March 26, 2011

Old Stuff and Bright Colors: Sightseeing in Marrakech

In my last post I told you a bit about my trip to Marrakech and my overall impression. This time I want to share some of the things we saw. After about a day in Marrakech, we realized that visiting tourist attractions was the best way to escape the constant hustle from the city locals.  One of the first places we went was the Badi Palace. It was mostly destroyed so all that was really left was the skeleton of the building.  Just the size of the palace was really impressive though.
All over the tops of the walls were precariously perched stork nest.  It was surprising that some were even hanging on. Also, in Marrakech there are stray cats everywhere so I just had to get this picture of a cat halfway up an ancient wall meowing at the giant storks nest. I found it so funny.
 It started to rain while we were there so our sightseeing ended pretty quickly. We also visited the Saadian Tombs that day but they weren't as exciting as I thought they would be. And the rain was killing my enthusiasm. These tombs were kept in place and not destroyed with the palace due to superstition or some such. There was not much information on sight to I didn't learn very much.
The last day of our trip we visited a botanical garden designed by the artist Jacques Majorelle. This was one of my favorite places in all of Marrakech.  The colors are so vivid and exciting; I couldn't help smiling while I was here. 
Can you tell I really loved the blue? I hardly took any pictures of the plants. But just to be fair, there were a lot of cactus in this garden; which is not anything new to this Arizona girl. There were so many tourists visiting the Majorelle Gardens that it was hard to get pictures without people in them.
I also want to mention the restaurant we went to for dinner one night, Cafe Arabe. It was completely touristy as far as restaurants go but so nice. The food was great and the restaurant was nicely decorated. And the biggest plus about it... it had the nicest and cleanest bathroom in all of Marrakech.
I had such a great time on this trip. I can't wait to see more of Morocco. Check out my last post if you want to hear more about my trip and see more pictures. I hope I was able to give you a little taste of what Marrakech is like.

Leave me a comment if you have ever been or want to go. I want to hear about your experiences!


March 24, 2011

First Trip to Morocco

Arriving in Marrakech, Morocco for the first time was exciting. I had never really considered Morocco as a vacation destination and really didn’t know much about it. So I didn't know what to expect.  Taking the bus from the airport to the center of town we drove down palm tree lined roads and passed people riding bicycles, motor bikes, and donkey pulled carts.  On street corners were saddled camels and horse drawn carriages waiting for tourists to take advantage. 
It was exciting to be somewhere so new to me.  During this trip I was prepared to take as many pictures as I could but I soon found out that would be harder than I thought. As soon as you pull out your camera the locals want money from you.  Walking into the main square of Marrakech's old town we saw snake charmers, men with monkeys, women offering henna tattoos, and carts selling fresh orange juice.  All of them shouting hello and trying to get get you to buy things or give them money. The henna tattoo ladies were the most aggressive by shoving a book of pictures in my face and trying to pull my hand, which was clasped around my camera, out of my pocket. Marrakech never felt unsafe to me but was definitely a place that, if not careful, someone could be cheated out of their money.
The old town of Marrakech, called the Medina, is filled with winding maze like streets and alleyway.  Most of them so small that only a few people can walk down them. However this doesn’t stop motorbikes  and donkey pulled carts. In the center of the Medina are the Souks. A group of market stalls and stores where they sell all types of goods. You can find thinks like lanterns, spices, rugs, leather goods, traditional clothing, shoes, fruits and vegetables, and freshly butchered animals. Some of my favorite things were the lanterns. Out of all the things sold in the souks, the souvenir I would have been most likely to buy would have been one of these bright colored candle holders.
 Taking pictures in this area was difficult because I kept getting told "no pictures" by the shop keepers.   Here are some of the pictures I got anyway.  
One of the most overwhelming thing that I couldn’t photograph were the smells in Marrakech. Most are not very pleasant and all of them are overpowering.  In the souks it was the smell of spices, incense, mint tea, leather, rotting food, and live and dead animals. In the hotel is was the soap and lotion. Everywhere else it was the smell of pollution and car exhaust.  The air quality was so bad that it really made the whole place seem more dirty when actually there were some really nice places in the city. 
 The city was so full of life, color, and sound. The only exception to this was when the Islamic call to prayer would echo over the city several times a day. Then without any obvious scramble, the streets would thin out and a hush would fall over the city. This seemed to happen so naturally that you almost didn’t notice it was happening.
The best part about the visit was that the weather was almost warm. At one point I didn’t even have to wear a jacket! And even though it rained the weather was still better than Rome.
 After my visit I was asked if Marrakech is a place worth visiting. The answer is yes but it's not for everyone.  Marrakech was a fun and exciting but not very relaxing. Atleast not this trip. We just focused on visiting the city. Three days was prefect to see just about all there was to see.  I was also asked if I would go again. Definitely, but I wouldn’t do that same stuff. I've heard there are some really great day trips into the Atlas mountain that I would love to do.

In my next post I'll tell you about the sightseeing we did and post some more pictures. There is a lot more color to come!

March 3, 2011

Like cattle in the Vatican

This last weekend I joined all the tourists in Rome by going to the Vatican Museum. The last Sunday of every month means free entry and every tourist in Rome seems to know this.  The line to get in was already several blocks long by the time my friends and I got there at 8:45 in the morning.

The day started off with my early alarm and very cold weather.  I was extremely close to cancelling on my friends and going back to sleep in my warm soft bed but I got up and put on my warmest clothes. After walking through an empty and quiet Frascati to meet my friends, we drove to the nearest metro stop and took the metro all the way to the Vatican.  We thought we had done really well by getting up early but as we got closer and closer to our stop the train kept filling up with more and more tourists. No one seemed to be getting off so we knew it was going to be a mad dash for the Vatican.  Sure enough, the entire train seems to clear out as we got off and hoards of people all started walking (some running)  in the  same direction we did.

Eventually, after 2 hours of waiting in the cold and inching our way down several blocks, we made it into the museum.  I was excited to soak up some culture and prepared to take many pictures but then the whole thing because very exhausting. There were so many people! There wasn’t a moment in the museum where we weren't  getting bumped and shunned along like cattle. It made picture taking very difficult. It was a little disappointing. The museum does actually have some interesting things but it was too crowded to actually appreciate them. 

Here are a couple of pictures showing the amount of people. Sorry they are blurry.

We soon gave up on the museum and joined the hoards of people that were headed for the Sistine Chapel. The first time I visited the Chapel, almost four years ago, I found it very underwhelming. It is very easy to not be inspired by the sight. The chapel is kept very dark and no one is allowed to talk or take pictures.  This past visit however was much more exciting because I had learned about and was test on all the fresco in the chapel in one of my art history classes at university. Knowing the stories behind the paintings, what they are supposed to be about, and how they were painted made seeing it so much more significant. 

I tried sneaking some pictures but they all turned out blurry. This is the best one I got.

I still thing going to the Vatican on a day that it is free is a good idea if you just want to see the main attractions of Rome and for as cheaply as possible. But if you actually want to take some time in the museum, seeing and learning some things then I suggest visiting during the week and paying the entrance fee. It would be lot less crowded and you can have a guide point out the most interesting things.

A couple weeks ago, my boyfriend and I also visited St. Peter's Basilica and climbed the 500 something steps to the to dome. So I'll post about that soon!

Leave me a comment if you have any funny/interesting/strange stories about visiting the Vatican Museum.