Sunday, March 31, 2013

Daily Snapshots: Touring Marrakech, Morocco

This is a lazier day than it should be. We spend a few hours touring the city with our guide and then head back to our hotel during the heat of the day. A short walk at the end of the day leads to a fabulous dinner of roasted lamb.

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Daily Snapshots: Day One in Marrakech, Morocco

There are poppies all along the road as we leave Ouzoud.  
 Our hotel in Marrakech is lovely, but not as lovely as Majorelle Gardens! 

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Daily Snapshots: Kasbahs, Mountain Passes, and Tumbling Waters

We begin the day wandering through the Ait Benhaddou Kasbah. A bit of cross-country driving takes us past more kasbahs, including the Glaoui kasbah at Telouet where a few splendid rooms remain amid the ruins. The dramatic Tizi n’Tichka pass is followed by green fields ablaze with flowers and a challenging hike through a natural bridge just as the swallows head home for the day.  

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Daily Snapshots: Tinehir to Ait Benhaddou, Morocco

Today we have another long day on the road with lots to see! We travel through the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs, the Dades Gorge, and the Valley of the Roses on our way to Ait Benhaddou. Along the way we pass many kasbahs, weird rock formations, strange flowers, and green oasis. 

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

Traveling through the Saghro Massif, Morocco

Today is our major off-road driving day as we travel through a very remote area of Morocco. The roads are rugged, although our driver tells us they are much improved since the last time he was through here about three months ago. I can see why few tourists venture here, as it is very far from anywhere, but the landscape is amazing.

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Daily Snapshots: Around Erg Chebbi, Morocco

We are up at dawn to watch the sunrise over the dunes at this far edge of the Sahara and then off on a circle tour of the area around the dunes. We end the day by climbing aboard our camels and setting off into the desert for a night in a Berber tent – our timing turns out to be superb, as we ride to the camp under clear blue skies and are settled in with our mint tea just as a sandstorm sweeps through.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Through the Mountains to the Sahara, Morocco

We leave Fes under grey skies that leave the mountains nearly invisible almost until we reach Ifrane. From that point on, we travel through the Middle Atlas Mountains and on to Erg Chebbi and the edge of the Sahara under brilliant sunshine.  

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Daily Snapshots: More of Fes, Morocco

We have asked our guide to join us again today and we begin with a visit to the mellah, a return trip to the tannery (when the light is good), and a little shopping. This is followed by a panoramic view of the city and a stop at a pottery and mosaic works. On our own, we visit a nearby museum, but leave plenty of time for relaxing in our beautiful riad.  

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Daily Snapshots: Meknes and Fes, Morocco

We begin the day with a tour of our riad before (quickly) taking in the highlights of Meknes and heading out on the road to Fes. 
The rest of the day is spent in Fes, where our wonderful guide takes us through the medina.
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Morning at the Riad d’Or, Meknes, Morocco

In the morning we wake up early and, with some guidance, find the Riad d'Or's upper level breakfast room. 

We are a bit too early, as it turns out, as the staff is still getting things ready for breakfast when we arrive. The positive side of this is that it gives us time to look around.

The dining room has both wonderful views and interesting objects on display and the staff is happy to answer questions and show us around a bit as they set up breakfast. We learn that the sprawling riad (built by 1791 and renovated in 2007) includes rooms that had been sealed for many years when the new owners took over. These rooms yielded an odd mixture of antique furnishings and decoration, Judaica, and stores of food – some of which is on display here and throughout the riad. 
We particularly are particularly fond of the intricately carved, painted and inlaid panels that were once part of the riad’s ceilings. What an incredible home this must have been! 
 From the breakfast room we can step out onto a couple of levels of rooftop terraces with fine views over the city. 
From this vantage it is also clear how serpentine the riad’s footprint really is. (Last night, the shortest route to the riad’s restaurant involved leaving the building and following the street around a bend.) It bends around and over some streets while cutting off others. It is equally convoluted vertically, with a maze of patios on various levels that makes it difficult to tell what is part of the riad and what is not.  
I can tell already that I will not leave Morocco wishing I could return to renovate a riad. What a challenge!

After breakfast I insist on time to absorb the riad’s beautiful main patio. (Our driver is already waiting for us, so there is pressure to get moving.)

Do I really have to leave?

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Daily Snapshots: Enroute to Meknes, Morocco

We arrive in Rabat is two hours late, but our driver is waiting and soon we are on the road to Meknes. Besides assuring that the hillsides remain emerald green, the occasional downpour along the way provides a few rainbows.
In Meknes we find we are without reservations at the hotel identified on our itinerary and end up at a sister property deeper inside the medina.

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A Satisfactory End to Hotel Confusion, Meknes, Morocco

When we finally arrive (during rush hour, but also during a break in the rain) at the lovely-looking Riad Yacout, we discover there is no reservation for us.

This is when using a travel company with our own driver becomes an advantage – this was not our problem! (Although, in theory, using a tour company should guarantee that this won’t happen. Hmm. . . ) We are directed to wait in a lovely public room with plenty of hot mint tea to stew relax while others figured out what to do. Soon enough we are informed that we have been booked into sister property – the Riad d’Or – just “a few steps” away.

That “few steps” turn out to be a good way into the medina, but the rain has mostly quit, the evening air is soft and warm, and our driver and staff from the riad were handling the larger pieces of luggage. Despite the lack of time to stop and really take a look, this brief trip through the narrow twisting streets provides an enticing glimpse of life in the medina.

Best of all, there is a large, comfortable room awaiting us when we arrive!
 Since the evening is rainy and we (literally) have no idea where we are, we eat at the riad. Oddly enough, doing so requires that we exit the building and re-enter just down the street. (We find out later that you can get to the restaurant without leaving the building, but it involves going up and down quite a number of not-particularly-well-lit stairs. Apparently the riad has expanded over time.)  Inside the restaurant we find a small dining room that is warm and welcoming with a crackling fire fed by painted boards. I have a pleasant Moroccan red wine along with one of my best meals of the trip (lamb tagine with almonds, honey, and dates). It is the perfect ending to the day. On the other hand, Lane is unnerved by the unpredictable sparks and smell from the burning paint. (The smoke IS pretty bad). In addition, he has what will turn out to be one of his worst meals of the entire trip -- a reminder that sometimes the difference between a great meal and a lousy one is simply lucky ordering.

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Who Knew? Morocco Looks like Ireland in the Spring!

I knew Morocco had a lot of different ecosystems and that there were agricultural areas, but, I didn’t expect to find a landscape literally glowing green in the late day sun.
Of course, I didn’t expect to be greeted by rainbows either. 
Where have I landed?

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Worth a Return Trip: Ireland

I’ve been to Ireland (both Northern Ireland and the Republic), but I’m ready to go back again any time. In part that is because we have friends there (I miss you Andrew and Lesley!) and in part because it is just such a beautiful place. And, of course, there is a lot we have yet to see.

But some of those new things might have to wait while I return to a few favorites:

I went to County Donegal on my first trip to Ireland (2004), following the advice of a colleague who said that it was the one place I simply had to visit. She was right. I loved the wild, lonely land that seems to simply fall away to the sea.   
The Burren  
The Burren was high on my must-see list for my second trip to Ireland (2009), largely because I had read that native orchids were likely to be in bloom while we were there. We did indeed find a few orchids and an abundance of other flowers that made this seemingly inhospitable landscape a rich natural garden. It is a truly amazing and entrancing place – an exposed ancient coral reef alive with plant life, but you do need to get out and explore on foot. It’s not a place that shows its full beauty to the drive-through visitor. 
Next time I’ll hire a local guide and plan to spend several days exploring – and photographing flowers – here.

Irish Gardens
Ireland is a land of gardens. While I have yet to visit the famous gardens at Powerscourt, I’ve enjoyed visiting a number of wonderful gardens. Two gardens that I never tire of are the Mediterranean gardens of Garnish Island (in the very south of Ireland, not too far from the Ring of Kerry) and the grand estate gardens at Mount Stewart  (located not far from Belfast). 
Forgotten Cemeteries and Ancient Ruins
You see the remains of Ireland’s ancient past everywhere. My favorites are those of the early Christian era, from major sites like Clonmacnoise to the small abandoned churches, monasteries and abbeys that dot the countryside.  
The book of Kells and the Beatty Library
The first time I was in Ireland I loved Dublin and absolutely couldn’t wait to return. When I did return, I had trouble understanding what made it seem so magical on my first visit. Not that there is anything wrong with Dublin, mind you, but on my list of favorite cities in the world it has gone from near the top to not even on the list. I would never go out of my way to return to Dublin again, except for two things – the Book of Kells and the Chester Beatty Library.      

It’s worth returning to Dublin over and over again just to see a few of the gorgeous, glowing illustrations.

Similarly, the Chester Beatty Library dedicated to the art of printing, houses an amazing collection of illustrations from Ireland and around the world. It is a magical place to get lost in the past and, should one somehow tire of ancient manuscripts, one has simply to step outside to be immersed again in Ireland. 
 Small Towns
Of course, there are also charming small towns galore calling me back, both those I’ve passed through in the past and those I have yet to meet.
There are so many reasons to return.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

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More places I long to return to