Well, not quite; the Fes medina is even bigger. Nonetheless, the Marrakesh medina is far, far bigger than the others we’ve visited. That first day, Yvonne and I wandered: Across the huge main square called Jemaa el-Fnaa, into a spice market and through alleys both covered and open, filled with shop after shop selling everything a tourist could ask for. If we were lost in the other medinas, we could just walk in a direction and we’d soon find an exit. But the Marrakesh medina is about 10 km in circumference; pick the wrong direction to navigate the maze and it could take hours to get out. Continue reading “The Mother Of All Medinas”
The train gets underway. As night falls, porters come around and magically convert our seats into beds. They make them up with sheets and light blankets. After a peaceful night of sleep, they come back in the morning to wake us up, and convert our beds back into seats. Another porter comes around with a cart offering breakfast. When we arrive, we disembark rested and ready for the adventures ahead… Continue reading “Don’t You Know We’re Riding…”
One of the joys of traveling is that because everything is new, it’s natural to be more present and open to what’s happening around us. But to be present in this way also requires slowing down. Here in Morocco where there is so much to see, I’m grateful to have enough time to slow down and just experience life. Though I started out yesterday afternoon as a tourist with a nice haircut, it turned out to be the richest day I’ve had here thus far.
After leaving the hair salon, I took the short walk to the corniche along the beach as the muezzin called the faithful to prayer, and waited to hail a taxi to the medina. On the narrow strip of grass sandwiched between the busy boulevard and the paved sidewalk, a man stood barefoot on an old piece of cloth. At first I thought he was talking to himself, but then I realized he was facing Mecca and praying. He prostrated himself several times, lost in devotion as the traffic whizzed by. In the U.S. we would think the man is crazy; here, it’s just life. Continue reading “Living In the Moment”
My first mission today was to find a place to get my hair cut. As I mentioned in my last post, there are an enormous number of barbers and salons here, but most seem to cater to older men with really short hair, just like the classic American barber shop. I wanted a more styled look.
I began with an early lunch at a noodle shop near our hotel. While I was there, they started playing a recitation of the Koran by a Saudi imam, which was unexpected since the employees were all young women in cute noodle-shop uniforms, and none seemed a bit conservative. I ate my lunch and asked them for advice on finding a place to get my hair cut. They recommended a men’s salon about a mile away, and I started walking. Continue reading “Fashion Statement”
Literally. While still in Casablanca, I created this title as a joke, knowing that Tangier is a ferry ride away from Spain and channeling Tina Fey’s portrayal of Sarah Palin. But we didn’t realize how close. When we entered our hotel room after the 5-hour train ride north, we were amazed; I can see electricity windmills dotting the Andalucian coast (not Don Quixote, however).
Tangier has an extremely shady 20th century history, borne of its time as an international zone. Writers, spies, artists and pirates from around the world have all spent time here. But that’s the past of Tangier (though the artists and writers do still come). Now, it’s a weekend vacation spot for Spaniards and Moroccans alike, and the main boulevard along the beach is full of high-rise hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs. The long corniche (boardwalk) runs the entire 2km length of downtown along a sandy beach, inviting visitors to stroll. Yet, Tangier is small enough that with good feet, enough hours and some self-discipline, you could go everywhere worth going in a day. Since I have a week, I can slow down and explore more thoroughly. Continue reading “I Can See Spain From My Hotel”
Photos: Downtown and Environs
We begin at Mahkama du Pacha (Palace of the General), a building in Quartier Habous which is pretty nondescript on the outside, but beautiful on the inside.
Next we move to the medina. Then a couple of photos of cattle egrets for the birders out there, sitting right above me on a tree-lined street by the Parc de la Ligue Arabe. Another building nearby, and finally some shots of the downtown area along Blvd Mohammed V, famous for its protectorate-era Art Deco design.
Hover over the images to see the captions. Click on any photo to view them in slideshow format. Continue reading “Casablanca, Architecture Edition II”
The Great Mosque of Hassan II
The mosque was constructed by over 6,000 craftsmen, took 6 years to build, and it features the tallest minaret in the world at 689 feet tall. This mosque may be the most beautiful building I have ever seen.
Hover over the images to see the captions. Click on any photo to view them in slideshow format. Continue reading “Casablanca, Architecture Edition I”
In my last post, I mentioned how Islam is woven into the fabric of life here. Back in the U.S., some people view the call to prayer 5 times per day as a ridiculously stringent requirement. But if you were a devout practitioner of any religion, how great would it be if 5 times a day, you were reminded to think of God for a few minutes? Here’s what I’ve seen in the cities of Morocco so far: When the calls of the imams go out (and many mosques have them so you hear it everywhere), those who want to pray for a few minutes go somewhere private to do so. Those who don’t work might take time go to the mosque if they want. But many people ignore the call; you can’t always just drop everything to pray at a moment’s notice.
On Fridays more people go to the mosque, or at least take time to pray. Yvonne was teaching a workshop last Friday and 2 women in the group went missing after lunch. They had gone to pray and everyone had to wait for 30 minutes until they got back, which was completely acceptable to the other participants.
We have now been in Casablanca for 6 days and I have pretty much seen everything a tourist would be interested in seeing. This city reminds me of of growing up in Manhattan, when New York was still dirty, polluted and full of dangerous traffic. Continue reading “Here’s Looking At You, Kid”
As I write, I am on the train to Casablanca, where we will spend the next week. The rules around the vehicle in which Yvonne will be traveling prohibit me from joining her. So I am spending the hour-long ride writing. I bought a $7 first-class ticket and this car is as nice as anything you’d find in the U.S.
This morning I went back to the kings’ mausoleum to get a couple of better photos. One of the great things about this trip is that I have so much time and flexibility. I’ve now been there 3 times! It is an extraordinarily beautiful place. Continue reading “Nothing Is Free”
We’ve been in Rabat for 2 days now, still adjusting to the 8-hour time difference. Yesterday, we had a pleasant all-day walking adventure.
One thing I’ve been struck by is the contrasts in the ways women dress. One might see a woman in a kaftan and hijab, walking by another woman in torn jeans and long, flowing hair. Many women wear a hijab with western clothes. And we see them socializing together, not separately. I find myself wondering if there is a deeper cultural significance than just how strictly they practice Islam. Or maybe I just have preconceptions to let go of. Yvonne talks about culture being like an iceberg: What is visible is a very small part of it. Continue reading “First Impressions”