Friday, September 20, 2019

Morocco - Part III

Morocco - Chefchaouen, Tetouan and Tangier

It took us four hours by bus to get from Fes to Chefchaouen. Overall, the trip was easy. We stopped midway at a restaurant stop, had a quick bite and continued onwards to our destination. 

Once in Chefchaouen we took a taxi to the town’s center. Our riad, once again, was not too far into the Medina, so it was easy to get to it. Our host, Said, welcomed us to the Dar Soleiman. He gave us a nice rundown on places to see, places to eat and cafes. Breakfast, which we always looked forward to, started at 8:30.

Chefchaouen, known as the “blue city” was indeed blue. Incidentally, we found out that the “blue” phenomenon actually was a recent  movement that occurred within the last twenty years.
For whatever reason they decided to paint the town blue, it worked. The camera shots are irresistible at every little passage way. Light blues, dark blues, some mixed earth tones - and all juxtaposed to the wares being sold. An incredible feast of colors for the eyes.

Above, is a photo of Tetouan, a city we visited for the day that lies north between Chefchaouen and Tangier. We spent the day walking through it’s market (souk) and then went back home to Chefchaouen.

Below, a photo of our Aussie traveling buddies (Joan and Stephen), who we kept running into in several places. We had a great time together, even though I didn’t understand what they were saying half the time. :-)

Our final destination in Morocco was Tangier. An enormous city (over 2 million in population), bridging Europe and Africa, with a history dating back to the Phoenicians. And today, Morocco’s king is concentrating to make Tangier a stop-over for cruise ships and a destination for the super yachts. 

In Tangier, for once, we gave in to one of the local folks who wanted to show us around. We were glad we capitulated because he showed us areas we likely would have missed. In the Kasbah, he showed us beautifully painted passages. These were much different from Chefchaouen, in that they were more artistic and mural style paintings - not just a hue of blue paint spread on. 

Besides its long history, Tangier has a marvelous boardwalk along the beach that stretches for miles. Friday’s, Saturday’s, and Sunday’s are particularly busy with family and lovers walking down the boardwalk. 

One of the favorite things we enjoyed in Morocco was the coffee. So strong and so fragrante. One of the few times when I actually added either a little sugar or a little water. Man, was it good. 

After a couple of days in Tangier, we flew to Rotterdam and returned to Amsterdam. 

Morocco - Part II

Morocco - Meknes, Volubilis and Fes

The train ride from Rabat to Meknes took about an hour and a half. It was more scenic than our first train ride. We sometimes even passed by vineyards. 

Our riad was inside the Medina, which, at times, can present a challenge since the Medinas only have a few entrances. Fortunately, the Riad Bahia was on the outskirts of it, so it wasn’t too difficult to walk to and find.

For us, the main reason to stay in Meknes was to visit Volubilis. This ancient site was the capital of Mauritania, an ancient civilization dating back 3rd century B.C.!!! Later on, Volubilis was also part of the Roman Empire and others after the Roman era.

Besides the beautiful arches at the entrance of the site, Volubilis has a number of remarkable mosaics. Many of these were installed in grand homes of wealthy, well connected, individuals. 

In one of the photos below, I sit in what used to be a “spa”. Warm water was fed into the spa via ducts. Life was good if you were part of the elite.

                                                            Above, Diane and I relax on the terrace of our riad.

We had read lots of negative comments about getting to the tanneries in Fes. We mostly heard of fake guides getting you to go see a particular shop or showing you something and then wanting money in return. We didn’t experience much of that at all - and none of it was overwhelming.

Watching the tannery from one of the observation decks was fascinating. We visited one of the three tanneries in the area known as Chouara. Built in the 11th century, the methods they used to process the leather today is still pretty much the same from centuries ago. They use pigeon poop and cow urine to soften the hides. To hide the odiferous smells, one gets sprigs of mint to push up your nose. We didn’t use them, wanting to get the full impact of it all. :-)

One last comment, if anyone is to stay in Meknes, we highly recommend the Riad Bahia. It’s a lovely building with a big family who run the riad smoothly. Very nice people.

From Meknes, we took yet another train ride (this time a real short ride of about an hour) to Fes. 

That’s Part III.

Morocco 2019 - Part I

Morocco - Marrakech to Rabat

We decided to visit Morocco while we were in Amsterdam. The trip we planned was a circular route beginning and ending in Marrakech. But after a couple of days in Marrakech we decided to change our itinerary and simply travel northward ending and flying out of Tangier. By doing so we would miss a few things in the south that we had planned on seeing, but instead, we’d see Chefchaouen, Tetouan and Tangier (in addition to our planned itinerary of Meknes, Volubilis and Fes).

Marrakech was a far busier city than we had envisioned (I think we were twenty or thirty years too late). The weather was warm and there was a constant swarm of people wanting to take you to shops that had good deals (because they got commissions). On the plus side, all they wanted was to sell you things. We never felt in any danger and felt very much at ease and safe. 

The remarkable thing to me was how we eased into a comfort level walking through the dimly lit, narrow passages of the Medina. Although the phone’s GPS was helpful, it was slow and at times, inaccurate. But we always managed to find our way.

The vibrant colors, the fragrant smells of spices and oils and sounds in the tight passages of the Medinas were unique. Diane and I felt quite at ease getting lost in the markets and then somehow finding  our way out and back home. 

From Marrakech we took a 3 1/2 hour train ride north to Rabat, Morocco’s capital. We had hoped for interesting scenery, but it was mostly arid land with not much to offer. The train was comfortable and on time, although the air conditioning stopped functioning mid ways, making our compartment “sauna” warm.

Once we got to Rabat, we took an old beat up taxi from the train station to where our riad (hotel) was supposedly located. The taxi driver dropped us off in front of an enormous door and said “Your riad is in there - you have to walk from here! No cars”.  At first we thought he was just trying to pull one on us. But it soon became apparent that our riad was in an area cars were not allowed. It was the “Kasbah” - the old fort city of Rabat..

The walkways in the Kasbah were narrow, painted blue and white. With the help of a young fellow, we found our riad. 

Below, Diane is standing in front of our riad. 

There were cats every where you looked. This little family of cats hung around in front of our riad and were always looking for a little attention.

In Rabat, we visited the Chellah, a necropolis but also part of an area that was used by the Phoenicians (that’s hundreds of years B.C.) and later by the Romans and thereafter, by other civilizations.

A couple of frames below, a woman is feeding cats (and also keeps eels fed in a spring adjacent to where she’s sitting).

After the Chellah, we got a ride on an electric trike taxi to visit the Hassan Tower, a mausoleum built in around the 12th century. The beautiful ornate ceramic work reminded us somewhat of the Taj Mahal. All around and inside, guards were standing guard.

Diane had her mind set on getting real argon oil. We asked our hostess at the riad (who only spoke French) about getting some oil. She told us that we easily could find it in the souks. We searched and found a fellow who would grind the nuts and make it right on the spot. Below he is busy grinding the argon nuts into oil. 

The next frame is us having a Casablanca beer on the terrace of our riad (which is adjacent to the beach). BTW, beer and wine were not easily found in Morocco. Sometimes when I asked a clerk where one could find a beer, I’d just get a blank stare. They didn’t have a clue!

Above, Diane and I are having our evening meal with our half-bottles of wine that we got elsewhere. The people at our riad (Riad Bahia) were kind enough to allow us to indulge in our wines with our meal, but would not provide it. I mean, really, why eat dinner if you can’t have a glass of wine with it? 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

New York City - 2019

New York City

After a red-eye flight from LAX, we arrived at JFK in the morning and took the Airtrain and the Metro into the city. We definitely felt deficient in sleep but were only able to drop our suitcases off at the hotel and not check in until the afternoon.

Our strategy was to take a walk to Central Park and find a comfortable place to relax for a couple of hours. It was a beautiful day so we had a lovely walk through the southern end of the park, then parked our bodies on a grassy spot while listening to a solo guitarist near the lake. 

Central Park

Over the years, Diane and I had visited Central Park several times before but had not been as aware of all the enormous granite rock formations that were there. I suppose they just never made much of an impression on us before. This time, however, it was different. We really noticed their intrinsic, powerful and quiet beauty.

Since our hotel was only a couple of blocks from Central Park, we also took evening strolls through the park. Fireflies were ubiquitous. They were so much fun to watch flitter around. Too hard to photograph, though, so no photos of the fireflies. But I did get a photo of the sky scrapers at night.

The Hilton was quite close to Carnegie Hall. Upon passing it, we discovered that they gave tours of the hall a couple of times a day. Since it’s otherwise closed for the summer, we decided on taking a tour. 

Our tour guide, John, was a unique, crusty character and a brain filled with historical minutiae of Carnegie Hall. For example, he told us of why Carnegie bought the property on 57th Street, that at one time, the building was set to be torn down to be replaced by a gaudy architectural blunder, that it’s a venue solely for listening (not theater) and why the acoustics are so phenomenal to place it in the top three venues in the world for music. In the hallways, there were photos of some of the greats who played at Carnegie Hall. Needless to say, it was an informative and entertaining experience.

We toured the honey-combed looking Vessel at Hudson Yards. Unusual as it is controversial, we enjoyed it. We walked all through it from top to bottom and side-to-side. Aside from the architecture, apparently, the most controversial aspect of it is that it cost $150 million to build. Next to The Vessel is a cushy-looking building - odd but fun.

After our visit to The Vessel, we took a walk along the extremely crowded High Line. We wound up at Chelsea Market, where we explored some shops and stopped for lunch. On the way back to the hotel we meandered through various streets and avenues stopping at Times Square and a pub, where we got to see the Dutch girls soccer team beat the Swedes 1-0 during overtime. 

What really caught our attention was the shear volume of building projects in NYC. Everywhere you look, construction of new high rise buildings was taking place. Half of the workers in NY must be involved in construction in one way or another.

On the 4th of July, we took the metro to the southern end of Manhattan to the Whitehall station. We walked visited Wall St. and Stone St. The bars and restaurants were overflowing with patrons getting ready to watch the fireworks. 

After a glass of wine at an Irish bar, we walked along Water St. and found a spot to watch the fireworks on John St. along with throngs of other folks. Finally at 9:30pm the first explosions of the fireworks show commenced. It turned out we had picked a good spot to watch the show. 

We decided to skip the grand finale so we could get a head-start on the walk back to the metro. As we walked through the crowd, we could hear the beginnings of the explosive finale. After finding our way back to the metro station, the return journey wasn’t as bad as we had anticipated. 

On our last day in NYC we went to the Guggenheim Museum, a Frank Lloyd Wright designed building. Most of the exhibit was abstract modern art, which isn’t our favorite. But they did have a splash of what we enjoyed including paintings by Picasso, Klee,  Cezzane and Pizarro. Also, they had an extensive photographic exhibit that included works by the controversial artist, Robert Mapplethorpe. 

On the way back, we walked through Central Park and had the pleasure to meet a street performer named “Stevie Debbie” (he pronounced his last name with an “ea” sound). Stevie played a bongo drum and engaged us in conversation when I dropped some money into his bag. He asked us if we’d like to hear a song he had written. We said “Of course”. He played the drum and sang it (sort of a soft rap melody) about pastry. 

He then told us of a time when he was playing his drums in the park when Taylor Swift stopped by. At first I thought he was embellishing his story, but when he told us that we could watch it on YouTube, I began to believe him. Here is the Taylor Swift episode with Stevie Debbie.   

Our final day in NY, our flight was departing for Amsterdam at 5:30 pm, so we had until early afternoon to play. We walked to Rockefeller Center, visited the MoMa shop, dropped in at F.A. Schwarz and strolled past the Tonight Show and Colbert auditoriums. Lunch was at Wholefoods. 

We checked out of our hotel at 1:30 pm and took the Metro and AirTrain back to JFK. Next stop - Amsterdam.