It's some years now since we used to load up our car in Edinburgh and set off on the road to Morocco, via Hull-Zeebrugge and Algeciras-Tangier, and then on to Fes, where my husband comes from. Now, less geared up for such adventurous trips, we fly.
This year, we took the journey in two bites. First stop was the small, former military airport of Les Garons outside Nimes, reminiscent in size of Turnhouse in the 1950s. There we were unexpectedly greeted by a detachment of Roman soldiers lined up in gleaming helmets and full battle dress behind a ripple of waist-high curved shields. Had we arrived during a historic festival? Was a celebrity about to hit town? No, I was told it was in honour of Ryanair's first flight of the season from Edinburgh and a tourist advertisement for Nimes' famous Roman remains.
We've visited Nimes often but this time we were spending a few days with one of my husband's sisters and her husband who have been settled in the region for nearly 40 years. The day we arrived, 2 May, was also this year the Eid ul Fitr, the celebration of the end of the sombre month of Ramadan. They met us wearing full Moroccan dress, as the smart Hajjis they now are, and whisked us off to their son's house on the outskirts of the city where an extended family party was in full swing around a table laden with heaped platters of cakes and pastries. This wasn't what my doctor was thinking of when she recommended 'the healthy Mediterranean diet'. There was talk of salad, but one didn't appear until much later. That's Moroccan hospitality for you. Full of sweet things, especially after the deprivations of Ramadan.
Meanwhile, Pre-school age children, mainly boys, bounced around like tumbleweed, baseball caps reversed, examining new toys, squealing, squabbling, joshing about, then running off into the garden to kick a ball. The adults caught up on time lost to Covid – this was our first family visit in over three years – while on one wall a giant television screen replayed a loop video of pilgrims encircling the Kaaba in Mecca.
In order to travel on to Morocco, we had to have a negative PCR test close to our departure date. My sister-in-law had made prior appointments for us at a biomedical lab in Avignon on 5 May. My husband had already had four of these. I was a bit wary of the possible discomfort. 'No problem,' he said. So I suggested he go first to show me what to expect. The sight of him grimacing and squirming like a fish on a hook as the slimline swab entered each nostril wasn't reassuring, but I had my dignity to maintain.
The nurse was very gentle with me. 'When I insert the swab, take a deep breath,' she said. 'That will help to open up your nasal passages.' So I did and it was a doddle. I'd had four Covid vaccines without turning a hair. Tales of streaming eyes and tickling your tonsils till you gagged had always seemed much worse.
Thankfully, both tests proved negative. The next difficulty was how to transfer this welcome information from my sister-in-law's smartphone to one or both of ours, or, preferably on to a paper copy. We're all of a generation whose digital agility is not of the spriteliest. Luckily, my sister-in-law's children were more used to such exigencies. We needed the help of both her daughters, one in Auch near Toulouse, the other in Tours on the Loire. There was also another information form to fill in to do with who we were, where we were coming from and where we would be staying. The two young women did this, magically it seemed, from their respective locations, phone calls going to and fro to double check details.
Finally, this data was sent to their brother near Nimes who arranged for paper copies to be printed for us to personally sign. He appeared with them as we stood somewhat anxiously in the check-in queue the following day. Without them all we would have been in a distinct muddle. The world is changing and we're not keeping up with these changes as we clearly need to.
Our Edinburgh-Nimes flight had left at 1.30pm. We arrived in Nimes after a two and a half hour flight at 5.00pm. We knew French time is always one hour ahead of British time. A cryptic note on our ticket for Nimes-Fes told us our onward flight would take 15 minutes, enough to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee. A nice example of Irish humour, perhaps?
The flight actually took two hours and 15 minutes. Moroccan time was then two hours behind French time specially arranged for the month of Ramadan. Now it has reverted to the same as British summer time. So, after all these alarms and excursions, we're back where we started, except that it's actually very hot here and it's still only spring.
Gillean Somerville-Arjat is a writer and critic based in Edinburgh