. I also met two guys, one of which was holding a Spanish guitar and plucking out little funky licks. I started chatting to him, and he offered me a beer and to show me Malaga. Turns out he's English and his friends Dutch, and a wicked skateboarder, although currently nursing a broken wrist from a particularly bad fall.

We jammed on a bench for ten minutes, guitar and uke, then they offered to take me to a gig, to see his girlfriend's band, playing at six at a club in town. I had to be back on the boat at Eight, so like a fool I said yes.

'Malaga's beautiful', he said. 'There's something about it that attracts amazing people. Assholes do come here, but they don't survive in this enviroment, they have to get out.' It struck me as a really strange thing to say, but everyone in Malaga did seem to be pretty amazing. On the boat I feel a bit bumbling and awkward, in the alien languaged city I’m completely at ease. Both of the guys had come for a week and stayed for years, as had the two they live with.

The gig was amazing. The band are called Los Negrados, I think, and the singer Julia, on seeing my uke asked me to get out and play for her. I played her a couple of verses of Something by the Beatles, trying doggedly not to notice how beautiful and engaging she was. She immediately invited me up on stage to sing a song in the break.

When Los Negrados began to play, I was transfixed. I’ve seen a heck of a lot of bands in my time, but I don't think I’ve seen hardly any as engaging as these. Stand up bass, congas, guitar and three way harmonies made a sound as dark and lush as their name, 'the Blacks' in English. Their version of 'I shot the sherrif' was a kind of latin reggae mixed with rock-a-billy, but so smooth you couldn't see the seams. That's when I realised I have a lot to learn from Spanish music. I have to see more of it if I can. Unfortunately, I didn't get to sing with them, as I had to dash for the boat.

The guys invited me to hang out with them when I’m next in Malaga, and see some of the good bits. I’m hoping it happens, although my phone wont work their Spanish numbers. Either way, My uke is coming with me now to every port - It seems to be a passport to fun!

Oh, I forgot to mention about Steve V King! He sat in with me on my gig last night – he's the guest singer for Thompson, and the 64th member of the Drifters. His voice was out of this world, and he went out of his way to give me tips on taking care of it. We had a few drinks together, and he came and sat in on my gig, and together we made a double act to die for. We bashed out 45 minutes of incredible performance, and he brought out vocal support I didn't know was in me! I was on fire, it was such a rush. Steve did harmonies, and sang a few songs, and he was incredible as always. After feeling very small and down on this boat full of incredible singers, Steve's advice and support has showed me that I do have something different to bring to the passengers that nobody else has. Tonight's gigs were far better for it. I love this boat!

Cartegena – The escalator to nowhere, and the sound advice of Christobal Colon.

This port was such a weird experience. At first, I thought it was going to be pretty boring, although very beautiful from the mountains surrounding it, flanked by huge industrial dock cranes. The further I got into the city though, the more the oddities struck me.

Firstly, I found a music shop and bought a new guitar tuner on impulse. I do really need one for what I’m doing right now. Unfortunately, my time here was limited to a couple of hours as the boat departed at three and getting on the crew list had taken me ages.

I started plodding back to the ship, which I saw a really slow moving escalator, seemingly going just up into the sky. I decided to mount it. As I did, it sped up alarmingly, elevating me quickly to the top of a hill. Expecting some kind of shopping complex at the top I found – nothing.

Well, there was a bit of ruined wall, and a view over the semi-demolished city, acres of wasteland. I did find as I went around this wall, there was more ruins on the other side, but I’ve never seen anything as bizzarre as an escalator up a hill to a ruined building. It made me very happy. From this elevated position I saw my next treat.

On the nearest standing building of the next block, and more further up, spanning four stories, was an astonishing mural. The sheer scale of this graffiti, public art, whatever it was is indescribable. Either someone had a crane or risked their life on some insane ladder assembly – or worse, climbed it freestyle. I don't know, it just blew my mind.

Next treat was the facade of a building, standing completely independantly in its own scaffold, like a movie set. The crumbling building didn't look particularly special, just old and dilapidated, along with it's neighbours in this dusty, unkempt but startlingly beautiful part of town.

By this time I was lost an desperate to get back to the boat by curfew, so I decided not to photograph the random plane on a pole, but I couldn't resist some more brilliant street art.

When I finally found the boat there was a stern looking statue of a man named 'Christobal Colon' pointing towards it as if to say 'Get a jog on boy, the Majesty awaits!'

Good day. Now, gig time. Cyas! x

Oh! Valencia

Valencia is an extremely beautiful city. It's beauty hides behind corners and jumps out at you. It also gives you an extreme compulsion to take photographs. It also makes 'Itchycoo Park' by Small Faces play around in a loop in your head. 'It's all too beautiful'.

At the minute, to avoid that loop I’m listening to that amazing record I’ve already gushed so much about on this blog 'Lizzy Sawyer' by herself. If you haven't got it on your iTunes already, its £1.79 for heavens sake man, go get! You're missing out on so much if you don't, and the label & artist need money.

Valencia, sadly took a shuttle bus to get to, and the whole trip was marred by my fear of not finding the shuttle bus again. Luckily, I did and all was well.

I came in on a bus with one other passenger. A security fellow, whose name I couldn't pronounce when he told it me, and I certainly can't reproduce here. Anyway, his English was very poor, and mines pretty poor at the best of times, so we struggled, but made a day of it. That is, until we got separated and I couldn't find him again. I felt really bad that maybe he thought I was trying to loose him, but we chatted the next day and I think we're all cool.

Anyway, I’ve no idea what I saw, but I know it was very beautiful. Architecture to dwarf the best I’ve ever seen seemed to be part and parcel of everyday life, and going away I felt I hadn't seen an nth of what there was to see.

I new the bust left from by a river, so I found that river and and followed it up, but all the space beside it looked the same. I went down to look at the river, and it turned out to be a massive strip of parkland. Maybe the river had dried up or something, but the whole thing was just full of green space, parks, swings, trees, picnic places. It was pretty inspirational, and my next day in Valencia will be spent there.

Later that night I played with Steve in the audience, the guest singer and 64th member of the Drifters. The next night he'd join me on the piano for my set! I got bought so many drinks tonight, even full bottle of wine! Love this job.