March 31, 2005

Move scheduled…

I’m trying to migrate to WordPress. It means hours of reading, interpreting and brain power required. It looks easy this weblog thingy, but when you are as technically minded as I am (!) – these things take time….

filles at 2:52 pm

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March 30, 2005

Where’s my million?

I need a new printer. It’s driving me crazy. I have plenty of nice photos to work on, but I don’t want to spend hours adjusting levels and curves without having the right profile for my new printer….

filles at 9:20 am

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March 29, 2005

Village life

We spent a lovely weekend in London. We got to Portobello Rd markets on Saturday and after a lovely brunch with our new friends we met in Marrakech on Sunday morning in Mill Hill, we spent the afternoon in Hampstead shopping and enjoying the sunshine in various cafes. Monday had us going for a meander again around Hampstead – a few new lanes discovered as well as another pub ‘The White Bear’ for fish n’chips outside – and a quick pint at the trusty old favourite ‘HollyBush’ on the way home.

I took plenty of pictures to work on. A new meaning to the phrase ‘snap happy’.

Happy Wedding Anniversary to Milene & Gabriel today. 2 years already, 2 beautiful kids and many, many more to come (years that is, I’m not so sure what the plan is for more kids’…)

filles at 6:15 pm

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March 25, 2005

Chocolate overdose

Going visiting tomorrow for easter… London here we come!

Happy Easter – and don’t eat too much chocolate…

filles at 8:40 pm

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March 24, 2005

Saturday past…

Michelle went hillwalking last Saturday. Up in the clouds in Moffat.

Saturday night we rushed about after the hillwalking to get to a concert at the Carling Academy. Julian Clary: Natural Born Mincer. I was so disappointed with the show, I agree with the review here, except where he mentions the sidekick. I found it even harder to sit through her caberet numbers…

filles at 11:15 pm

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Birdbrain

Been very busy this week trying new restaurants, returning to the gym, generally catching up and the highlight – seeing the Australian Dance Theatre perform Birdbrain. If you ever get the opportunity, go see it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Four of us girls went on Tuesday and all had a great time, Eleanor thought the music was a bit tough for over an hour, but Michelle just kept repeating as if in a trance, “I want to buy the CD”. So, I guess you never can tell really… but all things considered we agreed it was a fantastic dance show and were well chuffed we got the chance to see it.

See an excerpt here if you have broadband, otherwise download the video here.

filles at 8:08 pm

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March 21, 2005

Farewell to Morocco

We’re just about done. One last day in Marrakech. Another pair of babouches, some more silk material (the plan was to make a duvet cover!); more mint tea; cous cous for lunch – and a move to another riad down the lane for our last night at Riad Badra. We booked ‘the Marrakechi’ for dinner overlooking Place Djemaa el Fna – food was brilliant, except perhaps the Pigeon Pie. It would have been fine, only I kept thinking “where did the pigeon come from?”. Horrible thoughts of those pigeons that scavenge for leftovers turned me off my entree…

Alison & Stanley joined us to admire the view and then we took a walk through the Place at night. Hundreds of people jostling in the square, snake charmers, vendors and food stalls – quite incredible really.

We jumped in a taxi and headed for the piano bar at Hotel La Mamounia. The hotel is lovely, we visited it one afternoon for a whisky sour in the garden, but the plan this evening was to listen to some jazz, perhaps see a bellydancer and to bring in Stan’s birthday in style. We managed two out of the three, having missed the bellydancer earlier in the evening. The piano bar was nice, the pianist quite talented – it was just a shame that considering it was Saturday night it wasn’t jumping. We wandered over into the casino and contented ourselves with watching others lose money.

It was the perfect end to a fantastic holiday. I have already started to look for some reasonable priced flights to return this fall to Fes.

A wonderful country, very happy, kind people, beautiful colours, food and lives. An absolute pleasure.

I hope you get an opportunity to visit Morocco one day yourselves.
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filles at 9:17 am

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March 18, 2005

Mountains and Kasbahs’

You can’t go to Morocco without seeing the Atlas Mountains. At least that’s Michelle’s theory. So, never one to procrastinate, she managed to convince another couple that it would be a trip of a lifetime to journey with us up over the mountains via Tizi n’Tichka (at 2260m) and then to take an off road piste to the Kasbah at Ait Benhaddou. We rented a driver and a 4 wheel drive vehicle for the day and set off at 7.30am one morning….

The day was beautiful. The warmest day so far. Even so high up in the mountains with snow around us the weather was lovely. We stopped every so often to admire the stalls selling minerals and art and of course – carpets, along the way before turning off road on the way to Telouet. The mountain road was scary. Very high, no barriers and plenty of cars barrelling around each corner, another opportunity to put your head in your hands and pray for a safe journey. We made it to Telouet around noon to visit the Glaoui kasbah. It is actually one of the most extraordinary sights of the Atlas. It’s slowly crumbling away back into the sand, but you can still imagine the style and the power that it held in its day. Most of the rooms are just ruins, although in the latest wing of the castle there are still some rooms where you can see the intricate patterned tiles and marble and even a royal suite with silks on the walls. It really was something special.

Our plan was to continue via a piste to Ait Benhaddou but because of the heavy rains received the previous week we were advised by other drivers that the route was long and slow, another 3.5 hours – putting our return to Marrakech in the late evening. None of us could bear to imagine returning via the mountain road in the darkness, so we collectively agreed to linger over lunch in a Berber tent and retrace our route slowly home.

It was a spectacular day. Who would have imagined snow and ice so close to the desert. The mountain ranges were amazing, and the villages along the way were from times past, and not to forget Alison & Stanley who really made the whole journey a true adventure.

filles at 10:40 pm

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March 17, 2005

Our friends make pretty babies…

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filles at 5:28 pm

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the Hammam ritual

Walking about and living around the streets of Morocco you get filthy. There is dust everywhere. After a day out and about it’s the first thing you want to do, scrub off the dust and the sweat. We decided to do as the locals do and visit the hammam. The hours for women were 12noon to 7pm. We had stopped by earlier in the day to check what we needed, what the price was and all the other relevant details and were told in a mix of French and what we supposed was Arabic to just come with a towel and shampoo and we’d be set, everything else would be taken care of.

Off we went. We had recruited a new friend from the Riad, Paullina, to take a break from her 4 month old baby and join us. We were handed some slip-on plastic shoes on arrival and made to strip before being bundled into a room deep in the depths of the old baths. There was marble everywhere. We entered a room filled with steam and about 50 other women all sitting on the marble floor or small stools, energetically scrubbing each other and their kids down. What a sight. The three of us, all white, trying to fit our three bums on the 1 little mat they provided must have been a hysterical sight and a ripple of giggles broke out around us.

The process began by collecting buckets of water from a running tap and lining them up around us. Paullina was first. A very large black Muslim lady manipulated her into place and she started scrubbing the top 5 layers of skin off her entire body. The feeling is a mixture of pain and incredulity. You see the skin begin sloughed off, and you laugh at the looks around you, but essentially it IS 5 layers of skin, and you are being rubbed raw.

We were laughing at each other, at the pain and incredulity, but once we were all scrubbed down, we learnt very quickly to keep our mouths shut – buckets of water started flying. You only had to turn your back for a second and ‘whoosh’ another bucket of water was tipped over your head. A good head massage and shampoo another few buckets of water, and then a full body massage with soap which would have been relaxing except for the hard marble floor underneath.

With a last bucket of icy cold water, we were slapped on our shoulders, towels draped around us and led out of hammam to finish up.

The experience was amazing. I’m not sure I would do it again in a public hammam, the hygiene is definitely questionable, but it is worth doing at least once. Muslims are very clean people. After this experience you really understand just how clean they are.

As we left the hammam, thanking our torturers on the way out, we were all literally squeaking clean. Despite a few bumps and bruises from the energetic massage on the marble floor we were absolutely invigorated.

Ready to face another day in this loud and boisterous city.

filles at 9:39 am

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March 16, 2005

Essaouira

One day we hired a grand taxi and driver and went to Essaouira for the day. About 180 kms/2.5 hours (because of the roads) from Marrakech and we were out by the Atlantic Ocean. There were lots of stalls with tables and benches to sit on, and great displays of wriggling fish. You select what live seafood you fancied and off they went to cook it for you. You can’t get fresher than that!

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The town itself is full of tourists on day trips from Marrakech mostly, but it was quite beautiful if not a little run-down. If you imagine most of the Mediterranean type towns in Greece, Essaouira comes close, although it is not as well maintained really all that’s missing is a few licks of blue and white paint. The souks contained similar goods as those in the city, along with a much larger range of ‘artisan’ products, paintings, designed furniture along with many different carvings of the Argan tree (this is the same tree that goats climb to feed off the nuts).

The beach was large, but not terribly impressive, perhaps the summertime brings about clearer water, and some larger waves – we’ll have to go back to see. Lots of young men were playing football on the beach with no shoes (ouch!) whilst the tide was out.

We passed through several towns on the way there and back along with camels and great views of essentially red dust and desert. Quite special. Our driver was chatty, and full of information on his country and his driving in the daylight was fine.

When it got dark it was another story. I spent the last hour with my head down, and my hands covering my eyes, as we sped past the traffic in ambulance chasing mode….

The first beer after we arrived home was magic!

vending.jpg

filles at 7:27 pm

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March 15, 2005

Fes to Marrakech

Next we took the train from Fes to Marrakech. 8 hours via the ONCF Morocco – 1st class carriage. Comfortable, clean with amazing scenery to watch as we whizzed by. We passed Meknes were the best Moroccan wine is grown, Rabat – the capital on the coast, the infamous Casablanca – which in fact isn’t particularly romantic – then on to Marrakech. The soft red city.

It was frantic. We arrived at peak hour. After risking our lives crossing the street outside the train station, we finally managed to flag down a ‘petit taxi’ and were dropped off ‘somewhere in the area’ of our riad. After much searching and asking directions we were finally led by someone through a maze of back alley’s to the front door of Riad Malika. Most Riads have only one inconspicuous door fronting into the lanes of the medina. Push this open, and you are confronted by a magical tranquil world within. Orange trees, fountains, swimming pools, terraces, restaurants and bars. Riad Malika had all the above. Run by a Frenchmen whom we only crossed paths with once, it was a world apart from the busy city outside.

There were some beautiful rooms in the riad, ours was a bit ‘backpacker’ like but what it lacked in finesse and luxury it made up for in the shape of a private terrace. Our first night we just hung about and enjoyed a nice dinner on the terrace.

Tuesday we ventured out to discover the souks in Marrakech. What a lot of fun. Marrakech as opposed to Fes was full of tourists, particularly French tourists. They were everywhere! Tourists and leather goods. More babouches than I had ever imagined possible, not only the traditional leather versions, but material ones, sequined ones even denim ones were available! We visited the tannery here as well, but unlike Fes we only saw the start of the process and from ground level which was almost impossible to tolerate. We were led around the vats clutching a piece of fresh mint to use as a gas mask, sniffing the mint continually to avoid the pong of the pigeon shit. We got lost several times that day, once in the souk just before nightfall which was a little scary, and another time after arguing with some ‘Berbers’ over us not agreeing to pay them the extortionate 100 dirham they were demanding after dragging us off to a carpet shop. We survived this, but only after making a run for it back into the maze of the medina. It’s a sad state when your tip is refused as being too little, one of the negative affects of the large influx of tourists I imagine. It wasn’t to be the last time this happened to us in Marrakech.

to be continued….

Billions of Babouches….

See all pictures here .

filles at 6:29 pm

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March 14, 2005

Morocco: What a fantastic trip!

All in, we had a great time. Lots of bad luck getting there and back. But a great time in Morocco.

Because of a supposed 1mm of snow in London last Friday, we missed our connecting flight Gatwick – Fes by about 30 minutes with the next flight not scheduled for another 3 days! We were rescheduled to take another via Portugal but managed to miss that as well. Instead, we were forced to check into the Gatwick Hilton courtesy of British Airways. Despite getting vouchers for food and drink to placate us, we high-tailed it to Hampstead to spend the evening with Gabriel & Milene. Had a great supper in a local Italian Restaurant in Kentish Town before taking the Gatwick Express back to our holding spot….

Another day. Bright and early we breakfasted and went back to the terminal. This time we checked in early, held our breath and our flight, despite taking off 35 minutes late got us to Lisbon, Portugal in time for our connecting flight to Casablanca. Unluckily for us, this flight was delayed 2 hours which meant we would miss our connecting Casablanca – Fes flight, again by about 30 minutes…

We went through customs in Portugal, did a tour of the airport, then jumped on a little plane (10 seater) to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. Terrifying. Another missed flight in Casablanca and we finally arrived in Fes 30 odd hours later than expected!

We were picked up at the airport by a driver and Attika, the directrice from our booked accommodation, the Palais d’hotes and delivered in style to the most beautiful riad we have ever seen. Everyone took great care of us, we were upgraded to a lovely room, fed sweet mint tea and pastries upon arrival (2am) and then left to sleep off the trauma of our journey.

Sunday morning we were served the most amazing breakfast in the riad. A fine introduction to Moroccan cuisine, starting with Harira a soup made with lamb & chickpeas, moving through to pancakes – sweet and savoury, dried meat with eggs, yoghurt, apple milkshakes, the sweetest orange juice I’ve ever tried, bread, almond pastries and coffee.

With a full belly and some words of advice we headed out into the medina in Fes. It was amazing. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. The medina in Fes is so full of life. There are people and animals and smells everywhere. Some of the alleys are very tight, barely letting a donkey pass let alone a couple of tourists with bags full of shopping! We got lost on and off all day, stopping for cups of sweet mint tea every so often to recharge. We were led by various locals, all for a fee, to various places of interest, the mosque, a terrace overlooking the souk, a terrace overlooking the tanneries, the spice souk, the leather market, a dozen or so carpet shops etc. So much fun. For me the highlight was the tanneries. Unbelievable. So much leather, so much hard work. The stink was unsupportable and yet there were men thigh deep in pigeon droppings removing hair from the skins or jumping into huge vats of natural dye. After you visit this, you have to stop yourself thinking too much if you want to actually stop and purchase any of the bright coloured leather articles on sale in the souks. The bags, the belts, the babouches – all brightly coloured, all produced in the thousands all available for next to nothing. Only the lingering pungent smell of the tanneries left in your nostrils to remind you where they come from.

After about 5 hours of noise, dust and sheer distraction we returned to the calm and beauty of the riad where we relaxed on the roof terrace, sipping more mint tea and eating a variety of sweet & sticky pastries. A quick swim in the pool and we prepared for an evening in.

Lucky for us, the season hadn’t really started in Fes yet. The riad was empty except for us which meant we had the undivided attention of the most amazing staff ever. There were others that came for dinner in the riad, not staying. But the sheer size of the place meant that we didn’t see nor hear them all evening. We took drinks in the central terrace with Attika and then moved to the yellow room for a fantastic dinner of several courses. We could barely move after such a feast but agreed to join our hosts for a ‘digestif’ and a shisha water pipe. Ahmed introduced us to the joys of smoking Eyptian apple tobacco through the shisha. We smoked and chatted through the early hours of the morning….

If you ever plan on going to Fes, and even if you haven’t thought of it yet, you really must stay at the Palais d’hotes. So beautiful, so luxurious and the most amazing staff who will take care of your every need…

to be continued…

See all pictures here .

filles at 3:22 pm

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March 4, 2005

time out…

Lots of noise, some sunshine, people, colours, wonderful food, smells and sights. That’s what we’re expecting in Morocco next week….

filles at 8:15 am

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March 2, 2005

Time flies…

How did I ever fit work in?

I keep asking myself the same question, over and over again. Today I got up at 9 (because of a wakeup call from Michelle who’s in France!). I did some work in Photoshop – then got my gear ready to go out in the beautiful sunny/rainy Scottish day to take some more pictures. At 1- I met Julie for lunch at the Tron Theatre. We visited a couple of galleries around King Street. Did a few shopping chores. Dropped into the library to pick up some books on Morocco for our upcoming trip. Stopped for coffee and a chocolate cheesecake in Waterstones where I picked up a couple of bargain books. Quick shop for some organic mushrooms and zucchini, followed by a leisurely walk towards home, stopping for a peppermint tea at Beanscene and a chance to put my nose into my new book before it got too dark.

Now I’m at home. I’ve checked the email, prepared, cooked and eaten my dinner (pasta with zucchini, mushrooms, chilli and olive oil), done a couple of loads of washing, watched a moving show on Comic Relief in Africa and Ethiopia, caught up on ‘The Bill’ and now I’m going through 3 weeks worth of old newspapers before ‘Desperate Housewives’ starts at 10pm.

Tomorrow I’m thinking about going to ‘A Play, A Pie and A Pint’ at Oran Mor…

filles at 9:55 pm

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