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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Money, good taste, and an eye for great art

One hundred years ago, Helene Kröller-Müller had money (lots and lots of money), very good taste, and acquired art because she loved it, not as an investment. If this sounds familiar, we just read the obituary of Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, who recently died at the age of 104. Like Helene, Bunny Mellon used her wealth to buy beautiful objects and art. The obituary pointed out that few have had the combination of mega-wealth and great taste, and they purchased art for love and not for investment purposes.

Bunny and Helene certainly would have appreciated each other’s collections. Helene started to buy Van Gogh’s work before it was well known and amassed a collection so large that only the Van Gogh Museum has more of his works.

Helene Kröller-Müller and her husband, Anton Kröller, lived in the Netherlands, and their vast art collection is on display in the Kröller-Müller Museum at Hoge Veluwe National Park.

We visited the museum after a long bike ride around the park. We think the Kröller-Müller Museum ranks as one of the best art museums we’ve ever seen. The works were stunning and with so few people in the museum, we had space and time to really look at the works. We selected a few paintings you might enjoy seeing – with a few details you don’t see looking at their image in a picture book.

 

VAN GOGH STARS

Van Gogh’s stars are famous. We finally saw his stars close up.

Van Gogh’s stars are famous. We finally saw his stars close up.

The star detail was from “Terrace of a Café at Night”, Vincent van Gogh, 1888

The star detail was from “Terrace of a Café at Night”, Vincent van Gogh, 1888

 

A FEW STROKES OF PAINT IS ALL IT TAKES

Van Gogh created hills with a few deft colorful strokes.

Van Gogh created hills with a few deft colorful strokes.

The hills are in the upper right corner of “Wheat field with reaper and son”, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

The hills are in the upper right corner of “Wheat field with reaper and son”, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

 

LOOKS LIKE CONFETTI

If we’d only seen this detail closeup – we’d never be able to guess what it was.

If we’d only seen this detail closeup – we’d never be able to guess what it was.

The answer: a cloud! And we thought it really worked. (Sorry to have not recorded the name or artist for this painting.)

The answer: a cloud! And we thought it really worked. (Sorry to have not recorded the name or artist for this painting.)

 

A SECOND GLANCE

On first glance we saw blocks of color outlined in black in “Composition with grid 5: lozenge, composition with colors”, Piet Mondriaan, 1919

On first glance we saw blocks of color outlined in black in “Composition with grid 5: lozenge, composition with colors”, Piet Mondriaan, 1919

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On second glance the intersecting lines in many of the boxes offered a different dimension – a twist and texture.

 

DO WE SEE THE SAME THING?

Even when looking at the same scene, would we interpret what we saw the same as the next person? Two artists paint the same scene.

Landscape with haystack”, Jan Vijlbrief, 1894

Landscape with haystack”, Jan Vijlbrief, 1894

Hohe Veluwe National Park Hohe Veluwe National Park - kroller-Muller Museum

Farm in the dune district”, Johan Aarts, 1895

We’re prepared to concentrate on the few pieces that we find compelling in art museums we visit. Who can see everything? This visit was different. Every work was drawing us in, and we wanted to spend more time with each. We guess that’s what happens when one person with good taste and lots of money puts together a world-class collection.

 

September 2014

 

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Grab some wheels and get out of town

What better way to see the countryside and enjoy the best transportation system in The Netherlands? We borrowed Cat and René’s bikes (what good friends!) and cycled down their lane to the bike path along the canal. With a quick left turn, we headed south.

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The weather cooperated with a perfect autumn day, and in minutes we were leaving the city behind us.

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We cruised at a speed at which we could take in the scenery and were amused when two, even-more-elderly-than-us women passed us. No matter!

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We enjoyed our afternoon ride in the countryside. For travellers like us, who venture forth often and in unfamiliar territory, it’s reassuring to know we’d have lots to see and we wouldn’t get lost in The Netherlands.

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September 2014

 

 

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