Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sevilla, Spain

We said goodbye to our dear friends Jennie and Wayne yesterday morning in Marrakesh. They're returning to Australia (with a 30 hour flight ahead of them - yuk!) and we were flying, via Madrid, to our next stop, Sevilla, Spain. It has been a magical, memorable 2 week stay in Morocco that we have shared together!
We got to our apartment (Pelayo Terrace) on Calle Luis Montoto, Sevilla  well after 8.00pm last night after a bit of a hiccup caused by my mistakenly informing our landlord we'd be arriving a bit after 2.00pm!!! We recovered from the confusing start to our stay and our orientation visit conducted entirely in Spanish (!) with a bottle or two of Tempranillo and some late night tapas at one of the local, friendly bars in the well heeled area around our inner city apartment.

We started slowly this morning and found our way through the picturesque streets of Sevilla's old town to the meeting place at the main cathedral for one of Pancho's walking tours, starting at 11.00am. We ended up having enough time to enjoy a coffee hit first, before the 2 and 1/2 hour walk got under way.
Sevilla's cathedral area is jam packed with tourists and there is already a very long queue for people wanting to enter the building today. It is the largest Gothic Cathedral in Europe - which started as a mosque under the rule of the conquering Moors (from Morocco). It was transformed and extended to become a Christian Cathedral in the Middle Ages. The Cathedral bell tower (formerly a minaret) is remarkably similar to the Koutoubia mosque in Marrakesh (and we know that having been there so recently).

 It takes us a little while to get used to our guide Manuel's accent...but we all grow to like his expressive and rhythmical way of talking and all his hand clapping and animated gesticulation.
Our next stop was the iconic Hotel Alfonso X111, just across from the Real Alcazar (we only skirted the wall around this amazing royal palace and garden today) in the newer part of old Sevilla town. This hotel is fit for kings, and with room rates well above the 500euro per night rate we are highly unlikely to ever see much of its interior.

We walked past the beautiful old cigar factory building (it belonged to the king - for making his cigars with tobacco from the Americas), which now houses part of Sevilla's university.
.....then we walked through the Parque de Maria Luisa until we rounded the corner to the stupendous Plaza de Espana, built at enormous cost for the 1929 Exposition in Sevilla...and probably never used for anything of much importance since...but what an amazing monument to grand vision and big ideas!

We enjoyed our walking tour of medieval and early 20th century Sevilla, but after finishing at around 2.00pm we were in great need of a drink and time to eat and rest.  Sevilla must be one of the easiest cities in the world to find great food, welcoming service and perfect mid Autumn temperatures for al fresco dining. We had no trouble settling in for a few hours of relaxation at our choice of cafe in a small plaza in the old town.

We walked more later in the afternoon, finding our way to the downtown shopping area around Centro and spending a little while on some retail therapy (focussing on bags today).

It was well after 6.30pm before we were finally walking back to the apartment (after at least a 15-16klm walking day today), and much to our surprise we discovered this (Metropol Parasol) in Plaza Mayor........ I'm not sure what the local's attitude is to this....but any city that can produce the Plaza de Espana is well capable of producing a "mushroom" too if it chooses to.
We enjoyed a light supper of beer and cheese tonight on our breezy apartment terrace overlooking the dense foliage of the Calle Luis Montoto plane trees - about all we felt capable of after walking so much today in this beautiful city.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Walking Marrakesh

Our local guide Abdul met us at 9.30 this morning (Monday 28th September) and we set out together (including Rob this time - yay he is MUCH better!) in the crazy traffic and narrow laneways of the Marrakech medina for a morning of adventures, our last full day in magical Morocco. 

First stop, and very close to our riad, was the Palace El Bahia, built over 16 years at the end of the nineteenth century for the country's prime minister who seemed to share power equally with the Sultan of the day. It was intended as a very grand palace of its time (with room for four wives) and we were all very impressed by the beauty of its cedar interiors, the Andalusian style decoration and mosaic work and extensive gardens.

Abdul led us through the maze of the medina's streets - through the old Jewish district (the Mellah) and the Kasbahs. The Jewish population of Morocco is much reduced these days as the royal family received big bonuses from the Israeli government  after 1948 and then after the 6 day war in 1967 for any Moroccan Jews who emigrated to Israel (so many were "encouraged" to do so).

 Marrakesh is known as the "red city of Morocco"...and reds of every hue are all around us!
The hand of Fatima is everywhere in Morocco (and all over the Middle East apparently)....the universal sign of protection, especially for warding off the "evil eye".  

I was lucky to catch this pic of a busy bakery as most people here make it clear they don't want to be in my photos (and that's fair enough!).
 We made our way to the Saadien Tombs which are a major attraction in Marrakesh. They date from the 1500-1600s. Among the graves are those of Sultan Ahmad al Mansur and his family.  The bodies are laid out on their right side with faces pointing east towards Mecca. During the 16th century Morocco used to trade sugar for Carrara marble from Italy (kilo for kilo) - so beautifully decorated Carrara marble (and cedar) are the main materials used in these tombs.
The Koutoubia Mosque is a real landmark here. In fact no other building in Marrakesh can be built higher than the minaret of this mosque (77m) so, as a result, there is no high rise development in this city of well over one million people. The Koutoubia Mosque was built during the 1100s and has inspired the Giralda of Seville (our next stop on this trip) which was constructed in the same era.

Abdul walked us for hours then through the souks of this ancient city........leathergoods, antiques from all over Africa, textiles, food, exotic lamps and carpets, jewellery, textiles, metalwork, decorative wood name is all here in Marrakesh. No pictures though please!!!

Morocco is a paradise for lovers of colour...Pantone must make regular visits here to create their colour pallettes!

This was the olive market...just got in a quick picture before anyone said no no!
We were well and truly ready for lunch by 2.30 and with Abdul's help we made it to the iconic Dar Essalam Restaurant, set in an exquisitely decorated 17th century palace , founded as a restaurant in 1952, and still run by the same family today.  One of its biggest claims to fame prior to our visit is that it was used as a location in the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock film "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (James Stewart & Doris Day).  We too enjoyed a beautiful lunch at the Dar Essalam today.

The plan then was to rest awhile at our lovely riad before heading back out again for one last visit to Jemaa El Fna and the lovely old style bar we'd found the previous evening with the gorgeous view over the rooftops of the old medina.

However, from about 4.00 o'clock onwards the biggest storm broke over the city, emptying bucket loads of driving rain from the sky, deluging the city streets, and flooding whole areas (including parts of our riad). Everyone says it NEVER rains like this in Marrakesh.....but it certainly did tonight...

I took the pic below of the courtyard outside our room after a half an hour of heavy rain and the water was at least 6 - 7 cms deep. Maxie and Rod's room was flooded (however they got an upgrade) along with a number of others in the riad.

The city is not built to handle rain like came to a standstill tonight. So we spent our last night in Morocco at our rain soaked riad with all the lovely staff waiting on us with drinks and snacks and musicians playing.....just perfect.....and still the rain fell.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

To Marrakesh

We drove back from Essaouira to Marrakesh this morning (Sunday 27th), arriving in time for lunch served at the divine Jardin Majorelle.  About an hour out of Essaouira we were amused to see this sight (pic below) on the side of the road.  The local goat farmers have noticed that tourists are intrigued by seeing their goats feeding off the leaves of the argan trees, so one enterprising fellow has taught his goats to set themselves up in this well placed tree, near to the highway, so they can look like supermodels when the tourists stop to take pictures. Of course a small fee is required to take a picture!  It's a very lucrative business judging by the number of cars that stopped at this tree.

Rob is feeling quite a bit better today though not a lot of energy to spare. I was pleased to get a picture of him up and about today - especially against the Majorelle blue walls of the former residence of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge at their former home, the Jardin Majorelle.
The garden provides great lessons in working with a dry, arid climate..there are lots of palms and cactus, some hardy ferns and loads of succulents.

We said goodbye to Rachid and Mohommed, our wonderful guide and driver from Morocco Expert Tours (and we were very sad to say goodbye too!) at our Riad Ksar Anika.

Maxie, Rod and I braved a late afternoon walk to the famous Square Jemaa El Fna and saw first hand the snake charmers, musicians, henna artists, scam artists and food sellers that make this square famous. We only walked part way around a section of its perimeter, so as not to lose our bearings on our first day in Marrakesh - we will do more tomorrow.
Back in the peace and quiet of our beautiful, classy riad we were served dinner in the pavilion overlooking the courtyard pool, probably the most beautiful setting of any of the riads we have stayed in thus far!