Sunday, May 13, 2018

One final full day in Morocco and back with Mary Grace!

Friday we woke up, had breakfast, and packed up our things as we listened to the rain coming down. We were to meet Brahim at 11AM. We were not excited about venturing out in the rain, but as it got closer to 11, we realized that we had no choice. Michael went out first and found an umbrella for us and by the time he got back and we headed out, the rain had pretty much stopped.

We walked to the square where Brahim was waiting and headed to Majorelle Gardens. This place was super charming and had all sorts of beautiful plants and flowers. And we got to use our umbrella a bit more as it started raining again while we were out.

After that, we wanted to be somewhere warm and have a nice meal. We asked Brahim to take us somewhere that would have more touristy food and he took us to The Grand Cafe de la Poste. We had to sit outside, but with a cup of tea, a glass of wine, some yummy soup, and other yummy lunch treasures we were warmed up in no time. It was a nice way to end our time in Marrakech.

Then, it was off to the airport to pick up Mary Grace and her friend, Fazia. We arrived just in time to meet them outside the fancy airport! This place is beautiful!! Once we all got in the car, it was off to the beach town of Essaouira. Three hours later we were treated to beautiful coastal views and a charming little beach town. I was loving it!! I could definitely spend a week in this charming little town.

We checked in at our adorable riad, Masion du Sud. Then, it was off for a pre-dinner drink on the nearby rooftop patio as the sun set. Beautiful views, fun cocktails, and good times! Then, we headed to dinner at Umai. This place was highly recommended by Fazia's husband, so she had booked us a table and are we glad she did!! The food was incredible, beautifully plated, and super affordable! We shared a bottle of wine, three starters, two main courses, and three desserts. We also had a table right next to the kitchen, so we could see all the action!

We headed back to our riad and we needed to finish off the bottle of champagne we had purchased earlier in the trip but never opened. So, Mary Grace, Michael and I headed to the roof of our riad and enjoyed some champagne for our last night together.

Saturday morning we got up early and did a 6.5 mile run along the beach and through the windy roads of the medina. It was a super fun run! After we got all cleaned up and packed up, we had a nice breakfast in the riad. Then, we headed to the beach to get our feet in the water. I leave the beach and could have just stayed there all day. But, we only had until 1PM, so we had to continue on!

It turns out that Essaouira is an art town!!! So, we spent the rest of the morning browsing a few galleries and trying to decide which of two pieces we wanted to buy!! We met up w/ Fazia at The Loft for a noon lunch. After talking it over, we decided on a piece of art. Michael went back to buy it while we waited for our food. Another great, yummy meal!!!  Such good food! More reasons to stay in this town longer!!

After lunch, we picked up our artwork, our bags, and it was off to Marrakech to catch our 6PM flight.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A full (rainy) day exploring Marrakech

This morning we started with a little 3 mile run around the walls of the medina. We were excited because we were actually going to spend 2 nights in the same riad! What a concept! No packing to do!

After our run, we had breakfast in our riad and then it was time to go on our pre-planned city tour with our guide, Mohammed. He picked us up at our riad around 9:30 and our first stop was the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest in Marrakech. It's not open to non-Muslims, but it's still beautiful on the outside and there's an interesting history about how it is now in the spot that it is. There are columns directly next to the building where the old mosque used to be...so those were cool to see too.

We then went to the Saadian Tombs. These are some pretty intricate tombs that contain an entire dynasty that once lived in Marrakech. Amazing tile work, wood work, and some beautiful gardens. 

After that we strolled through the Jewish quarter on the way to the Bahia Palace, a late 19th century palace. Lots of gorgeous spaces here, but the stories are a bit of a bummer. Three rooms for his three wives (well his three less favorite wives). A big area for his concubines. And a bigger area for his favorite wife. But, the space was really something to see!!

We had lunch at a random restaurant need after the Oscars. Quite funny. We had some skewers of meat and what Michael likes to call the pico de gallo of Morocco. Good stuff.

On our stroll to lunch, we also saw a great piece of art that we liked and Michael put a pin in his phone so we could come back after our tour. 

After lunch we toured the souks (market area) of Marrakech and bought all sorts of treasures! Shoes! Spices! Tea! Scarves! So many treasures!!

By this time it was raining and it continued to rain the rest of the day. We got back to our riad around 3PM. We warmed up for a minute and then headed to a nearby bar that had a covered rooftop terrace to have an afternoon drink. Then, we walked (in the rain) to the main square to meet up and start our Marrakech Street Food Tour. The tour came highly recommended from Fazia and Mary Grace...so we were excited. We would have been more excited if it wasn't raining, but we survived the three hours of food and when I got back to the riad I took a super warm shower and everything was fine. 

The food tour consisted of about 7 stops. We had yummy ginger tea and a Moroccan brownie at the first stop, then some smoked meats including sheep's head at the next stop. The head even still had an eyeball in it. Someone in our group of 8 had to eat it...and Michael stepped up and took care of that thing!! He even got a sweet sticker for doing so. He says it was kinda like Jell-o in texture. Yikes!

Then we tried all sorts of olives and other preserved treasures (lemons and a spicy pepper). Then it was time for a Moroccan pizza pocket type thing. Then, a sardine meatball sandwich, a sausage sandwich, homemade couscous, and then tons of sweets and some smoothies! All yummy! We even stopped at a few cool cooking places including a big deep open where they cook the full sheep, the local bread oven where people drop off their bread each day, and a stove that is used to heat the water for the local hammam (the spa).  Overall, it was a fun night (and day) despite the rain. 

Moroccan movie magic en route to Marrakech

We got started today around 9:30 today and our first stop was Atlas Studios. Michael and I were pumped to see where they filmed some movies here in Morocco. We did a little $5 tour of the studios and loved it!! They filmed things like Gladiator, The Mummy, Ben Hur (the new one), Babel, and Jewel of the Nile here. We also saw a Game of Thrones castle used by their sister studio off in the background. It was so funny to see all these elaborate sets that were really just made out of plaster, but looked like concrete or stone. We definitely think it's worth a stop although the reviews on TripAdvisor aren't great.

Then, we had a short drive to the UNESCO stie, Ait-Ben-Haddou. This amazing old village set in the mountains is really something to see! AND it's been used as a backdrop for all kinds of movies and TV shows (most notably Gladiator and Game of Thrones). We walked around and explored the village a bit and then continued on our way to Marrakech.

We had about 3 hours of windy mountain pass roads to go before arriving in Marrakech. We found our riad and set out to explore the city a bit. We saw some of the crazy performers out on the square, found Michael some meds at the pharmacy, got a snack of lamb burger and couscous at NOMAD (a hip, European type restaurant with a rooftop terrace), and then had dinner at our riad (more couscous).

Another early night for us, but it was nice to slow things down a bit.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Happy Anniversary to us!!

We woke up before sunrise on our 2nd wedding anniversary in our fancy tent in the desert. We threw on some clothes and hiked up the sand dune to watch the sunrise. Sadly, it was hazy and not a great sunrise, but the desert was quiet and the dunes are really something to look at. Just as the sun was rising our friends from Maine also made it up the dune along with a hysterical dog that must belong to the people who own the tents. He was sooo excited to be up on the dune with us and was running all around the sand.

After we hiked back down the dune, it was time for breakfast. Then, back to the camels for our sunrise ride. More great pics and a great way to start our anniversary.

Sadly, Michael wasn't feeling well...some sort of allergies or sinus thing. But, he was a trooper and made the most of our time w/ the camels.

Then, it was time for MORE driving. I think we were both over the driving and ready to just be somewhere and do SOMETHING! This time we had just one stop at Todra Gorge. Interesting place. Reminds me of something you'd see in Arizona, but not at all protected. Graffiti on the rocks. People selling stuff all along the walkway. Very interesting. But, a nice break and chance to get out of the car and walk a little.

We stopped for some lamb tajine for lunch and then continued on our way to Ouarzazate, the Hollywood of Morocco. As we arrived we saw this cute little shopping/restaurant area and a kasbah. We thought this might be great. Then, we kept driving and arrived at our riad in this sketchy part of town. The riad itself was beautiful with this great view of the mountains, the palm trees, and the pool. But, it was in the middle of nowhere, so we were stuck there for the night. Kind of a bummer as we were ready to explore something, but Michael was feeling even worse so it was kinda nice to be forced to just relax. We both took nice hot showers (the tent showers were just not warm enough in the cold tent), sat by the pool for a bit, and then went to dinner. Dinner was nice! A full 4 course meal that was more European than Moroccan. We got a bottle of wine to celebrate our anniversary and enjoyed the movie music that was playing. We asked for some additional bread at some point and I think our waiter thought we were still hungry, so he asked if I wanted some olives. I said sure. He came back with three big bowls of olives!! After a 4 course meal! Haha. I had a few, but certainly didn't finish them.  After dinner, Michael took a quick dip in the pool hoping it'd clear his sinuses up and then it was an early bedtime for us.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Camel Day!!!!!!

After a good night's rest, a 6 mile run, and a wonderful breakfast at the riad, it was time to explore the desert a bit. Ultimately, we were just killing time until we rode camels.

Brahim picked us up and we drive around the area for 4-5 hours. First, we checked out this beautiful garden area and the amazing irrigation system they use to keep things growing in the desert. Really cool stuff with lots of palm trees (that produce dates not coconuts), green beans, almond trees, carrots, grasses, etc.

Then, we went down the road and listened to some local music. This was music that was played by the slaves of this region and has been passed down generation to generation. Now it's music that is played to celebrate the end of Ramadan and many other festivities.

Then, we went to Brahim's home town. We checked out an old Kasbah were some families are still living. Very interesting and primitive way of living inside the Kasbah. We also went to Brahim's childhood home and got to see where he grew up. It was interesting that his house has grown over time and the part he lived in as a child was very primitive with dirt floors and adobe walls and now the newer parts are fancy with lots of tiles and very modern.

Then, he took us to get some Berber pizza...something you can only get in the desert! It was super yummy! Like a hot pocket filled with meats, onions, and spices. It also had a little plastic tag baked into the side. It turns out the restaurant drops off the dough and ingredients in the morning to a local baker and then picks it up at a certain time. The tag lets the baker know whose baked goods are whose. Fascinating.

Then, it was back to our riad to rest until the camel ride. We had about 1.5 hours to relax, take a nap, and check email. They even set us up in a room so we had quiet time.

At 4pm we met up with a couple from Maine and the four of us were off to the desert! We drove across the sandy roads to meet our camels and our guide. We had all our luggage with us because originally they told us a car would take all of our stuff to the campsite, but that didn't happen, so we had to load all our bags onto the camels. Thankfully, we travel light.

Next up was the 1.5 hour camel trip to the campsite. So amazing. Breathtaking views, fun times with the camels, great pics. We arrived just before sunset and hiked up a dune to take in the sunset.

Then, we rode the camels down to our campsite. We had some tea and got checked into our fancy tent. It was super nice! One of the nicest places we've stayed the whole time! Shower, huge bed, and even wifi! Crazy!

We had a yummy dinner inside another fancy tent. Then it was time for local music by the fire and some star gazing.

A great end to a magical day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Our drive to the desert (a.k.a. Our road trip from Santa Fe to Texas)

Our next adventure was to head to the desert. This involved a lot of time in the car, so we started the day with a chilly, misty 2 mile run at AIU before enjoying breakfast with Mary Grace. Then, we attempted to find the monkeys* in the cedar forest near MG's campus, but after a few minutes driving about we had no luck. I think it was too cold and rainy for them. We did get to see the town of Ifrane a bit. A beautiful Swiss looking town right in the mountains. It doesn't look anything like the rest of Morocco!

Then, our drive got started. Much to our surprise, the  first stop was a chance to see the eliusve monkeys*! We took a few pics from afar and headed on our way. I'm a bit surprised they have all this tourist type photo ops and peanuts for sale for these guys when they are on the endangered species list, but this seems to be a theme with many Moroccan treasures that we'll discuss later.

After the monkey sighting, we were on our way. A lovely 7ish hour drive today and so many terrain changes. Many portions of the drive reminded Mike of Santa Fe. Lots of mountains and adobe. But, also beautiful oases with palm trees in the middle of the dirt/sand.

We even stopped at Brahim's summer home and had tea with his parents and watched some Moroccan TV.

We arrived at our riad overlooking the Sahara desert sand dunes in time to watch the sunset and watch others head out on their camel rides. I took a quick dip in the beautiful pool and we had a buffet dinner at the riad before heading to bed.

*Monkeys here refer to the Barbary macaques. They are not monkeys at all, but certainly in the primate family.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Just before the rain

Our next day began with another riad breakfast. This one was missing the jams, but still lots of delicious treasures. We checked out of the riad and met up with our local tour guide who happens to be a linguist. I was super nervous that this was going to be a bust of a day as the forecast said it would start raining at noon. I packed my rain coat with me and was ready for the down pour. Read on to see what happened.

Our first stop was outside the walls of the largest of the Moroccan king's palaces. More beautiful gates. Then we drove to one of two fortresses high up on the mountain to get some great views of Fes. There is apparently a tunnel that connects them, but the tour guide said we couldn't go in there. Bummer! But, we did get some great pics. Then it was off to another handicraft co-op. This one for pottery and mosaics. Amazing work goes on here and we were loving some of the pieces we saw. Mary Grace scored some nice salt and pepper shakers and a beautiful salad bowl. We should have taken a pic, but we forgot!

Then it was time to enter the medina and all the windy, tiny streets that lie inside. Down each one is a new smell and a new set of treasures to buy. We saw produce, spices, meat, street food, copper handicrafts, dresses, scarves. You name it, there was a street for it!

Next up were some great education related stops. First up was an old medersas--the Moroccan version of a high school. Inside our guide took time to do a math lesson for us. He talked about the development of the Arabic numbers (first defined at the university we'll mention later). He drew this cool diagram that talks about the number of angles in the way the number was originally written is how they got their names. And then some great stuff about why we know they're Arabic numbers (we add right to left...just as Arabs read left to right!). Then we also talked about where the words algebra and algorithms come from. Such good stuff! The school was also fun to explore.

Then, we stopped by the first university in the world. It's now a school for higher religious studies and a big mosque, so we couldn't go inside. But you see a pic of the inside below and the big white tower and the flat tower (an astronomy observation area) next to it are both parts of the university.

Next stop: more handicrafts. This time carpets inside of a beautiful dar (a home without a central garden). We took some great pics on the balcony and then came into a carpet showroom. Now, Alison was in stage 2 of hanger mode at this time as it was 1230 and we hadn't had lunch yet. Mary Grace had done the carpet show before and knew if they offered us tea we'd be there for hours. So she was super fantastic and made sure they didn't bring us tea and bargained with our guy to only show us 3-4 carpets instead of the 8-10 he planned on showing us. Thankfully the next stop was lunch and Alison survived her hanger attack.

After lunch, we saw three more handicraft co-ops. One that used huge looms to make scarves, blankets, and table cloths. I bought a fun scarf made of cactus silk. Then, the argon oil shop where we sampled all sorts of things that smelled nice. And finally the tannery! This was what we were waiting for! This place is nuts! They dye leathers from various animals here. It stinks....but you get mint to smell. The white pools are pigeon poop that help bleach the hides. Then they go into the various colored baths to dye them. After learning all about that, we tried on some sweet leather jackets. And that was the end of our tour! And just as we made it to the parking lot...it started to rain. Perfect!

We stopped at the wine cave to get some Moroccan beers, wine, and a champagne for our upcoming anniversary. Then, it was off to Mary Grace's home in Ifrane. We arrived just in time for a brief tour of campus and dinner made by her guy, Duncan. Their friends Thomas and Fazia also joined us for a lovely evening of yummy food and great conversation.

One final task before bedtime: laundry washing in MG's sink.