Saturday, July 30, 2011
Shopping in Paris
Shopping is always a good way to get to know a city. If you read my last blog you would have read that I was not real
enthused with Paris. So I went shopping! That is good for curing anyone's blues! And I did find the Bohemian section of town
that I was looking for. The area is called Montmartre. This area is in view of Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) Church that
is another example of amazing French architecture. It is beautiful! ......Back to the shopping.........I had spent two days
riding through Paris on the top of a bus, doing all 4 bus tours and 1 boat tour, spending at least 8 hours, times two
days, taking in all the sites of Paris. I was exhausted! (Poor me, huh!) I just wanted to take the day off but I
also wanted to go shopping. I had seen some wonderful summer dresses in Barcelona...everyone was wearing them.......and
I wanted one too. I decided to wait to buy one until I got to Paris, so now was my opportunity. After two days of touring
on a bus and not being "on the ground", today was the day to totally get submerged in Paris.
10:22 pm edt
I left our
B & B after breakfast to be greeted by the sun. Yay, no more clouds and rain. It was about 11 AM when I finally descended
the two floors from our place and out the front door. I will have to tell you about our B & B later. I walked down
the Rue La Fayette towards Haussman Blvd, where I had discovered an amazing mall the day before. I don't know why I entered
this building, but I did, and the entry floor was cosmetics only. There must have been over 50 name brands of every known
kind. I saw a man in the walkway with his camera pointing it up to the ceiling. So, as a good tourist, I looked up to see
why he was photographing the ceiling and I almost gasped out loud. The store was inside what looked like an old concert hall
and the ceiling, 5 floors above me, was a dome that was at least 30 to 40 feet across, made of stain glass wondows
of beautiful designs. I couldn't believe I hadn't noticed it when I walked in! There were gilded balconies hangimg over
the floor, between me and the dome. It was beautiful but I didn't have the time to explore it yesterday so I was planning
to return today, to find "my Parisian dress". However, I never made it to the LaFayette Gallery. A hair salon
with the name "Shampoo Gossip" caught my eye and I walked in. "Chop it off!" I told the girl, the
only person who spoke English, so she got stuck cutting my hair, just in case I started speaking. She did chop it off and
she did a fabulous job! Now I have a short haircut from Paris! Again I started out on my quest to find a cute dress. I saw
signs pointing towards Montmartre so I followed it, turning to the right, instead of going straight to the Gallery. It was
the right choice. The first shop I stopped at were displaying beautifully painted dishes so I asked the shop keeper where
the dishes were from. Turkey! Then I saw the jewelry and I bought a silver ring to match my silver fork bracelet from Brazil.
It was a perfect match, even though they were from two different continents, thousands of miles from each other. I will
take it! Out the door and back on the quest. I finally reached the area called Montmartre and sure enough, there werelots
of clothing shops, but all were Pret a Porte (Ready to wear) clothes and they were this falls fashion of grays
and more gray. That will not do. I need bright summer clothes. I continued to walk. I popped into a store that had some real
fun clothes and her sign read that it carried redesigned clothes. That got my curiousity pigued! She took old clothes,
dismantled them and reconstructed a new item out of it. They were darling but not what I was looking for. I noticed several
of those recontructed clothing shops. Great idea for a business and recycling clothes! Then I reached the Ateliers (Custom
Designer Clothing). Now these are not the big name people like Yves St. Laurent or Vera Wang. They are the little people,
those who did the time in school, and sew their own designs. The shops are sparcely stocked. There is just one or two dress
made for each size and design and maybe color. I talked to the designer of the first Atelier that I entered. She was ironing
a dress in the back of the shop. She was getting ready for a big photo shoot for her new collection later today.
I was very enamored with one of her designs. Yes, she had it in my size and color. It was not quite what I was looking for,
but when I tried it on, it looked great. I will take it, s'il vous plait. It was not that much more than a dress in a store
in the States! I was still looking for that perfect summer dress so I keep walking. I see several people go into a Retro clothing
shop. Why not, they don't care what season they are carrying. Maybe I can find a summer dress in there. I was met with
the smell of used, old clothes, the "Salvation Army Odor" as I descended the stairs into his shop. In
spite of the odor, spent an hour going through the clothes in one room, putting on clothes over my street clothes I
was wearing. I found two dresses that would be perfect for travelling in and at the prices I love. I walked up the steps
with my purchases. Ah, fresh air smells good!
I asked the shopkeeper in a children's store where I could buy rickrack,
laces, etc.. I wanted to add some braid or something to one of the dresses I bought. She pointed me down the street,
and wrote the name and address of the shop. She gave good directions because it was easy to find. It was huge!
The streets were lined with 3 meter cuttings of designer's cloth, set up on tables on the sidewalk to be rummaged
through. This is a very dangerous place for me to be in. It is more dangerous on the pocket book and available space
in our house than a book store. But I am very proud to say that I only bought 2 pieces of fabric for myself,
and if mom and my sister Marla are reading this, they will know what is in their package when it arrives. You
are going to love it!
I walked across the street to the notions store and brought the embroidery thread, soutache,
two handpainted buttons and a few other little doodads up to the cashier. A sales lady came up to me speaking in French
trying to tell me something, taking the items out of my arms. All I could understand was "non, non". I try so hard
to follow what everyone else is doing so I don't get the proceedures wrong, since I can't understand them when I am being
correctred, further exasperating the situation. She motioned me to follow her back to a table in the middle of the room. She
took my items, put them in a back, wrote up a ticket, wrote the ticket number on the bag, and she sent me back to the cashier,
with out my bag of things. Ah, now I get it! Sure enough, everyone was standing in line with just a little ticket. I got back
into line with my ticket. The cashier took my money, gave me the receipt, and I claimed my bag of goodies from the
lady at the desk. Travelling is truly a learning experience. It reminds me of when CJ, my son, went to visit my parents
in Japan. He told me on his return that he loved Japan but if he had to live there, he would be a nervous wreck, because he
didn't want to offend anyone by doing the wrong cultural thing at the wrong time. I concur, CJ. It is can be a little
daunting at times. I spend a lot of time watching to see how the locals do things before I do it on my own.
still without a summer dress! I stop for quick lunch at a cafe and get a ham and cheese on a small baquette and hurridly eat.
I am running out of time! I set up again. I wonder two more streets of Ateliers when I finally found the dress I
was looking for. It was hanging in the window. I excitedly walked in but the woman informed me that they did
not have it my size. They had only made one of each size and color and it was already sold. However, they had another
dress, very similar to the one in the window that just fit me! It is so cute! Hooray! And it is on sale! Double
Hooray! I am so happy.
Now I have a dress to go the the Moulin Rouge for dinner and a show. Or will
we go to the river and eat by candlelight floating down the Sienne? Or dinner on the rooftop of the famous Samarataine
shopping mall, overlooking Paris. Any one is great with me because I have my cute summer dress from Paris.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Where is Gay Paris?
I must admit that I came to Paris with preconceived ideas of how it would be. That is usually not a good thing to
do. I had ideas in my head how Morocco would be and I was not disappointed at all. So why am I surprised that
Paris is not how I expected it to be? Probably the same way that people are disappointed when they come
to Hollywood: They have heard so much about it and the movies have romanticized it to the degree that when you arrive, it
just isn't nearly as wonderful as you expected. One thing that the movies have not really done justice to is the enormous
amount of wonderful art and architecture in this city. There is art in every nook and cranny of every building and structure.
Where else do you see the name of the architect and the sculpture on the side of a building? I have been clicking
photos of the elaborate iron balconies and stone carved heads hanging over doorways. I saw several buildings
that had huge sculpted women or men "holding" up their front door frame. Those were very
amazing. I took the one hour river ride (on the Seine River) and found that even the bridges have statues,
carved animals or beautiful designs. The boat ride was my favorite thing I did today. Don has been working
on an art project for two days so I have been wandering the city by myself and comparing notes that evening
over dinner. I chose to ride on the "Hop-on, Hop-off" tour bus that included a boat ride. It is a great way
to get an overview of a city and then choose what you want to come back to. We did this tour in several cities: Capetown,
Lisbon, and one other city that I have already forgotten but somewhere in Spain. Sometimes we have only had an afternoon to
see a city so the tour buses are great. They are double decker buses that have recorded information about the city.
They give you historical facts and point out important buildings and sights. Since Don was doing his own thing during the
day, I decided to see Paris the easy way......by a toured bus. I really enjoyed it! I have seen all the touristy sites: Arc
d'Triumph, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Bastille, Hospital d'Invilads, Opera House, and the list goes on. These structures are
more than I ever dreamed they would be. Oddly enough though, I didn't come to Paris to see buildings. OK, I did want to see
the Arc, Notre Dame and the Eiffel because it is a "must see" but I came to see the romance of the city. I
expected to see fashionistas walking by me on the street but the women wear the usual drab work attire you would see in any
US city. Some ride scooters to work that are very cute, but they don't ride them wearing dresses because it
seems that most of the women wear pants. It has been cold, with rain off and on both days that we have been here, so that
might explain the pants, but why the grey, black, dark clothes? Spain had the greatest clothes and I really wanted to
buy a cute dress but I thought it would be so much "cooler" to say that I had bought it from Paris. So I waited
until I got here to buy some clothes. That was a mistake! All the clothes in the shops are for the upcoming fall
and winter, not summer! But I am determined to find something cute. Maybe tomorrow I will try to find SoHo.....they must
have a garment district here! Then I can write that I LOVE those Paris fashions!
8:58 pm edt
It is true that Parisians don't
go out of their way to make you feel welcome. We have had some pretty impatient and annoyed looks and comments when we try
to communicate and don't have the French (or Spanish) words to discribe what we want or visa versa. (Note to self:
How welcome do I make tourists feel in my country when we cannot understand each other?) A lot of people do understand
enough broken English to communicate so it is not that bad but we really don't get a warm fuzzy feeling
from most of the people we come across. Maybe they are different out in the country away from the hustle and bustle of
the city. Afterall, New York isn't known for it's warmness either!
The food is delicious everywhere we have eaten.
Dinner is late.....we are eating after 10 PM every night and it is always delicious. I had lunch at a "hole
in the wall" sandwich shop and got a plate of cold salads: carrot, bean, potato, greens and feta cheese, and a couple
other salads, and it was delicious. It didn't cost that much either. The food is good, but it does cost you dearly. Don's
lunch of spaghetti, drink and desert cost over $50! I don't think our dinners have been under $70 yet!! Our money doesn't
go that far, but our tummies are happy!
Our plan to zoom through Europe just wasn't working out, so we
are trying a week in Paris to see as much as we can before going on to the next destination. We might not get to
go to as many places, but we will have seen more of what we wanted to see. We might take the overnight train to our next
destination and show up ready to go. That saves a lot of time! But who knows, we might change our mind after Paris and go
back to Plan A! Isn't that why we don't have anything other than a loose plan so we can change our minds, if it doesn't
work? We don't know what it takes to travel the world for a year, but we are learning as we go.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Andorra - An itty, bitty, little country, with BIG appeal
Andorra. I must admit I had never heard of the country before. I remember Bewitched's mom was called Endora but she doesn't
even come close to how beautiful this country is! This is truly my favorite country so far. I know, I have said that several
times about other countries, but this time it is for real!
5:51 pm edt
Andorra is only 465 square kilometers with 86,000
people living there. Pretty small! It is a hiddden jewel, nestled up in the southern Pyrenees Mountains between
Spain and France. Their average elevation is 6500 feet high. Their national language is Catalan, but they speak do French
and Spanish and a little English as well. Their main source of income is tourism; snow sports in the winter and all
sorts of sports in the summer and shopping year around. (There is no tax so the prices are great for clothes and electronics.
Why didn't I go shopping?) There is lots of history here with old rock homes and Roman churches right beside a
modern condo unit. It is a country that has a very healthy economy and there are more buildings, bridges and tunnels being
built that we have seen in a long time. Nice to be in a country that is so financialy sound.
we left the southern coast of France heading for Andorra after missing our earlier train by just a few minutes.
It isn't a long wait for another train. The train service in Europe is great! We just went a different route, via Talouse,
but that put us behind schedule so we arrived about 2 hours after the last bus left for Andorra. (There is no train
service to Andorra) We stayed the night at a campground/resort in LaTour de Carol, waking up at 4:30 AM so
we could catch the morning train back to L'Hospitalet where we could catch a bus to Andorra. The bus wasn't
scheduled to arrive until 7:30 AM so we had a long wait outside, huddling in the door of the closed station
to get out of the rain. The bus arrived and we hoppped on board, so glad to be warm again. We watched from
the windows as this beautiful country unfolded. There are just a few towns in Andorra and we soon reached the town of Andorra
de Valle, the main city. We thought we would only be here until 5 PM, taking the last bus of the day back
to L'Hospitalet. That was before we found out that this very small country has 18 museums, old Roman Churches, and at
least one gandola. We planned to go to several museums (we bought a passport of museum tickets and wanted to get our money's
worth) but ran into a telecabina (aerial tram) that took us up to the top of one of the mountains and Don enjoyed
downhill mountain bike riding for a couple hours while I tried my best to capture the beuaty of the mountains. My
camera can't capture it and I sure wish that my pen and ink could. I guess that is what memories are for.......to remember
the intense wonder of a country as beautriful as Andorra. We again missed the last bus by a few minutes, but we
don't mind spending another night in Andorra. Our room was waiting for us and Don headed straight for the hot bath. Ahh! Maybe
it won't rain tomorrow and we can get some good photos. But if not, we are still glad for the grey, wet photos that we
did take. What a wonderful place to visit! I'll be back!!
This country is like what one can imagine
would only be in a movie, a good movie. Even though it has rained all three days that we have been here, it is
stil a beautiful place. The mountians are green, the air is clear of any pollution, the coffee and croissonts are delicious
and the houses are European beautiful. The roofs of their homes, the old and the new, are protected by round slabs of
slate! And I thought that the ceramic tiles were heavy! Amazing! Don't want to stand under one of their roofs when there
is an earthquake! But it does make a beautiful roof!
Do I recommend Andorra? Absolutely!! Enjoy!
Friday, July 22, 2011
Europe: Return to the 21st Century in under 35 minutes!
7:22 pm edt
In a matter of 35 short minutes, we moved
into the 21st century by simply crossing a few miles of smooth Mediterranean water from Tanger, Morocco to Tarifa,
Spain. We are still in culture shock but a good shock! We gradually realised how
much we had felt out of place in Africa, once we arrived in Europe. Last week while we were in Cordoba, waiting for our dinner
at an outdoor café, Don and I sighed a deep contented sigh. It was 10 PM, the sun had just gone down, lights were glowing
in the outdoor lamps, illuminating the narrow cobblestone streets. It was so relaxing. For the first time
in months we felt totally comfortable. We were not harassed by taxicab drivers looking for a customer or
shop vendors begging us to shop at their store or boys on the street trying to earn a few coins. They are so civilized here; Cars
stopped for us in crosswalks! No one seems desperate here.There are fabulous art galleries to feast our
eyes on. If you want to eat at a restaurant, they welcome you. If you want to buy a scarf from a shop, you have to find
the shopkeeper. If we need a taxi, we have to call one (the taxis are metered, hooray! No haggling over prices) or hail one
on the street. We love it! What a change from Africa. Don’t get me wrong, we really did enjoy Africa
while we were there, but it was tiring on us emotionally. The African cultures are so different from our
culture that we were constantly rethinking our normal behavior. From a tourist point of view, I was delighted that many Africans
still live in mud huts and wear traditional clothes or hand-me-downs from the 80s. It makes for great photos. But when I step
back and realize that they don’t have electricity, running water, paved streets, I have to ask “Why?” Why
is their country so poor and backward when most of the world is in the 21st century. Why are the people so desperately
poor? Why is there such a high unemployment rate? Why are there men just standing around with nothing to
do? It is no wonder people are so desperate in Africa and it does bother me deep in my being. If we saw
something we liked in a shop in Morocco, we had to decide whether we were up to the barrage of people who were going to “help”
us buy this object that we hadn’t even decided if we wanted to buy it or not! I ended up buying a
pair of pants just because I looked at them and the shopkeeper followed me for 100 yards, begging me to buy them. What can
you say to that, other than “No”, “No”, “No”, and when the 15th “No”
doesn’t work, you just give up and buy it just out of resignation. He is good at what he does, but that is not the way
I like to shop!
So we are now in
Europe and it is the closest to home we have felt since leaving California in February. Our first destination, after docking
in Spain, was to head over to Gibraltor, so we could see that famous “rock” and add another country to our list.
We took a bus from Tarifa, to Gibraltor, where we got off and walked across the border into Gibraltor. Would you believe that
to get to the town, we had to walk across the air field! There is so little land in Gibraltor, much less flat land, that the
road and the airstrip have to share space! If a plane is going to land or take off, the road is closed until the plane has
passed. We loved all the shops, art galleries, and the many, many sets of stairs. And English is their language since they
an UK territory. It is really a wonderful town. Everyone was so friendly and we ended up being invited to a choir concert
by two of the singers. We were glad we took them up on their invitation: it was excellent.
The next morning, we
walked back over the border to Spain and activated our Eurail pass! That was a monumental moment. Now we are to become train
travelers. Our first train ride took us to Cordoba, a city that took us by surprise. I had chosen a hotel that was described
as “A great location” and we were not disappointed. Our hotel window faced the Cathedral Cordoba, the biggest
tourist site in this small city. And we hung our wet socks and underwear on the window grate facing that beautiful church!
(Very tacky, I know, but they needed to dry) And what an amazing church it is. Not only is it HUGE, but
it is a conglomeration of different eras and religions. Both Christians and Moslems have built on this spot and both religious
groups are represented, with some Roman columns and facias thrown in for good measure. This is a must see place in Spain.
Of all the cities and towns in Spain (so far), Cordoba is my favorite. The restaurants are open LATE and
serve delicious food. There is no end to the supply of ancient ruins and buildings to be explored. I LOVE it!
But we have train tickets to use and we want
to get our money’s worth so we are on the train the next day, this time to Seville. The northern part of Spain and of
Portugal is the wine country. We decided to take the scenic route to Pocihno, Portugal that follows the Douro River. When
we had asked the clerk at the train station about going to Pocihno she tried to discourage us from wasting our time. “It
is only a little town with 2 restaurants, and nothing else. Just stay in Regua” We decided against
her advice and continued on to Pocihno. The river got narrower and narrower, with stunning scenery of vineyards lining the
banks. Yes, Pocihno was just as she said but we didn’t care; the journey was well worth the destination.
Lisbon is a wonderful seaport city full of history
and culture. It was almost completely rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1755. We spent two days
there and got a chance to see some great art. The city is full of tile covered buildings, new and old, (their distinctive
trademark ) and lots of museums. We visited a handcraft museum, a modern art museum, a tile museum and a design museum. Wish
we had more time to take in the other 20 plus museums we had to pass up. They were all so impressive!
Our next destination in Portugal was Porto, another impressive,
but smaller city, cut in two by the river Douro. The bridges that cross it are stunning! We had just enough time to tour the
city by a double-decker bus and take in all the famous touristy sites. After completing the tour, we back tracked to see a
famous bookstore that had been pointed out on the tour. It was an architectural marvel. The store was small but had a spiral
staircase in the middle of the store, that split halfway up and met again on the second floor. The walls and ceiling were
of decorated cement (first to use cement on walls) and ornate wood. Not only did they have a sign at the door that no photos
were allowed, but a man was hired to shout out “No Photo, No Photo!” when someone pulled out a camera to sneak
a picture. So we bought their book, just so we could have some pictures of this wonderfully designed book store from the 1800s.
Tonight is our last night in Spain. It is a fabulous
country and as all countries on our trip, I wish I could stay a few months and really see it, as well as Portugal! There is
so much history and beauty to see. As we sped along in their high speed trains (we went 300 KPH or 180 MPH!!) we saw the hills
dotted with castles, old stoned terraced vineyards, white house painted villages, corn fields surrounded by olive trees and
grapevine trellises, miles of olive trees, and old villas…it was hard to not stop the train and go explore. But we
have so much more to see of Europe that we must keep going. I do hope to come back and really spend some
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Found Something Hot in Africa
5:30 pm edt
If you have been reading my blog, you would have read a previous entry about the lack of hot and cold in
Africa. I can now take that all back. We found something quite hot in Africa: The Sahara Desert in July. Who would plan such
a thing? Well, we did just because that is the date that we landed in Morocco and we wanted to see the Sahara by camel, even
if it was over 100 degrees. And that is hot in my book.
We booked a tour for three days, two nights that
started from Marrakech at 7 AM (Don't they know we are on vacation?), along with Alita from Mexico and her boyfriend,
Nicholas from France and our driver/guide Yousef. We climbed in the trusty (hopefully!) minivan and headed out just before
the city got busy. As the day heated up, we discovered that this van did NOT have A/C and we would just have to get used to
the heat. At least the two front windows were open and the breeze made it bearable. It wasn't too long before we were
climbing the Atlas mountains and I was happy that it was a little cooler. The views were spectacular! We could look
over the edges and see green valleys far below dotted with little Berber towns. Sometimes the towns were
built against the side of a mountain, blending in with their environment. We stopped at Ait Ben Haddou where over
23 movies have been filmed; Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Prince of Persia, to name a few. It is a beautiful Berber town
set against a mountain, that is over 1000 years old, made out of red mud and straw. Each year they have to
rejuvinate the decorated walls of their homes, repairing what the rain and wind has destroyed. The city only has 10 families
living in it now, since there is no electricity nor indoor plumbing and most of the city's inhabitants have chosen to
live across the river in more modern cement block homes. I can't say that I blame them.
further up into the mountains, past a forest of pine trees (in Morocco? I was surprised too!), past little stands on the side
of the road selling pottery, thundereggs, fossils, fresh orange juice, and Argonne oil products. Sometimes there was no room
for their shop on the side of the road so they were built on stilts hanging over the side of the mountain, hundreds of
feet above the valley. We kept climbing through the Atlas mountains until we came to a wonderful Berber town of
Tinghir. We had been climbing through mostly rocky, bare mountains by this time (that are covered in snow in the winter, another
surprise!) then dipped into a beautiful green valley. We were given a tour of the fields (plots that are handed down
generation to generation), walked the narrow walkways through the mud/straw houses, and visited one that housed
a women's cooperative that wove beautiful hand made rugs. Yes, of course, I bought not only one, but 4, small rugs! What can
I say? We are doing our part to stimulate the world economy!
We reached our Auberge (guest house) in
the Gorges du Todgha, a beautiful hotel built right next to the river. We were shown to our room...What, no A/C? No fan? Just
an open window (no screen) with the sound of the river below us. I prayed it would cool down during the night and went
to bed with wet hair and a wet towel wrapped around me. It wasn't that bad! Maybe I can get used to the heat.
We went further into the interior of Morocco, further away from any cool ocean breezes, further into the
desert until we reached the sand dunes we were wanting to see. They are red sand dunes that literally rose out of the
tan and gray dry desert. And there were our camels, patiently waiting for our arrival. We climbed on the resting camels, made
some grunting/clicking sounds and the camel came up on his front knees, raised up half way, straightened his back
legs, then pulled up his fronts legs the rest of the way up to a full stand. Poor camel! There were seven of us in a
caravan, with each camel attached to the "saddle" of the camel in front of him. It didn't take us long to discover
that camels are not the most comfortable animals to ride. I could hear the 5 men in the group groaning each
time we had to go downhill! That camel hump does get in the way! We traveled over several dunes until the hotel was out
of site and just the dunes were visible. It was very cool, like we were in some movie or book, imagining we were travelling
across the sahara. Zoom! Someone passed us on an ATV! Hey, that kind of blew our adventure bubble! We come over
the ridge of one of the dunes and could see a bivouac between two dunes. That was our home for the night. It was
very cool.....tents made of rugs, in a square, with a "courtyard" with pillows and low tables for dinner in
the middle. Dinner was delicious, a tajine of chicken, couscous, and lots of veggies. And of course their traditional mint/green
tea with loads of sugar. Yumm! The sun had gone down and it was dark so we might as well go to bed...a mattress
on the floor of the tent......that a grasshopper was already enjoying! Don shoed him out of the tent. I got my scarf
wet and went to sleep, with the cool scarf wrapped around my neck. I hadn't been asleep that long before I was woken
up by the wind. We could hear the sand hitting the sides of the tent and the rug walls moving in and out with each
gust. It sounded wonderful! Soon the door of our tent, a heavy woven rug that we had left up, fell across the doorway,
blocking the wind better but also preventing any fresh air. Too tired to get up, I rolled over, thought about the camels outside
our tents, and went back to sleep. I can't say I woke up refreshed, but I can say that I spent a night in the dunes
of the Sahara in a tent! And we had found the HOT in Africa.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Morocco: Everything I had Hoped it Would Be
We almost didn't come to Morocco. We
had already spent two months in Africa, and we were ready to move on to another culture, another continent, a different scene. Flying
from Ghana to Morocco means that you have to fly to Europe first, then return to Morocco. I wasn't sure we
would get back on that plane after landing in Rome. But we did and I am so glad! We landed at the Casablanca
airport and saw that a train left the airport that would take us to town. And it was leaving in 8 minutes. We caught
the train with several minutes to spare and found a seat in 2nd class. There was no air-conditioning, so it was pretty
hot but the ride was not that long, just 45 minutes to the second station, our destination. We got off, asked a person where
the Ibis Hotel was and he tried to explain but we couldn't understand his French so he took us to the door of the station,
pointed to the right, and there stood our hotel. We were so glad! We had crossed the parking lot, before Don stopped
and with horror on his face, realized he had left his backpack on the train! He dropped everything and ran back to the station
and hoped the train was still there. I pulled our suitcases under the shade of a tree and waited. And waited, and waited.
After what seemed like half an hour, assuming that he must have left with the train, I booked us in our room, turned on the
A/C, left our baggage and returned to under the tree where he left me. He was gone a good hour before I saw him, with a backpack
on his back and a very hot and sweaty face. He had ridden to the next station, searched two trains from car to car with no
luck until a security guard told him that the station had his bag. Someone had turned it in. He was so relieved! Morocco was
going to be OK!
10:53 am edt
The area that we stayed at in Casablanca reminded me of what Beirut was like in the early 1970s.
Lots of apartment buildings, the Cornich, Mercedes taxis (services), donkey or horse drawn carts, Arabic and French
writing on all the signs. It felt so good!! We decided to explore the city on foot. Don got a haircut, we had
pizza at the Pizza Hut (not very brave of us!) and we walked for a few hours taking in the styles of the apartment
buildings. We were both pretty tired and heading back to the hotel when I caught site of a steeple. I persuaded Don to walk
down a street to what looked like an old church but when we arrived, the relief of Jesus above the front door had been
rubbed out and the cross from the steeple had been removed. Inside we could see prayer rugs spread out over the
sanctuary floor. The Muslims had converted an old church into a mosque!
We took the 1 o'clock train to Marrakech,
in first class. The compartments were large and we shared it with 4 other people. The A/C gave out after an hour and soon
we were very hot. We walked down to the 2nd class section and discovered that they were enjoying cool air! Guess our A/C
was out of commission. We arrived in Marrakech close to 3 hours and found it to be considerably warmer than Casablanca, that
was on the ocean. The train station was beautiful and modern. Don had met a well dressed man on the train that said he owned
a tour company and would have his driver take us to our hotel. Of course, he would drive us to his favorite hotel, and if
we didn't like it, we could go on to ours. I insisted to go to ours first. "No problem" He drove
us past "his hotel of choice" and continued on to ours. The roads got narrower and narrower. We were in the old
section (medina) of Marrakech. Soon it was too narrow for our car. He told us to get out and throw our luggage in a cart
and a young man would walk us to our hotel. We were feeling a little vulnerable. The young man led us
deeper into the labyrinth of old buildings, path just wide enough for three people to walk. We passed shops, then there were
just walls with closed doors, and the path was really narrow. We followed the boy into a dark, deadend alley and
he knocked on a door. The numbers were right, but what was the steet name? There was no hotel name on the door or wall.
We were pretty frazzled and uncertain about our destination. Was this really a hotel? The door finally opened. We looked dubiously
at the young man. Is this really Riad Tibibt? He gave us a card. Yes, it was the right Riad (villa converted to a B &
B) but they had not recieved my email and they were full. Otherwise, he would have met us at the station. He took us
around the corner to another unmarked door and knocked. They had a room available for us and we entered, finally relieved
to find a cool shower and a bed! Why are there no markings on the doors to indicate that this is a hotel? It is customary
for people, who do not have jobs, to "find" people who need services then they bring the people to their doors and
demand a commission for "finding" people. Ah, that explains why people harrass us to come to their taxi, their restaurant,
their shop, when it isn't even theirs. They are working for a commission, whether the shopkeeper wants them to or not!
The B & B's in this area just don't want to play the game so they keep their doors unmarked so that they are not harrassed!
They take reservations only and meet them at the airport or station and bring them into this maze of buildings.
Yes, that would have helped our anxiety considerably! They do not take in people knocking at their doors! Don was
told that there are approximately 3000 Riads, old villas turned into B & Bs, that can accommodate only 4 or 5 guests.
They are very authentic, old buildings with old fixtures yet modern conveniences (bathrooms with running water!!). We
do love staying in them!
We spent two days wondering the Souks (market place) looking at the leather (we bought
a suitcase for Don), rugs (we bought a Berber rug for our house), wood carvers (we bought a silver inlaid box and Don had
a iconic spindle carved to order) and lamps (bought a glass and metal hanging lamp for the house) and thank goodness,
we missed the horse auction. Who knows what Arabian horse I might have bought to ship home! We toured a mosque and Islam school
that was so ornate, I could have spent days just looking at it! I have so many patterns in my head, it hurts. I just
love the Arabic script in decorations, the archways, the covered markets filled with shoes and everything that is beautiful.
I think I could spend another month here, but we have a tour tomorrow taking us out to the Atlas mountains, followed by the desert,
a camel ride to our bedouin tents for the night then back to Marrakech. More adventures to come before we hit Europe!!
Our Favorite Day in Ghana
9:44 am edt
We entered Ghana doing all the wrong things.
For some reason, we had not applied for a visa for Ghana before leaving the States, and that was not good. Sure, you can get
one at your point of entry, but you will have to pay, not only 3 times the usual fee, but it takes about 3 times as much time
and definitely that much again in patience. We had been awake since 2:30 AM and we just were not in the mood to be messed
with at the Ghana Airport. They made their point….we will never try to enter Ghana without having a visa
in hand again!
Ghana was by the
far the most progressed of all the countries in Africa that we have visited, other than South Africa. I had found the Obama
Hotel on line but once we arrived it just was not up to even our standards of a good place to stay. It had looked so promising
and to say that we had stayed at our president’s hotel would have been fun! But we found another hotel that was not
far away and settled in. We didn’t have any big agenda of places to go except to meet Senyo, Rashawna’s business
professor at PLNU. We wanted to take a look at the elementary school that he had opened last year and also the college that
he was almost ready to open. The name of the school is “The Human Factor Leadership Academy”. We made contact
and we were given instructions on how to get to the town of Akatsi, about 2-3 hours from Accra, depending on the road conditions.
Early Wednesday morning we caught a cab to the Aflao bus station. The cab driver dropped us off on the street and told us
to go through what appeared to be a shop. “Just go through there, yes, there! ” He is a little annoyed that we
are looking so puzzled. OK, we hop out and head for the “shop” he pointed out to us. Sure enough, the walk way
does go all the way through to an open area full of hustle and bustle, horns honking, shouts naming towns, and general chaos.
It was not much different from all the other bus stations we have caught buses at. Men are running to us asking where we are
going. We ignore them just because they are so pushy and they eventually walk away. We walk up to a group of women shopkeepers
and ask where the bus to Akatsi is. They ask if we want A/C or no A/C. If I have a choice, give me A/C! They point to the
left and we walk into the chaos. Three men “help” us to the first A/C bus going to Akatsi. Of the 13 available
seats, only 2 are filled. It will be a long wait until the bus is full and we can start our trip. Slowly the seats fill as
the men shout for passengers. “Two more, two more” they shout, when there are really 4 seats open. Vendors carrying
bread, water, juice, biscuits, and chicken pieces on their heads fill up our windows trying to sell us their goods. We are
trapped in the van forced to listen to the pleading of a sale, as they block our air supply. Luckily, it is a rather cool
75 degrees. It doesn’t appear that we will be filled in good time so the bus driver pulls out of
his spot, pretending he is leaving to attract more riders. Don tells the driver he will pay for two extra seats, one for our
luggage and one for a mother with two children who can only afford one seat. It is a small price ($6) to pay for a little
comfort. The trusty VW van is full and our driver, a new man, gets in and we honk and jostle our way
out of the busy bus terminal. We are on the road! We fly by towns, noticing that the farther from Accra, the poorer and less
organized the towns get. We stop for a potty break just outside a town, so it wasn’t for me! We are getting a little
bored, it has been a couple hours for sure and we haven’t seen our town’s name yet. Don gets out some paper and
we play “The Dot” game, TicTacToe and variations of that. We look up rom our games as we pass through every town
and still no sign of Akatsi. ”We should ask the driver how long to Akatsi” I suggest but we dismiss the thought,
not wanting to yell from the back of the van. He knows where we are getting off, we reassure ourselves. After all, only 3
men, pointed us to this bus! We drive on more. We cross from the tundra or savannahs to the Volta Delta. It is beautiful.
There is so much water and the palm trees are soaking it up! We cross over the Volta River on a dirt road and the road never
went back to the pavement we had been enjoying. We drive on through a busy town, with red dirt roads, with more pot holes
than smooth road. How do people drive on this everyday? We get to the end of the road and are in another bus terminal, as
hectic as the one we had left over three hours ago. “Aflao, Aflao!” Everyone gets out but us. “How much
farther to Akatsi?” we innocently ask. The driver looks puzzled, amazed then a little embarrassed. “The turn off was
one hour ago. I didn't know you needed to get off there and I took another road, bypassing Akatsi. You have to catch
another bus back to Akatsi”. We resign ourselves to another hour of bus riding! But first I really need to use a restroom.
The driver is nice enough to take us to a gas station near by and pointed to the back of the property..men to the left, women
to the right. No door, no roof, just a hole in the floor. OK. I hear a “Psst, Pssst” behind me and the gas station
attendant (they are mainly women in Africa) takes me to her personal, clean bathroom! Nice!!
We hop on a bus that should have been condemned years ago. It is
a Nissan, I think, and the seats are ripped, thread bare, floor is cardboard covered in red dirt, the windshield has spiderweb
cracks across the span of glass, the headboard and ceiling are gone, just bare metal. The bus is full and the conductor
closes the broken door with a slam and a tug. This is the worst public vehicle we have been on. Amazingly, it hums over the
pot holes and his speed of 100 KM is relatively smooth. We say our prayers and he safely arrives in Akatsi at 5 PM. We have
been on the road since 9 AM. Our 2.5 hour trip took us 8 hours! We call Senyo and he picks us up in a taxi
and we go out for dinner. We spend a wonderful 2 hours talking to him about his schools, his dreams, what his vision is for
Ghana. We are excited that he has had a dream and is doing it, sacrificing his summers off from school to build a school and
college in Ghana so that their country can grow some Christian leaders who have been trained to think as leaders. We spent
the night at the principal's house, enjoyed a breakfast and off we went to the elementary school. The children were precious!
There are just 4 classes for now, nursery, pre K, K and 1st grade. Each year, they will add a grade so they will
have 12 good years of leadership training. We taught them how to play hopscotch and left the instructions with the teacher.
Don wrote a wonderful poem using their motto “Love, Compassion, Forgiveness and Grace” and
we wrote it up 4 times on big poster boards for each room to have one. The principal loved it and told Don that they would
learn this by heart. It was great!! What started out to be such a frustrating event, turned out to be so good. We got to see
a lot more of Ghana, thanks to our driver forgetting to go to Akatsi, we stayed with a real Ghanian who loves the Lord and
His children, we witnessed children reading and doing math in 1st grade, and we very well might have shaken the
hands of the future leaders of Ghana. Yes!
Welcome to the website
It all started here, a little gallery in Idyllwild, no better place on earth. Or so I
think. My husband Don and I are on our way around the world this year. Watch my website for new drawings, sketches,
watercolor washes of places we visit.
My email is email@example.com
Let me know what
you think or if you would like to purchase an ink drawing fresh out of the sketchbook.