Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Atlas Mountains & Imlil

We took our conference group on a day tour to the snow covered Atlas mountains about 1.5hrs drive outside Marrakech. It is a fabulous day trip if you are in  Marrakech as the small Berber villages are an incredibly stark contrast to the city. It is preferable to try to do this trip on a Saturday, market day, as it is absolutely worth a visit! Set in front of a large rubbish tip, it is a genuine local market, no tourists stalls, and on the day we visited, the ground was thick with mud so each step had to be taken with care. The locals trying to sell the predictable trinkets to tourists are extremely persistent, so you have to be more persistent in refusing! The butchery area was pretty amazing with carcasses laid out everywhere and many goat heads set on newspaper for sale - this may be less impressive in the heat of a Moroccan summer, as there was no refrigeration or display cases! There was also the possibility of getting a haircut or for a dollar, having your bad teeth pulled out with a pair of pliers. Then we continued to Imlil where we hiked in the foothills of the Atlas mountains, visited a house of one of the Berber people for mint tea, and lunched on tagine on the rooftop of a building with a very impressive view of the Atlas mountains.

Photos from the Marrakech Souk

The souk in Marrakech is fabulous entertainment! It can initially be overwhelming as the stall holders are rather persistent, so on the first visit, just wander, look and become comfortable with the environment - a guide is also worth it as the labyrinth can be very disorientating. It is loosely divided into various areas, the wool dying area with the intense coloured wool hanging to dry, the metal area where men beat out beautiful brass lights, the wood area where timber pieces are turned by feet and the leather area with hundreds of brightly coloured bouches (slippers) are ready for sale. You will have to be very strong to resist the lure of buying a carpet, even if you have no intention of doing so, and the herbalist gives a wonderful explanation of the strange looking items he sells. It is important go with a sense of fun in order to enjoy the banter, for the art to bargaining is indeed a game and these men are very well practiced!

The Ochre City - Marrakech - I love this place!

Aaahhh Marrakech - it makes one feel alive! An Arabic Africa, bustling with activity, dusty with the sand that blows in from the Sahara and in many ways seemingly unchanged for centuries - snake charmers, performing monkeys and Berber women offering henna tattoos. But behind the high walls of the Riads in the medina, exists another world altogether, tranquil serene and indulgent. It is a city of great contrasts - a frenetic life on the outside, in the souks, the busy streets and the main square, Jeema El Fna, versus the peace of the interior spaces with the intricate detail and hand craftsmanship - carved stucco, painted cedar and colourful Zelig tiles.

Monday, February 4, 2013

On the back of a Vespa - the best way to see Rome!

We have been back in Italy over the past few weeks - spending time in our house before our busy conferences begin again. The weather is superb with clear blue skies and crisp days. I have had my sister and my 16yr old twin niece & nephew staying, so went we to Rome for the day. Rome is only a 1.15hr trip from here, and our main intention of the day trip was to deliver on my Christmas gift to my niece & nephew - a 4 hour sight seeing trip around central Rome on the back of a Vespa - a la Audrey Hepburn "Roman Holiday" style. They didn't have to drive as that would be too much to deal with in the Roman traffic (let alone their lack of a driving license), but rather just had to sit on the back of a Vespa and take it all in - it doesn't get more Roman than that! 
The end result? - a huge hit and I am left with trying to top that gift for Christmas 2013!