Sunday afternoon in the park, Barcelona-style

Quiet descended on the city. It had to be Sunday. The blue sky and still warm October day was the perfect excuse for many in Barcelona to head for Parc de La Ciutadella.

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One of many couples who strolled around the pond.

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A family rowed into the narrow waterway under the pedestrian bridge.

When did we realize how cleverly the park was designed? In a big city where people live in small spaces with little connection to greenery, the Parc de La Ciutadella offered many defined green and water spaces with different purposes. Dog lovers sat near a pool while their canines leaped in and out of the water. Families picnicked on little islands of grass enclosed by bushes. Little children lined the pond, captivated by the gulls and geese.

Greylag goose

A graylag goose walked up the ramp, probably in hopes that someone with a bit of bread would be nearby.

The path from the pond led to an enclosed area where the main attraction was hidden from view. Visitors waited patiently to have their photos taken with the mastodon.

The path from the pond led to an enclosed area where the main attraction was hidden from view. Visitors waited patiently to have their photos taken with the mastodon.

Barcelonians filled the park, and yet it didn’t feel crowded. We’d seen so many interesting areas already – what was still to come?

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The path continued to an open plaza with a spectacular backdrop for photographers.

Nearby, couples danced in the bandstand, dedicated to Sonia Rescalvo Zafra, who was murdered by neo-Nazis for her gender identity in 1991.

Nearby, couples danced in the bandstand, dedicated to Sonia Rescalvo Zafra, who was murdered by neo-Nazis for her gender identity in 1991.

Parc de La Ciutadella offered us an interesting and refreshing afternoon. Surrounded by trees, flowering bushes, green lawns, birds (many monk parakeets!), we enjoyed exploring the park.

A family portrait in the park

A family portrait in the park

 

October 2014

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The draw

Many visitors are drawn to the souks of Marrakech for a thrilling shopping experience. Rugs, brass trays, jewelry, spices, wooden boxes, leather goods and lots more pack tiny shops along winding narrow lanes. Customers bargain to get the best price so a good deal becomes their mission. With so many people crowding the lanes and so many shops with such a broad array of goods, it’s almost too much to take in.

So, we responded by just looking, not buying, YET, on our many walks – cutting through the souk – as we headed for museums. Marrakech’s riches extend beyond shopping if visitors take the time to look.

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Cats are everywhere in the city. The green eyes on this cat led to taking the photo, but it was only after we put it up on the computer that the green color scheme in the composition appeared to us.

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Sunny days heighten the vibrant colors.

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Olives ripening in Cyber Park

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We visited the oldest riad in Marrakech, Dar Cherifa, which dates back to the 14th century.

Did we ever get around to shopping? Yes, even with very limited space in our suitcases we made a purchase of argan oil.

We tried to read up on the best place to shop for both a high quality oil (not diluted) and one produced by a women’s cooperative. We went with the best recommendations we could find, but we’re not sure it fully met our requirements.

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We watched the very slow grinding of the argan seeds to extract the oil.

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Our first purchase at Herboristerie Firdaous in Marrakech

Our friends, John and Angela, eyed a “pouf” (a leather ottoman) on their first day. Each day after, we passed the display. Their last day in town, we walked over to the shop, and John steeled himself as the bargaining began. Numbers went back and forth. John turned to leave. A better number was called out. Finally, to Angela’s relief, a price was agreed upon, and everyone smiled as cash and pouf changed hands.

Handmade leather pouffs for sale at Merzoga Cuir: Leather Shop

Handmade leather pouffs for sale at Merzoga Cuir: Leather Shop

In the end, we all were drawn in. We made our purchases and just hope they’ll fit in our suitcases!

 

October 2014

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We almost missed a great site

Who wants to visit an abandoned school? Ben Youssef Medersa never made it onto our list of “places to visit” in Marrakech. However, when we visited the Museum of Marrakech we had the option to pay a nominal amount to add on a visit to the college, abandoned in 1960. Since the cost was so little and because it was only a few meters down the lane, we decided, why not? A very good move on our part as it was the highlight of our day and a photographer’s dream.

Ben Youssef Medersa

Ben Youssef Medersa

The college was founded in the 14th century and the building dates back to the 16th century. Small rooms off the courtyard housed up to 900 students with one communal bathroom to take care of everyone’s needs.

The medersa fell out of favor and closed in 1960, only to be restored years later and reopened in 1982.

Angela at Ben Youssef Medersa admiring the tile work

Angela at Ben Youssef Medersa admiring the tile work

John looking out of a students’ room facing in to the courtyard.

John looking out of a students’ room facing in to the courtyard.

From every viewpoint the building was a masterpiece with great architectural detail, use of natural light, and decoration.

From every viewpoint the building was a masterpiece with great architectural detail, use of natural light, and decoration.

The Museum of Marrakech was nearby. Our interest in its building far outweighed our interest in the artwork that it had on display. We spent time in the grand courtyard, enjoying the tile work, enormous central lamp, and building details.

Museum of Marrakech

Museum of Marrakech

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Museum of Marrakech

We walked to the quiet and unpretentious Museum of Photography, located very near our riad.

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We all liked ones of already familiar landmarks in Marrakech. The old photos of Morocco captured a different time, especially the portraits.

 “Portrait of a man, Tangier”, Nicholas Muller, 1942

“Portrait of a man, Tangier”, Nicholas Muller, 1942

So, who wants to visit an abandoned school and wander around old historic buildings? WE DO!

 

September 2014

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Yves Saint Laurent’s garden

When we first planned a visit to Marrakech, we certainly hadn’t expected to spend a day at a cactus garden owned by Yves Saint Laurent, the French courtier.

Our friends, John and Angela, agreed to walk with us from our Riad in Marrakech’s old city to visit Jardin Majorelle, our garden destination, in the new city.

We started off in the right direction (confidently) through the labyrinthine alleyways, but then we took a wrong turn. Soon, John remarked, “No sign of other tourists,” and we were just so far into the maze that we could see no way to retrace our steps. Two nice people came to our aid (for 15 dirham), and we discovered we weren’t far off course at all, but miraculously close to the old gate leaving the walled part of the city. In 15 more minutes of walking, we arrived at Jardin Majorelle.

Owner Jacques Majorelle, a French painter, planted the garden in 1924. In 1947, the public began visiting the garden. Twenty years later the garden continued to welcome visitors by its new owners, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, who restored the garden. Today a foundation bearing their names continues the tradition.

When along the way did the signature qualities of the garden – color and cactus – become established?

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Large pots, painted in bold colors, lined the paths

The IKB (International Klein Blue) color graces the arbor next to the water lily pond and some of the buildings.

The IKB (International Klein Blue) color graces the arbor next to the water lily pond and some of the buildings.

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Cactus thrives in the garden.

Some cactus were familiar from our trips in the southwest US desert.

Some cactus were familiar from our trips in the southwest US desert.

Other cactus we’d never seen before.

Other cactus we’d never seen before.

Birds flittered about the garden, chattering and calling. We think this is a common bulbul.

Birds flittered about the garden, chattering and calling. We think this is a common bulbul.

In the quietest corner of the garden we found a simple memorial to Yves Saint Laurent.

In the quietest corner of the garden we found a simple memorial to Yves Saint Laurent.

Our visit to Jardin Majorelle took an entire, enjoyable day – with our round trip walk, slowly touring the garden, a much-needed visit to its café, time studying the displays at the Musée Berbere on the premises, and finally a trip to the gift shop.  Majorelle, Saint Laurent, and Bergé have given Marrakech and us tourists an artful garden refuge and welcome introduction to Berber culture. We’d recommend adding this one to your “to-do” list.

 

September 2014

 

 

 

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Seeking tranquility in Marrakech

We read about riads – traditional large houses with an interior garden – and knew we wanted to stay in one while in Marrakech. We also wanted to stay in the Old City (the Medina), preferably near the souks (the Arab marketplaces). Our friends, Angela and John, agreed and joined us.

Riad Matham, Marrakech

The rooftop terrace at Riad Matham.

The riad where we stayed, Riad Matham, balanced out the souk perfectly. The riad’s outer walls shut out the tumult of the streets and souks by drawing light and air from the inner courtyard. Calm and quiet prevail. The architecture and decoration contribute to a feeling of tranquility and security.

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Riad Matham’s inner courtyard

The souk in Marrakech is overwhelming – in size, intensity, the number of people, the donkey carts, mopeds, hand trucks, and all the goods for sale tumbling out of the shops to the walkways. What we see is a controlled chaotic effect waiting to spill out at any time. Many of the dimly lit alleys create a rabbit warren of connecting passageways. All senses work on over-drive for those of us who are navigating through.

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The lane leading from the souk to the riad

So, we came back to Riad Matham after an outing to rest and be refreshed by this oasis on the edge of the marketplace.

Every architectural detail, ….

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Every decoration, ….

The Berber alphabet decorates the front entrance.

The Berber alphabet decorates the front entrance.

Every detail at Riad Matham has been artfully achieved.

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The pet tortoise, Tagine, roamed the courtyard and delighted the guests.

The most stunning detail of all is best viewed at night as we lay in our bed. We look up at the painted ceiling and enjoy one last look of the day before the light is turned off.

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The entire wooden ceiling was a work of art.

 

September 2014

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An emergency on the mountain

We started hiking with John and Angela many, many years ago. For our first trip to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, we decided to hire a guide for three days of hiking. After all, we knew little about these mountains and didn’t think paths would be clearly marked.

Our guide, Rachid Talaoul

Our guide, Rachid Talaoul

The first day our guide, Rachid, suggested we hike to a religious shrine and visit a waterfall. The day was warmer and the sun more intense than we expected as we hiked up and up.

We passed villages on the walk up the valley.

We passed villages on the walk up the valley.

The view only got better as we climbed higher.

The view only got better as we climbed higher.

We walked ahead of the group and stopped to look at the scenery. When we glanced back, we saw Angela had become faint and had been helped to lie down. Rachid, our guide, was checking her pulse. She was quite ill for a short time and Rachid gave her great care and we were really impressed with his professionalism. When Angela was well enough, he helped her walk a short way down the mountain to a shady spot.

We sat under a tree and ate our lunches while Angela rested. We were all thinking the same thing: 1) this could have been so much worse but wasn’t, and 2) how lucky we were to have Rachid as our guide.

We could not have been more grateful to Rachid. His knowledge, skill and care turned a very bad situation into one where, after a good rest and lunch, Angela recovered and hiked down the mountain with us.  The shrine would have to wait for another day.

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Our emergency on the mountain had a happy ending, and, after a day of recuperation, Angela hiked with us again hail and hearty as ever.

 

October 2014

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Can you guess where we are?

We came with our friends, Angela and John, for a hiking holiday in the mountains. We were woefully ignorant of this area of the world – even though we discovered from a driver that many movies have been filmed here. So we’ve probably seen this countryside many times without realizing it. Can you guess the country and the mountain chain we’re in? Here are the hints:

Hint 1: Terraced apple orchards

Hint 1: Terraced apple orchards

Hint 2: Transportation by donkey

Hint 2: Transportation by donkey

Hint 3: Mint tea

Hint 3: Mint tea

Hint 4: Mountains high enough for snow

Hint 4: Mountains high enough for snow

Hint 5: Mosques

Hint 5: Mosques

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Hint 6: Home of the Berber people

By now you might have guessed.   We spent our scenic holiday and managed to learn quite a bit more about this area of the world in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where we stayed in the little village of Imlil.

October 2014

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