Thursday, March 27, 2014

essaouira is très tranquille

From Marrakesh we headed to the small beach town of Essaouirra. It's on the Atlantic coast of Morocco and famous for being a musical center during the 70s. Artists like Cat Stevens and Jimi Hendrix spent time there as well as Orson Wells, who has a much abused bust in one of the town squares.

It was surprising how much the drive to Essaouirra from Marrakesh looked like New Mexico - minus the goats in trees, which unfortunately, we didn't get pictures of.

There are some goats near a tree in the middle there.
Essaouira is supposedly the best Atlantic port close to the Mediterranean, so it has been fought over for many hundreds of year. As a result, there is a pretty impressive wall full of cannons that goes right up to the ocean's edge. Since this isn't the US, you can climb all over it and take some great pictures.

 We ended up spending quite a lot of time in Essaouira, a month or so. As a result we got to do a lot of exploring, and lucky for us, Essaouira actually had quite a lot to offer for a small town. We stayed in the old Medina inside the city walls, but right outside there was a very active port and next to that, there was an amazing beach that stretched for miles along the natural bay that gives the town its famous reputation. In the bay there is a little island that is now a national park, so you can't go to it. But on the island there are Phoenician ruins that are visible from the beach, and supposedly gave Jimi Hendrix the inspiration for his song, Castles Made of Sand. But since Jimi first visited Essaouira a few years after writing the song, we knew it was just tourist hype.

Part of the wall the circles the whole Medina.

The Medina's main drag.

The other direction of the Medina's main drag.
The major square in the Medina where a lot of restaurants are located.

One of the many tight streets the weave their way through the Medina.

The view from our hotel room.

They like to try and sell you art in Essaouira. The cat wasn't for sale.
A view back towards the Medina from the Port.

Essaouira's beautiful beach.
Camel rides, anyone?

A nice dinner on the beach boardwalk.

Dinner with a little entertainment.

The rocks just outside the walls the surround the Medina.

Phoenician ruins out in the water. Castle made of sand?

At first we weren't too enchanted with Moroccan cuisine, but Essaouira had some great food. Olives for days and some really good Charmwa made our time eating in Morocco quite enjoyable. We also ate a lot of pizza, which was everywhere in Essaouira for some reason, and they did pretty well (our favorite was the veggie pizza with potatoes and rice, since they consider rice a vegetable here).

Lots of olives in every color of the rainbow.

Nothing better than a Charmwa with fries.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

the marrakech express

Not knowing where to go after Spain, but looking for some place cheaper than Western Europe, we decided upon Morocco after a shining recommendation from Maggie's host sister Marghe. Neither of us had ever stepped foot on African soil, so we decided it was the right choice to continue our continent-hopping.

We flew into one of Morocco's major cities, Marrakech. It was pouring rain the day we arrived so we found accomidations in the Medina (city center) very quickly and stayed indoors. Luckily the next day was much nicer and we went searching for nicer accomidations as well.

Marrakesh hotels--at least the traditional ones, called riads--are very cute, with all the rooms centered around a courtyard with a open roof. The one we found also had a nice deck on the roof that you could sit and eat at - or work.

Courtyard of our riad.
After settling ourselves in, we headed out to explore the city. Marrakech is an ancient town with habitation going back to the B.C.'s. It's called the Red City for obvious reasons and for moments you almost felt like you could be in Santa Fe with all the stucco. We were staying in the old part of the city, but we occasional made excursions into the new city to find grocery stores and other new world conveniences.

The symbol for Marrakech.

The Atlas mountains in the distance.

The old walled city we were staying is a hodgepodge of souks (markets), each on leading to the next. It was easy to get lost wandering the tight, twisting streets. But there was always so much to see.

One of the souks.

I don't know why so many people sell these. I thought Aladdin was from the Middle East.

Shoes anyone?

Many Hand of Fatimas.

A kitty perusing the tajines, a device they cook much of their food in.

A Moroccan wheelbarrow.

So many amazing doors.

We didn't know what to expect from Moroccans, but we were instantly overwhelmed by how nice and hospitable they all were. Their vendors can be a little pushy, but overall, they are a genuinely nice group of people. One thing that went on a lot in the Medina was snake charming and monkey handlers. I understand that people got to make a living, but neither of us wanted to encourage the practice, hence the bad quality photos from afar.

Snake Charmers.

Monkey Handlers.

 A popular dish in the Medina was snails. So we had to try it. It wasn't great, but we are glad we at least gave it a try.

In Morocco, a constant companion while eating is a begging cat.

At night the Medina really got going with restaurants, cake shops, nut vendors and a million other things going one. It was quite the spectacle.

We stayed in Merrakech for a while, so we found some nice places to go and work. One was a park just outside of the Medina that was full of cats (not much different than the rest of Morocco). It was a very peaceful place where you could find a quiet spot and work while basking in the sun... and watch the cat society play out.

How many cats can you find in this picture?

toledo, not ohio

The final stop on our Spanish epic adventure was the ancient capital of Toledo. Strategically placed so it is surrounded on three sides by a river, the town clings to the hilltop like vulture on a steeple. After missing out exit, we finally found our way to the parking garage literally carved into the underside of the hill the town rests on. You then take an elevator or escalator to the top where the ancient tight streets wind their way around this city full of history. 

The view from the top of the parking garage at the top of Toledo.

It's the city where Cervantes wrote his famous Man From La Mancha (Don Quixote), a city world renowned for its swords and still riddled with bullet holes from the Spanish Civil War. We quickly found a hotel on the main plaza and started to walk our way through it's twisting towering streets with churches and synagogues around every corner.

When we found a statue of old Cervantes himself, we had to take a picture with him our own author extraordinaire.

After a day in Toledo, we headed back to Madrid and the end our our journey. Before Madrid though, we made one more stop in a suburb of the capital and the hometown of Cervantes. We toured his family's house and found the Man from La Mancha to pose with us.