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morocco - part I: marrakesh - colorful vibrant fun

 


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Up until this trip, all of our flights have been uneventful.  Not this one.  As we were ready to land in Marrakesh, a big storm system moved in.  We circled at a very low altitude for 40 minutes as well as the pilot tried to land the plane twice.  By this time I had motion sickness and was crying in my seat.  The three "aviation experts" I was traveling with thought it was fun {sigh}.


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The pilot had to divert the plane to Casablanca where, after three hours in the airport, and a chewy sandwich, we boarded a bus for a three-hour road trip to Marrakesh.  This is where our adventure began.


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The taxi dropped us off on a side street at midnight where a handsome young man {Ismail} dressed in traditional Moroccan-wear met us to lead us to our B&B, Riad Zolah.  We walked through dark alleyways, twisting and turning for quite a distance, passing eerie dark figures.  But strangely, enough we were not frightened.


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We finally came upon a very plain door.  You would never had know it was the Riad had Ismail not escorted us there.  Once the door was opened we entered into a absolutely magical place.  There were candles burning everywhere even in our room and rose petals sprinkled on our beds - how romantic.


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After a good nights sleep and a delicious breakfast at the Riad we ventured out into the twisted maze of a city on our own.  I immediately fell in love with all the colors and vibrant life in the streets.


Marrakesh for the blog

 

Marrakesh is in the southeast part of Morocco, in Africa, and dates back to 1070.  It is known as the red city due to the walls that surround the old fortified city known as the Medina.


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Marrakesh has the largest traditional Souk (market) in Morocco.

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It runs for miles and is made up of endless alleys that twist and turn making it very easy to get lost.  

 

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The outer streets of the medina are run predominately for tourists, but once you get deeper into the maze, you will experience where the locals live and shop.


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They say that the souk is pretty much unchanged since the early days.  The stalls are the size of a cupboard and sell just about everything from carpets to fabrics to jewelry to copperware to beads to leather to slippers...

 

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to tassels....

 

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 to lizards....


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to small carved toys created by young boys with their feet and a bow....  All the sellers cry out, "Hey my friend, for you I give a special price!".  Most will ask you where are you from.  When you tell them you are American - they all say, "We love Obama!  We love America"

 

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Negotiation is an art and a game in Marrakesh.  Part of the game is to build a relationship/friendship with the shop owner.  We all thoroughly enjoyed talking to the owner of this particular shop. 


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He was very well educated and told us about the King, Mohammad VI, whom the people love.  One thing the King is well known for is helping all citizens' own homes.  He is a fairly young King at 47 years old with a three-year-old son.  The shop owner was born on the same day as the king so his family was given special gifts as well as money every year.

 

Cart

D2 did a pretty good job negotiating and A walked out with the backpack she wanted.  We were in there so long I walked out with a purse  :  ) 

D got orange slippers!


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There were mainly two modes of transportation - mopeds and donkeys!


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It was amazing to see how much they stacked on the mopeds and then drove with them like this!  We were often jumping out of the way to miss being run over by a moped.  The donkeys moved a bit slower.


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There were also lots of bicycles.   Look closely at the what is in the basket....


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Dinner!

 

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There were pull-carts waiting everywhere to help the locals deliver goods.  They sold fruit and other items from the back of the carts.


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Man

 

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Cart


They have beggars, but most try to sell you small items, such as cookies instead of just asking for money.  They love to give you directions for a small fee.  And yes, many are young children.

 

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I thought one of our most interesting and fun meals we ate was in the souk at Chez Abdela.  One young man who we purchased goods from showed us where it was.  He was alone in his stand so he had to hurry.   He raced through the zigzagged maze with us running behind him.   We thought he was going to take us around the corner...instead he took us 10 streets away - winding around the souk.


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The tangine pots (sitting in front of the blue-checked grill) were cooking for hours at a very low heat, which makes the meat tender.  Tangine is a traditional Moroccan dish named after the special clay pot it is cooked in.


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We ordered a tangine and grilled meats, another specialty of the area.  All the food was delicious and very authentic.

 

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The most popular drink is sweet mint tea. AND I MEAN SWEET.  Here are the drinks lined up at a stall with the sugar cubes and mint.  Look at the size of those sugar cubes!


Sugar

The scene below is typical - men drinking tea in the streets.....waiting with their cart for someone to come hire them to move goods.


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Located in the Medina is the main square in Marrakesh, the Djamaa El Fna.  The square bustles with hustlers waiting to prey on tourists; musicians, storytellers.....


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snake charmers...


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......and monkeys.  If you take ANY photos you must tip them.  They become very nasty if you do not tip.  Even though it looks like she reached for the monkey....A did NOT ask for him to put it on her, so I felt it was fair game for me to take a photo......nope.  Does not work that way.  The young man started yelling and demanding money.  We did not pay him any - but mainly because we did not have any small change. 


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At night, rows of dazzling food stalls open in the square turning it into a huge open-air restaurant.  With servers yelling out for you to come eat at their stall which, is as good as Jamie Oliver or they say they have air conditioning.  It is as much of a performance as is it a meal.


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We started off our meal with the traditional harira soup made from chickpeas and lentils.  The food wasn't necessarily the best we've eaten but it was fun.


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The chef usually sits in the center where they cook and the diners sit around the edge. 

 

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Some stalls were so smoky from the cooking; we were not sure how people ate.


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One of the traditional dishes served at the stalls were sheep-heads.

 

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Here is a closer look.  No, none of us tried it.  We mainly ate grilled meats, salads, and fish.


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My very favorite dish of the trip was the sweet & savory chicken pastilla - a phyllo pastry filled with chicken spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, etc with almonds.

 

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We tried this dessert.  I am not even sure how to describe it other than a mountain of dense cinnamon that sucked all the moisture out of your mouth.


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We were smiling for the photo, NOT for the love of the dessert!

 

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The next day we ventured into the non-tourist area of the souk where we had a celebrity sighting - Andre Leon TalleyTo read more about this post visit my art blog  - ma vie trouvee.

 

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This area was captivating, so local and real.  Fresh meat for sale, hanging out next to the barber.


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And live chickens...


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Might be a little too fresh for me.


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Many of the older people wore robes like the one below. 

 

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This gentleman was not happy I was taking his photo - see him shaking his finger at me?

 

Man shaking finger

We had another fun lunch in the Medina.  D loves to eat as local as possible and he managed to find us this sandwich joint where he paid $5 for 4 very large sandwiches and drinks.  Nope, none of us got sick!


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Look at this yummy sandwich!


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Time for a sweet mint tea break in a little cafe.

 

 

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You would have thought we were drinking alcohol....even the young woman who ran the shop was laughing at us.....why?

 

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For some reason we got into taking photos of people/mopeds/carts going by.  They were actually very cool - creating a ghost-like image.


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Then, my "always-thinking" husband decided it would be even cooler if he was in the photo.  So he stood on the opposite side, waiting for a moped to go by.  He would then RUN from the other side into view.  He did this 10 times or so.....this is what had us all laughing hysterically.  Look quickly to see him run by!


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We took a walk to the Gueliz, the part of town outside of the Medina.  It primarily has locals who shop here.  Bananas seemed to be the fruit of the season.


 

Cart (1)
 


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Interestingly, the donkeys and the hand-pushed carts drove on the main roads.  I am pretty sure this cart would have been pulled over in the US for a mulititude of reasons!


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BUGGY

 

We purchased a bag of the coconut cookies sold on the street.  They were yummy.  D2 would not eat them.  We laughed and wondered what the kitchen looked like where they were baked.  This one is for you mom!


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Back in the souk D & D2 try to negotiate for pomegranates - which by the way were inexpensive, huge, and delicious.  I am pretty sure they negotiated up instead of down on this transaction!  They bought a pomegranate that weighed 1/2 kilo, plus one spark plug.


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That night we went back to the open square for dinner. 


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And we finally had ice cream! Highly rated by D2 and me, the ice cream connoisseurs!  We went back the next night to verify our findings.


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We ended the evening with a cup of mint tea at our Riad.  Here is the owner,  Aziz, giving us a traditional pour!


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We all loved visiting Marrakesh - such an amazing array of colors, sights, tastes, and sounds.  We highly recommend a visit if you have the chance. 

Please continue to the next post, part two of our Morrocan trip as we tour Essaouira, a very colorful town on the water. 

Hop over to my art blog, ma vi trouvee,  for a blast of color.

And if that still is not enough, click on the slide show below.

  



morocco - part II: essaouira

 

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Our last day in Morocco we hired a private car and driver to take us to Essaouira, a coastal town in Morocco. One of the most picturesque towns we have visited. 


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Just to put things in perspective, we paid the same amount for a driver to drive us three hours to Essaouira and back, as we pay for a taxi from the Brussels airport to our apartment.  And that included the five hours he sat and waited for us!


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 We enjoyed all the sights along the way.  Since we had a driver, we could not pull over as often as I would have liked so many of the photos were taken while driving. 


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There was heavy rain the day before and they warned us that parts of the road might be flooded.


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Below, we had to drive though a foot of water.  But I was thinking it was probably easier for us in a car then the two men with the donkey cart!

 

Floood

 

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If you look in the far distance, you can see snow on the Atlas Mountains.


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This shot picked up some unusual tones from the tinted window. 

 

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We saw one of the most fascinating sights ever!


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Those are some BIG birds in the trees....


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Wait - look a little closer...


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They are goats!  Are they real?  Yes and no.  Yes, they are real goats in the trees, but the men place them up there when cars go by to obtain tips.


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However, the goats really do climb the argon trees to eat the fruit, which is similar to an olive.  Farmers actually follow the herds of goats as they move from tree to tree because the fruit of the tree has a nut inside, which the goats can't digest, so they spit it up or excrete it, which the farmers then collect.  The nut contains 1-3 kernels, which can be ground to make argon oil used in cooking and cosmetics.


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They say you have to go off the main road to see them, but it really is a very common sight.  They do look pretty happy in the tree.


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We had a few sprinkles along the way, but we arrived to gorgeous blue skies, which made the blue boats look even bluer.

 

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Essaouira was stunning.  Our first stop was along the pier where all the fishing boats were docked.  Due to heavy rain the day before, many of them were not able to go out.


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This is usually a very active fishing port, but today was a day for relaxing.


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Essaouira was established in 1506 as a Portuguese settlement.  Modern Essaouira was built between 1760 and 1770. 


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And I thought my art-room was cluttered!  Looks like today was washday?  Where's Waldo?


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We had read about the outdoor restaurants where you select your own seafood and they grill it for you. 


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So we headed there for lunch.  The chef is showing us the inside of the gills so we can see how fresh the fish is.  

 

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Squid, sardines, shrimp, sea bass and others.  All of it was amazing. 


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Well worth the three hour drive to get there!

 

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D particularly enjoyed the grilled sardines - one of his very favorite fish.


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And a beautiful fresh salad.


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Cool coke bottle.


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After our scrumptious lunch, we strolled through the medina (old town) which, is a Unesco World Heritage Site.  It has a hippy influence and in the days, was frequently visited by the likes of Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix.

 

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It had a very different feel from Marrakesh – much grittier.  You probably have also noticed how "blue" it is - from the boats to the buildings to the sky where, Marrakesh was "red/orange".


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I was fascinated with the picturesque paint-peeling doors.  To see several more photos of doors, visit my blog ma vie trouvee.

A wall encircled the town with several gates leading into the main streets.


Gate

 

There was a souk here as well, but not as big as Marrakesh.  The town also had some very non-tourist areas we wandered into.


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I was very curious with the live chicken stalls.  Aren't they colorful?  Aren't they scary?


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A and I both had our boots polished as we were very dirty from walking around in the mud when we got out of the car to see the goats.  He did a really nice job so we paid him twice what we had negotiated {1.00 usd}.


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They had an old Jewish quarter called the Mellah.  Moroccan Jewish were encouraged to settle in Essaouria and handle the trade with the Europeans. It was a very lucrative lifestyle.  The area has since deteriorated.


Jewish qtr

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A perfect visit to Essaouira!

 

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Goodbye 2010 - a great year of travel!

 

Year end dog 2

We had such a wonderful year of travel in 2010 - visiting four continents and 16 countries (not counting Belgium and the US), many of them more than once.  We learned about many new cultures, saw spectacular sights, and tasted wonderful food.

We thought it might be fun to do a recap and show our favorite photo from each trip - the photo that best captured the feel of that particular adventure.  If the country is underlined, you can click on it and go to that post.

  

January

Dubai, UAE


Dubai (23)

 

February

 

Paris, France


IMG_5086 b

 

Aalst, Belgium

 

  IMG_4911


March

Ghent, Belgium


IMG_5525

 

April

Brugge, Belgium


IMG_5528

 

Moselle Valley, Germany


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Antwerp, Belgium


Year end

May

Andalusia Spain


Spain blog (54)

 

Edinburgh Scotland

 

Scot 2 bc (5) v2

 

June

Oslo, Norway (D alone - no photos)


Madrid, Spain (D)


Madrid oct 2010 53

 

Keukenhof Gardens, Holland


 

Year end (6)

 

July

Ardennes, Belgium


Ardennes trip 028

 

London, England

 

London 74

 

Cotswold, England


  Year end 

August

Flower Carpet, Brussels


  Flower carpet 60

 

September

Vienna, Austria


Vienna sep 2010 87

 

Paris, France


 

Paris - Sept 2010 67

 

Portugal


PORTUGAL 2010 323

October

Madrid, Spain


Madrid oct 2010 79


November

Singapore

 

Singapore 81

 

Ascot, England


London thanksgiving 22

Marrakesh, Morroco

Essaouira, Morocco


London thanksgiving

December 

Estonia, Finland, and Sweden


 Tallinn, Estonia

 

Year end (1)

Helsinki, Finland  


Year end (3)

Stockholm, Sweden  

 

Year end (5)

 

We wish you all a very Happy New Year! 

We want to thank everyone who stopped by our little corner of blog-land to read about our travel adventures.  We hope to see you in 2011!

We hope that today is the start of a wonderful year.

Cheers, D&C