Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Boxing Day

Richard, Aoife and Emer went out (very quietly) at 7 am thismornng, they had booked a 4 by 4 trip to Ait Benhaddou over the Tizi-n-tichka pass and to Ouzerzate from where we had driven last Wednesday.

Nigel and I had a lazy morning at the Riad, the sun came out eventually and so we sunbathed on the terrace after breakfast and later I strolled along the alley for some fresh bread for lunch.

In the afternoon I persuaded Nigel to accompany me to the souks, well you can't come to Marrakech and not "do" the souks, can you?

We have grown quite accustomed to mint tea!
After about an hour he'd had enough so we went up to a rooftop terrace for mint tea and pastries and did some more people watching. 

We wandered slowly back to the Riad, stopping to buy some dates and nougat on the way.

A very good smell greeted us, Atika, the housekeeper was cooking  a meal for us. And a wood fire had been lit in the lounge.

The others got back at half past six having had an excellent and enjoyable day. 

Our meal arrived on the table at 7.30, chicken tagine with loads of interestingly cooked vegetables as side dishes and spiced oranges for dessert. The ladies shouted up goodbye and we were left to spend another enjoyable evening looking at photos of the day and relaxing around the fire.

Sadly, tonight is our last night, we all leave tomorrow, Nigel first to return to the motorhome with the dogs and make his way to the coast at Essouira and us about 4 pm for the airport. I can just imagine Belle and Dash's delight at being able to run on the beach. Life in a Riad in the medina does not really suit dogs!

Pills, potions and lotions!
That's all for the blog for now as I shall be in the UK for a week and my laptop is staying in Morocco.

The following shots were taken by Nigel surreptitiously with his camera over his shoulder and not looking through the viewfinder to avoid annoying people which is very easy to do as soon as you hold a camera near your face!

Carpet souk
Bellows anyone?
Looking down from where we had our mint tea,
Yesterday's cafe is the square terracotta building
opposite and to the left,
the one with two windows on the front.

Interesting collection of old cameras
Putting the world to rights

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas Day

Christmas Day

Well the weather forecast was correct, it dawned much cooler and cloudier today but we still breakfasted on the terrace albeit with extra layers. Breakfast was little honeyed pancakes today, delicious.

After that I was waiting excitedly to have a facetime session with Drew and Alana and looking forward to seeing Hattie, our little granddaughter but sadly neither facetime nor skype would connect. We are going to try again later.

About midday, Ric, Aoife, Emer and I set off to brave the souks. Nigel stayed on the terrace with Belle and Dash. Wow, what an interesting time we had. It was a lot less crowded than we expected and some of the lanes bar bikes and scooters so it is a lot safer and more comfortable to stroll along.

Looking down on slave square

We had a sandwich and some mint tea in a little cafe on the square which was used for selling slaves in days gone by.

After lunch I decided to go back to the riad as Nigel had been on his own since noon, I got back about 3 and bought him a cake on the way back.

The others have just returned and Rick is now making mint tea. We will all have a rest and relax before braving the square again for our evening meal.

We went back to the square and sat down at a stall where there were loads of locals. Richard's idea was that if the locals ate there, the food must be good. Aoife and I had mixed brochettes, (we both left the unrecognisable bits), Nigel played safe with chicken, Ric had lamb and Emer had vegetable tagine. We all thought how bizarre to be eating such a strange Christmas dinner.

My Christmas Dinner 2012
We didn't linger tonight as we had a wood fire set ready to put a match to and a bottle of wine waiting for us. We bought some bread on the way back for R, A and E to take on their trip tomorrow and soon we were ensconced by a warm wood fire with some music and wine and spent the rest of the evening chatting and laughing. The dogs enjoyed the fire but would have preferred to get a bit closer I think!

Dash and Belle trying to get closer to the fire
 without having to lie on the cold tiles!

Ric and Aoife modelling their camel hair souk hats
The wine and fire soon took effect and we were all sleepy and as Ric, Aoife and Emer were to be out of the house at 7 am tomorrow to go on a 4 by 4 trip to the Atlas mountains, none of us were late to bed. 

Christmas Eve 2012

Christmas Eve.

Last night I stayed up after everyone else had gone to bed to publish the blog. When I had finished and went down to bed, I discovered that Nigel had bolted the door on the inside (to keep the dogs in) and I couldn't rouse him. After knocking, rattling the door and trying to get the dogs to jump on him I gave up and went back to the sitting room which has bench seats made out of concrete and horsehair cushions and a calor gas heater which I had switched off. So, I switched the heater on again and resigned myself to an uncomfortable night. Meanwhile Richard had woken with the noise so he gave me the spare blanket from their room.
Two hours later I was still awake, cold, stiff and very uncomfortable so I decided to go down and have another try to get in. After more knocking and rattling, Nigel was still comatose but then I decided to try and climb in  through the window, which I managed. He was most apologetic the next morning and had been totally unaware of all this going on!
We had decided that as it was going to be hot again today but cooler tomorrow, we would stay at the riad and relax today and oh boy, it was hot!

Dash on tortoise watch

The staff provided lunch which was chicken tajine and we sunbathed, read and drank water, all astounded to be spending Christmas in such an unusual way.

Nigel and I went for a walk in the afternoon to get a Moroccan dongle and to scope out the restaurant for tonight which Ric had booked yesterday so that we knew how to find it later.

When we got back there was just time to shower and get ready to go to Maison Arabe for our evening meal. We went through a very unassuming doorway in to a very palatial and splendid hotel and were served with a very delicious and filling  3 course meal. 

An example of the decor in the hotel
Back at the riad after a cuppa, we all went to bed...I made sure I was in bed first tonight!!!!

A few more random pics from today.....

Tradition versus 21st Century technology

Spices, soaps and what have you for sale

Street food being cooked

You can buy anything in Marrakech,
even second hand dentures!

I love this pic! Me in the
alleyway near our Riad

Would love to see inside here!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Meeting up with the family

Saturday morning and first job was to say goodbye to friends we had met on the tour,  hugs and promises to keep in touch were given and last to leave were Graham and Jill who we had first met in Burgos....seems a very long time ago!
After everyone had departed we had about an hour before the mini bus arrived to pick us up. Just before we did so, the man from the shop came and told us to move our motorhome next to the shop. "Better place, I looky looky for you." We did in fact move it but what we knew he meant was that he would want us to give him some money for looking after it!
Everything was piled into the minibus and off we set at the speed of light again, Mohammed (the driver) talking on his mobile phone, not giving way at roundabouts and generally scaring the s*** out of us.
After a while, several grey hairs later we arrived at the designated parking spot and imagine our surprise when we saw Ric, Aoife and Emer (Aoife's mum) just disappearing down an alleyway. We shouted for them, they heard us and waited. Meanwhile barrow boy wars were happening at the back of the minibus, some violent argument had erupted between two lads who haul luggage or what have you in carts down the narrow alleyways. Fortunately there was room for our luggage on the handcart that R, A and E's luggage was in, so we left them behind being dragged off each other. This is where we are staying. "our" riad
At the riad we were introduced to the ladies who cook and clean and then shown around. It is on 3 floors and is open to the sky in the centre, the ground floor has the kitchen and one bedroom and bathroom. The middle of the ground floor houses a small plunge pool which must be very refreshing in summer. The next floor has two more bedrooms and a bathroom and a lovely cosy sitting room and an outdoor reading area. Then it's up again to the roof terrace with seating, a shady corner and, we soon discovered, two tortoises! Nigel and I chose the downstairs room as being most practical for the dogs.

Outdoor covered seating/dining area

We were served lunch on the terrace which was a very tasty tortilla and salad and then we had a relax in the sun. Nigel had realized as soon as we arrived that he had left his rucksack with his clothes in in the motorhome!!!!! So he, Ric and Aoife went back in a taxi to collect it. R and A had a sudden and shocking introduction to Moroccan driving skills and habits!
Meanwhile, Belle and Dash decided to amuse themselves by chasing each other around the terrace....good fun as long as you don't trip over a tortoise. 
Circuits on the terrace
The others arrived back after about an hour,  the dogs were ecstatic to see them and the inevitable happened, Dash in his excitement fell in the was always going to happen! We had no dog towel with us, just the white riad towels so Emer dried him off a bit with her hairdryer. What a palaver. Good job all the floors are tiled.
Later we walked down to the main square Djemma-el-Fna and had some street food, the hassling to eat/buy/have a henna tattoo has to be witnessed to be believed. Tired from our busy day, we headed back to the riad after eating, past snake charmers, acrobats, monkeys, dancers and musicians and an old man with a mat down on which were a puppy, a hedgehog, a guinea pig, a falcon and several pigeons. What that was about we are not at all sure! It was a much needed early night for all of us.

Street food!

Sunday 23rd December 

First picture of Ric and I together for years!
View from our lunch spot, storks also gone for lunch!
Breakfast was served for us on the terrace, juice, bread, pastries and tea and coffee. After a laze in the sunshine, we decided to go to see the Saadian tombs and then wander where the fancy took us. Aoife skilfully found the way to the tombs which were discovered after an earthquake and restored at the beginning of the 20th century. Interesting but very crowded, after some photos we left to have a coffee in the cafe opposite but it was such a long time coming that we decided to have lunch as well, for which we had another long wait. So, about two hours later, after being entertained by two resident storks perched precariously on a nest across the way we left and went to have a look in the government shop which we had seen a few days ago. Nigel decided he would go back to the riad as the dogs had been left a long time but assured me that he was happy for us to carry on and see/do whatever we wanted next so we caught a caleche, horse and cart (yes yes yes I know, very tourtisty!) to the Jardins Majorelle. We had a wander round the gardens which were bought and restored by Yves St Laurent who had a house here. It houses a huge collection of cactii and many other plants and trees including massive bamboo and fruit bearing banana plants. The predominant colour of the architecture in the gardens is indigo which contrasts brilliantly with the many shades of leafy green, the terracotta pots and the sky. After a herbal tea it was time to return to the caleche for our trip back to the medina, world war three almost broke out as our driver pulled out the wrong way into oncoming traffic nearly maiming several motorscooter riders.

Interesting cactus at the Majorelle gardens
Caleche ride

Back at Djemma-el-Fna we threaded our way between the entertainers again and decided to go up to a rooftop cafe for some more tea and a look over the square and were rewarded for the climb up the stairs by a spectacular sunset behind the mosque.

Back at the riad, intending to go out again later for something to eat, instead we snacked on dates and nuts, had a rum and coke or two and decided that we were all too tired to go out again. 

Tomorrow is another day in Marrakech.......
Sunset behind the Koutoubia Mosque
More pics.....

Another Crompton photographer
Lunchtime brochettes
Storks displaying
Pigeon man
This tree was put up on Christmas Eve, 5 pm!
Nigel's sunset with "proper"camera.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Marrakech madness

Tuesday 18th

Even before we started winding upwards
we got an inkling of what
we were in for!

A strange photo but if you look through
the side window you can just see the road snaking
 downwards along the hair pin bends below.
Tizi-n-Tichka pass day over the High Atlas. Hairy especially when local truck drivers drive faster than the speed of light even on hair pin blind bends! Just when you think it isn't possible to climb any further, the road dips, lulls you into a false sense of security and then climbs again. The scenery changes as you pass, green rock and sediment, rich red soil, flashes of white from the snow and the quartz, little oases with palm trees and fertile strips of crops, traditional terracotta berber mud houses perched precariously on steep hillsides, the ever present hawkers by the sides of the road in the unlikeliest of places, how on earth they think you are going to manage to stop and park safely on these bends I haven't a clue. Once over the top, the scenery becomes much more lush and green, forested hillsides and even redder fertile soil. Gradually this gives way to urban sprawl, the traffic increases and you realize you are heading for a very large city.
Pastures green and red on the other side
We had a briefing at the campsite as dusk was falling and Steve brought out 7 litres of goodness knows what. We were told to bring a notebook and pen and a glass. After telling us first how to get out of the country and which paperwork to hand to whom, he then went on to explain the activities for the next couple of days. Basically there is a mini bus service into Marrakech which we could arrange with the driver. Various tours were offered but after the whistle stop tour of Fes when we went at such a speed it was impossible to look at anything, no one signed up for it. We then partook of the “Hooch”. It was quite vile to be honest, a local brew he had picked up in a village on the pass. It looked like red wine but certainly didn't taste like it. But after a few sips, we were all quite merry and it turned into an amusing evening. We were to have a formal end of tour meal together in Marrakech the next night.

We went into town on the minibus at 4pm so that we had a chance to look around in the daylight before the meal....what a is insane! After spending an hour wandering around getting lost, Nigel and I eventually found the Riad we are to stay at over Christmas with Ric and Aoife but not sure if the dogs will end up with all their legs intact after braving the walk through the souks to get there avoiding scooters, bikes, donkeys, handcarts, tradesmen trying to drag you into their shops/stalls.

Looking down on the square of Djemma - el- Fna
from our rooftop restaurant.

We were glad to get back on the minibus after the meal and head back to the comfort, warmth and cosiness of our motorhomes. Steve left for the drive back to Spain when we got back, we were all sad to say goodbye and now we will have to look after ourselves as our comfort blanket has gone! Everyone else is leaving tomorrow morning except us.
We had another foray into town thismorning to do some shopping at a government shop where everything is a fixed price and you can look, pick things up etc and no bargaining or hard sell. It was an amazing place, like a huge department store but jam packed with everything you could think of. Much the same as the “tat” in the souks but better quality. We had lunch after in a rooftop restaurant and then had an unsuccessful attempt to buy a Maroc being Friday afternoon, all the outlets were closed. Luckily there is wifi at the campsite but it is not very reliable, hence the inability to load photos.
So tomorrow Ric, Aoife and Emer arrive. They should be at the riad about midday so we have arranged for a mini bus ride from here at noon, with dogs, dog bedding, dog food, all our clothes, computers etc and warm clothes for me for a week in the UK over New Year.

Should be an interesting journey!

Extra photos below......

End of tour meal, Cafe France

Mind the tree! It was actually 
being transported in the truck!

This road takes no prisoners

Looking down the hairpins

Contrasting green and lush scenery the other side
Narrow alleyway towards our Riad

Todra Gorge to Ouzerzate

Monday 17th December

The drive back down the Todra Gorge was equally breathtaking, the sun was just coming up and the rocks were bathed in pink light. We left quite early and stopped part way down the gorge to have our breakfast. Fortunately, no-one arrived to try and sell us anything. It wasn't a good place for the dogs to have a run though....broken glass everywhere, such a shame. Just before we stopped, we noticed a woman, two children, a baby on her back and a little goat running along beside her, climbing down the steep rocky bank towards the road. Shortly after, the school bus came towards us so we guess this lady was taking her children to catch the bus.

Breakfast stop in the Todra Gorge

Tinehrir Kasbah, bottom of gorge

Eventually we arrived at the town of Tinherir at the bottom of the gorge and turned back onto the N9 towards Ouzerzate. The road surface improved a little but not as much as we had hoped. Steve had said that when we reached the next campsite he would make soup for everyone which would be ready at 3pm. We in the meantime decided we would try and scope out the “Valley des Oiseaux” where all kinds of rare birds have been spotted, so we sent Steve a text to say we might not make it in time for soup. 

Typical scenery en route to Ouzerzate

As above with Nigel's camera

Unusually colourful outfit

However, Maggie's map reading skills are not as good as they might be, we missed the turning. We decided we would turn round and as there was a roundabout within about 7k we were going to turn there........ BUT little did we know the roundabout was in the middle of a bustling beeping horned market town and we would have had to renegotiate a very busy place twice more if we turned we carried on.

Traffic chaos on market day

 We'll leave that for another time!!! We eventually found a place at the side of the road where we could pull in for lunch and had a nice view of the High Atlas as we ate our sandwiches.

Tantalizing glimpses of the snow capped Atlas

We carried on to Ouzerzate where we easily found the campsite and I got ribbed for my faux pas. Some of our group were having desert scenes painted onto their camper vans when we arrived. The Berber guy who was painting was amazingly talented and didn't mind us standing around watching while he worked.
We had our soup which had been saved for us as a starter to our evening meal and very nice it was too.

Scene painted onto Gill and Graham's camper