Posts Tagged ‘marrakesh’

Another Day of Marrakesh, Then One in the Altas Mountains

May 1st, 2008 at 2:51 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We’re pretty beat. The Lindblad/National Geographic folks have been keeping us very busy, and we’re about to head out again for a final dinner in Marrakesh in a few minutes, so no time for photos right now, alas, nor much verbiage (and I’m sure there will be rejoicing as a result of that).

Yesterday we went back into the Souk, visited the leather workers, metal workers, and a then had a presentation at an herbalist’s shop about a variety of herbs that can be used to treat various ailments, or improve various conditions. These ranged from getting rid of migraines to removing wrinkles. Pretty entertaining and interesting. The herbalist shop also offered various spices and oils for cooking – we’ll be experimenting with those when we get home.

We also visited the Medersa Ben Youssef, formerly a school/college where the Koran was studied, and saw how students lived, and where the performed their ablutions. Shopping followed.

After lunch back at the hotel, we visited the Koutoubia Mosque (outside only, as non-Muslims are not permitted inside), the Saadian Tombs (interesting, but the highlights for many appeared to be a rare (for us) owl and live tortoise living wild on the property, and the Bahia Palace (stunningly beautiful). We also observed that wild white storks have made nests upon most of the tall buildings around, which are mostly the towers of mosques. Storks reportedly bring good luck (in addition to bringing babies).

Dinner was in the beautiful setting of the Beldi Country Club, a few minutes outside Marrakesh. We were entered by Ganoui tribal musicians as we walked across lantern lit, rug covered paths. Excellent ambiance and food.

This morning we had an early start as we boarded one of 25 or so Land Rovers to take a tour of part of the nearby Atlas mountains, home to a number of Berber villages and tribes. Amazing views and scenery, as well as views of daily village life. Most terrifying incident was when Diane was almost taken down by a horde of urchins (little Berber kids) hoping to get some coins from her. The twisty turny narrow roads were pretty harrowing too. We had lunch at a very pretty hideaway in the mountains called La Rosarie – a place filled with flowers (mostly roses).

When it was time to return to Marrakesh, Linda and the kids returned to the hotel while I went with a small group of about ten people to visit the Dar Si Said Museum and look at some historical artifacts. The museum was mildly interesting, but in serious need of upkeep.

And dinner tonight is set for the heart of the medina at the Stylia restaurant, where we are to be greeted by blue men of the desert holding lit torches.

Maybe there’ll be a chance for photos later tonight or tomorrow – we’ve taken hundreds.

Tomorrow we head to Safi to board the National Geographic Endeavour and do some exploring of Safi itself.

 

Touring Marrakesh – Day 1 – Souks and More

April 29th, 2008 at 7:33 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Seeing as I needed to come up with something of a different way to post since my phone data connection still isn’t working, and because I had a bit of extra time today, I’m going to go with a more visual blog entry for today, our first full day in Marrakesh.

After breakfast we went to the Lindblad/National Geographic hospitality desk, got a quick orientation, and met a few fellow early arrivals for our upcoming tour. Among them was Diane from Chicago, a wonderfully nice and charming woman who ended up joining us for the day’s adventures.

The morning consisted of going out on a private mini-tour of the Koutoubia Mosque area, the souks (windy and maze-like paths through a covered area with shops) and the big open market place, with Mohammed, a guide Lindblad made available to us.

Jake and Diane pose with Berber water sellers in front of the Koutoubia Mosque tower
Jake and Diane pose with Berber water sellers in front of the Koutoubia Mosque tower

Marrakesh is rather touristy, and lots of folks go to various extremes in order to be candidates for tourist photos (for which they charge) including wearing traditional Berber water seller outfits, taming snakes, pulling teeth (or at least implying such), and offering monkeys for shoots.

Once in the souks – the area where diverse goods are sold from stalls and small buildings, typically a covered meandering path with lots of noise and people traffic – we looked in on a few shops, both ones that were of interest to us as well as ones where our guide Mohammed knew the owners. It’s a well known thing too that guides get a commission on sales made to people that come into their shops with the guide, and Mohammed confirmed that he would get an end of year “bonus” from such shops, but added he only recommended shops with reputable merchants and goods.


Colorful spices in the souks of Marrakesh

One of the places Mohammed brought us to was a carpet shop, where we were presented with fine examples of hand woven Arab, Berber, and Ajakoub (Moroccan Jewish) carpets and rugs. The seller who took care of us was Aziz, and he explained (and Mohammed previously also indicated) that his carpet shop represented a number of women’s cooperatives which make the carpets and rugs, with the carpet sellers acting as a clearing point for their wares.


Krystyana, Bas, and Linda examine rugs at the carpet sellers’

The rugs and carpets can be made of wool (camel, goat, or sheep – sheep is most common) or cactus fiber.


Bas tests out a carpet at the carpet sellers’ in Marrakesh

We ended up finding several rugs of interest to us, and learned first hand the art of Moroccan haggling. We ended up narrowing down to two pieces, one for Diane and one for Krystyana, paying about one-fifth of the original asking price – quite a steep price drop, leaving me convinced that we still might have paid a bit too much (especially as we then added another similar rug/covering for Bas). But, if we did, we can chalk up the excess to the price for an great show – what the carpet sellers do is a real theatrical performance (and enjoyable for at least one sitting).


Bas is not sure about the water snake around his neck as Krystyana looks on

After the souks we walked back out to Place Jemaa-el-Fna, a huge open area market place with a variety of things on display, ranging from dates and figs to snake charmers and monkey handlers.


Jake has a monkey on his back

We got back to our hotel for lunch and meeting some of our newly arrived tour compatriots, and then at 4pm met up outside to take a two hour ride in a carriage drawn by a pair of horses. The ride brought us to the Majorelle Garden, owned by Yves Saint-Laurent, which had the most amazing cactus collection we had ever seen, then past the old city walls of the medina, and then to the La Menara gardens which features a grove of thousands of 500 year old olive trees (not very visually impressive, alas).

What was amazing was how the horse drawn carriages were just part of regular traffic, along with crazy bicyclists, moped handlers, motorcyclists, and automobiles of all sorts and sizes. Glad it wasn’t me driving the horses, as otherwise the results would likely have been messy.


Diane, Krystyana, Linda, and Bas in the horse carriage in Marrakesh

The horse carriages are just part of the regular traffic in Marrakesh

Camels hang out by the side of the road in Marrakesh

Yes – there are camels in Morocco. We saw several sets hanging out with their owners by the side of the well trafficked roads – a fascinating visual contrast in modes of conveyance.

At dinner later this evening we also met some of the Lindblad staff which would be educating and shepherding us – quite a diverse bunch. I’ll try to get around to writing up something about them as I get to know them.

Tomorrow’s plans are further exploration of the souks and the rest of Marrakesh, and on Thursday we go into the High Atlas mountain range for the day.

 

A Lazy Day in Seville and on to Marrakesh

April 28th, 2008 at 7:15 am (AST) by Jake Richter

After an excellent night’s rest, we had a late start with breakfast around 11am yesterday, after which we headed to the nearby Parque Marie Luisa. The park had served as the site of the World Expo/Fair in Seville in the early 1900s. It was a beautiful sunny day, and dry as well, as we walked over there.

First stop was the Plaza de España, a magnificent piece of architecture which had started as the Spanish national pavilion at the World Expo. It is a huge, long building with tall ornate towers at each end, curved around a half circle, with an adjacent terrace at the base featuring large niches for each of Spain’s provinces with colorful tile work. From this terrace there are several bridges (see photo above right of the three shorter Richters on one of those bridges) into a central plaza in which a large fountain in centered.

One of the neat facts about the Plaza de España is that it was featured both in the epic movie Lawrence of Arabia, as well as in Star Wars Episodes 1 and 2 (the fourth and fifth Star Wars movies), including the bridge which is pictured above.

We toured the park, visited the Sevilla Archeological Museum to see Roman relics unearthed in the area – some excellent tablets, pottery, and statuary. Bas then forced us to rent a four-person (two by two) cycle to pedal around the park for half an hour. It was then we learned that he could not pedal, steer, and talk all at the same time, much to everyone’s amusement.

We had a late lunch at the hotel, dining off the day menu featuring bull dishes (bull tail for me, ragout for Linda, and entrecote for Krystyana – Bas opted for ham and cheese pizza) in honor of the recent fiesta in Seville (which we missed by days) which also included some bull fighting at the nearby Seville bull fighting stadium. After a couple of hours of playing some card games and resting, we lumbered over to the Triana district for our last dinner in Seville, at the 120+ year old Casa Cuesta.

Our concierge, who grew up in the area, recommended the restaurant as the best source of local Sevillian cuisine, and we suspect he was right. The tripe stew (menudo), veal stew, and “cream of bread with vegetables” (turned out to be an excellent creamy Gazpacho) were all great. However, we were still so full from lunch we passed on dessert, although we did make an obligatory stop for gelato for Bas on the way back to the hotel (at 11pm).

Today we broke our fast at the hotel breakfast buffet (I was still full from yesterday though), packed up, and made our way to the Seville airport, flew to Madrid, waited a bunch of hours, and then finally with a couple hour delay, made it to Marrakesh where Lindblad Expeditions had a driver waiting for us and one other couple on the same flight. We were delivered to our hotel, dumped our luggage and had another late dinner, as Marrakesh is two hours behind Seville, so we’re all messed up again with respect to time zones.

The plan tomorrow is to explore various parts of Marrakesh.

By the way, for those of you only relying on e-mail notifications for new posts on this blog, please be advised that you have missed a whole week’s worth of posts – click on the Traveling Richters logo at the top of this page and then scroll down past this post to see what other wonderful things we’ve had to say so far.

Note also that it appears that my phone data services are not working, so posts for the foreseeable future will need to wait until I get to a live Internet connection (which I do have at our hotel in Marrakesh – it’s not very good, but with patience it ultimately seems to work).

 

Our Next Trip… Spain, Morocco, Portugal, England, France

April 13th, 2008 at 8:48 am (AST) by Jake Richter

We’re now in the final throes of getting ready for the next expedition of The Traveling Richters. We depart Bonaire on Friday, April 18th on a five week journey which will take us to Spain and then Morocco.

We start in Spain in Barcelona for several days (which including meeting up with our friend Martin and his father), then fly to Granada to see the Alhambra. We then rent a car, drive south to the mountains of Andalusia to stay at villas managed by Peter, an old friend from Bonaire. We’ll use his place as a base to visit Gibraltar for a day, and then when we leave, go via Ronda to then spend several days in Sevilla before flying south.

In Morocco we join up with a group as part of a Lindblad Expeditions tour which includes academic lectures on culture, history, and sociology, as well as hands on work with a National Geographic photographer.

After a few days in Marrakech and the Atlas mountains visiting with Berber tribes, we board the National Geographic Endeavour in Safi, visit Kenitra and some historical sites there, and then head up to spend three days learning about Portugal (including the making of port wine) and then visit the largest and most revered cathedral and third most visited Christian pilgrimage site at Santiago de Compostella.

Then, after a couple of days at sea, we will go to Mont St. Michel off the northern coast of France, then Sark in the Channel Islands the next day, before finally arriving in England. After a private tour with the curator of the HMS Victory, we spend three days in London. On the night of May 13th, we take part in a BonaireTalk mini-meet in Surrey – if you’re in the London area that night and want to join us, drop a note on BonaireTalk.

On May 15th, courtesy of the TGV high speed train and the Chunnel, we head to Paris to finish off our trip with non-stop tours of museums, galleries, and restaurants. Our friends Martin and Angela will join us over the weekend we’re there as well.

And, assuming flights all work out, we’ll be back home sometime on May 23rd!

The itinerary, by date, is here.