Just hold your nose and go: The Fez Tanneries

A balcony vantage point allowed us to see the whole operation at the Fez tannery we visited.

A balcony vantage point allowed us to see the whole operation at the Fez tannery we visited.

Moroccan leather doesn’t just happen to be colorful, soft, and naturally dyed.  That’s just how we, the consumers, find it.  The real process of softening/dyeing/drying is labor-intensive, to say the least.  But thanks to the families who continue to do the work, tanneries like Chouara Tannery in the Fez medina continue to produce highly prized leather goods sold around the world.

At the end of the tour of the tannery, beautiful leather purses await their buyers.

At the end of the tour of the tannery, beautiful leather purses await their buyers.

All the tourist guides we read offered a warning:  Beware the rank odors.  Well, odorous it was in Fez the day we visited, but we were so mesmerized by the work in century-old tiled pits that we put down the sprig of mint offered to us for our noses so we could take pictures of a production we’re not likely to see again in our lifetimes.

Welcoming us to the showroom where leather goods occupied the shelves on all several floors.

Welcoming us to the showroom where leather goods occupied the shelves on all several floors.

From our balcony vantage point, the open space filled with circular pits resembled a child’s paint set — without the brushes, of course.

Two parts of a Fez tannery: white side for softening; colored pits for dyeing.

Two parts of a Fez tannery: white side for softening; colored pits for dyeing.

White pits offered one component of the process — cleaning and softening.  After skins are brought by donkey to the tannery, they are dipped into a mixture of that includes cow urine, pigeon poop, salt and quicklime.

Worker in white pits of Fez tannery.

Worker in white pits of Fez tannery.

The colorful dye pits use poppy seed, saffron, henna, and indigo as color agents for the leather which is soaked then lifted out for drying.

Workers are mostly born into the job, and the work is organized as old guilds would have done with men mastering and maintaining specific skills.

A worker rests on the side of dye pit in Fez.

A worker rests on the side of dye pit in Fez.

It takes two: Fez tannery

It takes two: Fez tannery

Perched on a dye pit: Fez tannery

Perched on a dye pit: Fez tannery

The entire tanning process is not without drawbacks, of course, as laborers standing in chemicals all day report frequent health problems.

Utilizing natural dyes of henna, indigo, saffron and poppy, workers add color to softened hides.

Utilizing natural dyes of henna, indigo, saffron and poppy, workers add color to softened hides.

So, should you visit the tanneries in Morocco?  We say MOST DEFINITELY. If you’re interested in practices handed down through generations since medieval times and seeing how Moroccan leather gets — and deserves — its reputation for being the finest in the world, then, by all means, “Get thee to a tannery!”  (Hold your nose, if you have to.)

Man outside the tannery in Fez signaled his OK for our visit.

Man outside the tannery in Fez signaled his OK for our visit.

For more information:

Chouara Tannery located in Fes el Bali, the oldest part of the medina.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chouara_Tannery

For more pictueres of Fez, Morocco, click on our Flickr account.

And for more posts, check out Marvelous Morocco.

Posted in Africa, Boomer Travel, Marvelous Morocco, Morocco, Photography | Tagged , , , , | 33 Comments

Staring at storks on summer’s day in Volubilis, Morocco

Remnants of a home in Volubilis, Morocco

Remnants of a home in Volubilis, Morocco

Even if you’ve never heard of Volubilis, it’s a place we’d put on anyone’s must-see list for Morocco.

Rolling hills and green pastures: Volubilis, Morocco

Rolling hills and green pastures: Volubilis, Morocco

With an idyllic setting akin to fields of green, Volubilis is a place to breathe deeply and listen carefully to sounds of gentle breezes, harvesters gathering wheat, and low-voiced scholars marveling at the mosaics in this city built by Romans in the second century, considered the ancient capital of the kingdom of Mauretania.

Roaming the remains of structures in Volubilis, Morocco

Roaming the remains of structures in Volubilis, Morocco

From this hill town, you can gaze at Meknes not so far away . . .

View of Meknes from the hilltop vantage point of Volubilis

View of Meknes from the hilltop vantage point of Volubilis

and watch as country settings worthy of paintings unfold before you.

A farmer with his donkey moves cuttings along a country road.

A farmer with his donkey moves cuttings along a country road.

People flock to Volubilis for its ruins — remnants of fine town homes with intricate mosaic floors still miraculously intact even after earthquakes in the 18th century rocked the foundations and looters carried off stones for the building of Meknes just over the hill.

Remains of the Arch of Caracalla at Volubilis stand tall against the sky.

Remains of the Arch of Caracalla at Volubilis stand tall against the sky.

Now, as a World Heritage Site, Volubilis commands the respect it deserves, and photographers, historians, and architects roam the grounds seeking insight into the past life of this olive-growing community nestled in the countryside.

But for all its remaining grandeur and historic lure, historic Volubilis lost out the day we were there to another sight, an unexpected one:  a rather large stork’s nest perched atop a marble column, home to a mother and little ones.

Stork's nest features prominently in the view of the Basilica

And unexpected sight:
a stork’s nest prominently perched on a column near the Basilica

In fact, most people that day were staring at the storks.

Sitting by the storks at Volubilis and taking it all in!

Sitting by the storks at Volubilis and taking it all in!

No matter how much the tourists wanted to look more closely at the mosaics or have their pictures taken as they posed in the archways of the Basilica, their attention just couldn’t — or wouldn’t — veer from that fascinating family of storks.

Some posing for pictures, some staring at storks at the archway in Volubilis

Some posing for pictures, some staring at storks at the archway in Volubilis

And when in Volubilis . . . well, we did the same.  After all, stork sightings are rare for us.  With the exception of a few in Romania, we can’t say we’ve seen these high-mounded nests anywhere else in the world, although we know they’re there.  We just hadn’t been fortunate enough to see them. Until this day.

Mother and babies -- the storks of Volubilis

Mother and babies — the storks of Volubilis

But here they were.  And here also was that family of storks.  Almost everyone in Volubilis that day did as we did:  We all watched for long periods of time, holding our cameras still, hoping to see that mama stork pop her head up and smile at the crowd between feedings!

The object of our affection at historic Volubilis

The object of our affection at historic Volubilis

And so it was.  We went for the ruins and the history and the countryside at Volubilis . . .

Looking back at Volubilis, but remembering the storks!

Looking back at Volubilis, but remembering the storks!

but what left us breathless (yet smiling) were storks. (And, as if this one nest wasn’t enough, we noted a whole tower of nests as we approached the highway headed to Fes the next day!)

A tower of storks in Morocco

A tower of storks in Morocco

We’re adding Stork Staring to our list of must-do’s when in Morocco!

— Bert and Rusha Sams

You can find more of Marvelous Morocco under Travel Series in the heading of our blog.

 

Posted in Marvelous Morocco, Morocco, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Seen and Noted 2018: Our Most Viewed Posts of the Year

A man in Chefchaouen sweeps off the walkway in front of his door.

Although not in our top five Most Viewed posts, Morocco was perhaps our Number One destination in 2018.

It was about this time last year that those nice folks at Gallivance (Terri and James Vance) published Best of the Blog: The Top 10 Faves, and ever since then, we’ve wondered what you, our readers, would find fascinating among our ramblings for 2018.  After all, we’ve been near (our home town of Knoxville) and far (Maine and Morocco), but never really thought of what you enjoyed reading about the most . . . until now.

Come to think of it, looking back is a good thing.  We just may want to do less of one place and more of another based upon what you like.  (Now there’s a concept — pleasing our readers!)

So, with thanks to the Vances for inspiration (good writing, humor, great photos, too), here are our top five Most Viewed posts of 2018.  Ta-da!!!

Most Viewed Number 5:  “Food, glorious food:  West End Market, Cleveland, Ohio”

Now, this one was no surprise to us:  everyone we know who travels seems to love eating food of the area.  And after a trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the house in A Christmas Story, we decided that a big market like West Side was just what we needed to see (and sample).  With a plethora of fresh veggies piled high for the taking and some regional specialties we just don’t get that often in Tennessee (think perogies, apple provolone stuffed tenderloin, and pizza bagels), it was definitely love at first sight — and first bite — at West Side Market.

And we were glad that the market was ginormous.  It gave us an opportunity to walk off what we sampled — from macarons to ginger snaps and then some.

You can be sure we’ll be frequenting more Farmers Markets in 2019.  In fact, you can hardly beat the Knoxville’s Saturday set-up in our downtown Market Square.  So watch for more food, glorious food.

Most Viewed Number 4: “Sunrise at Acadia Dock”

Shoulda known this one would be in the Top Five.  Sunrise photos rank right up there with puppies in a basket and cuddly babies in knitted caps as favorites.  But these sunrises were special to us.  We woke early almost every morning during the month we spent in Castine, Maine, just to walk to the dock and stand with the locals in silent reverence for God’s paintings on the water.

Sunrise: Castine Harbor.

Sunrise: Castine Harbor.

We loved it all — from boats tied up and waiting, to watching lobstermen hard at work before dawn, to the launch each day of the Maine Maritime Academy’s training boat, the Bowdoin.

Bowdoin, training vessel for Maine Maritime Academy

Bowdoin, training vessel for Maine Maritime Academy

In fact, those early morning strolls down the street, cup of coffee in hand and jacket zipped up, remain some of our fondest memories.  But coming in at a close second after clapping for the sunrise was hiking up the main drag to enter MarKel’s Bakehouse for a whiff of those moist right-out-of-the-oven blueberry scones.  Would go back in a heartbeat!

Morning light: Castine, Maine.

Morning light: Castine, Maine.

Most Viewed Number 3: Out of this world:  Monhegan Island, Maine

Speaking of going back — one night in Monhegan is definitely not enough.  From the boat trip on choppy waters to the laid-back, no-improvements-needed landscape of this little island Down East, it was, hands-down, one of our sites and sights to remember from all of our U. S. travels.

Main road in Monhegan - pleasantly untouched.

Main road in Monhegan – pleasantly untouched.

Just like our early morning adventures in Castine, Maine, we wanted to see Monhegan at dawn.  So getting up early and trekking to the top of the hill where the original lighthouse and Monhegan museum stand was a no-brainer.  We had to do it, and we did.  And the reward? A panorama of houses and unmanicured yards and dirt paths leading up the road apiece.  It’s life as it was fifty years ago, and that’s why people come to see it. And it’s what keeps the locals there even through brutal winters.

Greeting the sun: buildings at Monhegan Island Light

Greeting the sun: buildings at Monhegan Island Light

If you’re ever in Maine wondering whether to spend a couple of days in Monhegan or not, we say, “Go for it.”  It’s artistry, community, and raw beauty all in one — something you can’t find packaged together much anymore. If this post isn’t enough of Monhegan (and one post really isn’t), try taking a look at this one as well:  “Five places to see: Monhegan Island, Maine.” 

Most Viewed Number 2:  “Variations on a Theme: Island Cottages, St. George Island”

Near Apalachicola, Florida, lies an expanse of beach that, although lined with residences, doesn’t seem crowded at all.  It’s because the founding fathers or the current municipal fathers (or both) have seen fit to leave St. George Island almost untouched.  You rarely see a restaurant.  And there are few rental places, few beach shops selling air-brush t-shirts, and almost no dune buggies whizzing past.  Just beach.  And that’s the beauty of it.

But there are viewing spots — now, more than ever.  Island cottages are nestled in and among the older beach houses so that we who want to visit St. George can get a glimpse, no matter how high up, of that beautiful blue water and untouched sand beach.

Lined up for your island vacation at St. George

So, here’s to the skinny houses, the ones that seem precariously perched on stilts so that residents can sit on skinny porches, raise their binoculars and search for dolphins swimming by.

All in a row: cottages lined up in St. George Island

All in a row: St. George Island

This was one of those posts we put together for the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge, and we must admit that we miss those weekly suggestions for posting sent to us by the WordPress folks.  It only takes a few words from the blog people to make the photo bugs within us search our memories (and our hard drives) for just the right thing. But since that’s no longer done for us, we probably need to do that on our own a little more often.

Most Viewed Number 1:  Weekly Photo Challenge:  Silence in a Garden”

And here it is:  Number One!  Again it was a WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge response that catapulted this little three-photo post to the Most Viewed status among our blogs in 2018!  Perhaps readers share our desire to “sit a spell” in a relaxing place, like a garden, and let the cares of the world pass us by, even if just for a short while.

A weathered garden bench invites visitors to sit a spell and enjoy the quiet.

A weathered garden bench invites visitors to sit a spell and enjoy the quiet.

Or perhaps it’s the power of WordPress to help us network and share posts with so many people who blog on a regular basis.  Whatever the reason, we are delighted that a garden spot in Knoxville, Tennessee, was the Most Viewed Post of 2018.

And maybe we need to rethink big trips — like the one we took to Morocco — for popular posts.  Not one of our Morocco posts landed in the Top Five; instead, viewers liked sunrises, beaches, and gardens more.  (And we love those as well.)

We've been photo bombed -- by a cat in Meknes, Morocco. Oh, well.

We’ve been photo bombed — by a cat in Meknes, Morocco. Oh, well.

Thanks to you, our viewers, we look forward to another year of blogging.  We’ll finish up our series Marvelous Morocco just in time to head to Southeast Asia for a January 2019 itinerary that includes meandering the streets of Hanoi, sleeping two nights on a junk in Halong Bay, snapping endless photos of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, and reveling in the colorful city of Bangkok.

We wish for all of you a very happy 2019 — whether you travel far or near.  It’s all good when you love where you are in the world.

Thanks for following Oh, the Places We See.

Rusha and Bert Sams

 

 

 

 

Posted in Boomer Travel, Gardens, Tennessee, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Best Doors of 2018: Chefchaouen, Morocco

In looking back at 2018 — as Norm who has created a series of posts called Thursday Doors asked bloggers to do this week — we can’t help but post photos of a town in Morocco we put high up on our top spots to see in that colorful country.  And the walking tour through the little city of Chefchaouen remains one of our fondest memories of our three-week adventure in Morocco.

A walk through Chefchaouen takes you past shopkeeper's wares, through blue-painted arches, and over uneven cobblestone streets.

A walk through Chefchaouen takes you past shopkeeper’s wares, through blue-painted arches, and over uneven cobblestone streets.

Chefchaouen, originally called Chaouen, meaning “peaks,” sits firmly among the peaks of the Rif mountains. In 1975, the town was renamed Chefchaouen (Look at the Peaks).  It’s a colorful white-and-blue montage of buildings that can be seen from a pull-out along the highway. And the doors, windows, flat roofs and scrunched-up living quarters make for a memorable view from the road.

From the highway going in to this city, this is the initial view of the colorful "Blue Pearl" of Morocco.

From the highway going in to this city, this is the initial view of the colorful “Blue Pearl” of Morocco.

A little rock hut with a blue door of its own welcomes you along with the flag of Morocco.

An inset blue door surrounded by white welcomes visitors to this town that is now discovered and "on the map," so to speak.

An inset blue door surrounded by white welcomes visitors to this town that is now discovered and “on the map,” so to speak.

The town, founded in 1471, began to grow quickly with the arrival of Jewish and Muslim refugees from Granada in 1494 who bought up the smallish tile-roofed abodes that lend a Spanish look to Chefchaouen.

Dry pigment awaits buyers in Chefchouen. When mixed with a bit of water, it defines this little city known for colorful walls and doors.

Dry pigment awaits buyers in Chefchouen. When mixed with a bit of water, it defines this little city known for colorful walls and doors.

But it’s the blue you want to see — sort of a watery wash of blue that pervades the town as if residents bought the color in powder form, used a little too much water, and slung the paint willy-nilly all over the walls and steps and doors.

Blue steps lead to a blue door at a residence in Chefchaouen.

Blue steps lead to a blue door at a residence in Chefchaouen.

No one cares much about detail.  It’s the blend of sea blue, sky blue, marine blue and baby blue with pure white that sets this town apart. And the doors provide details, varying in form and construction and history, making you wonder why did they select that style, who lives behind them, and what their story is.

Doorways invite you to climb the steps and pose for pictures as we did — often!

Perhaps a perfect place to pose for a picture: under a blue arched doorway in Chefchouen.

Perhaps a perfect place to pose for a picture:
under a blue arched doorway in Chefchouen.

But sometimes, we just stood still, watching residents going about their daily chores.

A man in Chefchaouen sweeps off the walkway in front of his door.

A man in Chefchaouen sweeps off the walkway in front of his door.

Some doors are almost obscured as goods (mostly for tourists to take home) frame the openings, making you wonder what’s inside.  And, as we can attest, if you walk in, you’ll probably walk out with more than you came with!

Leather goods, perhaps made at the tannery in Fez, frame a doorway in Chefchaouen.

Leather goods, perhaps made at the tannery in Fez, frame a doorway in Chefchaouen.

Just off the town square, Alcazaba, a fortress built in 1471, offers more glimpses into the architecture of this well-preserved building that’s now houses a museum.

Alcazaba, the kasbah in Chefchaouen, opens off the town square.

Alcazaba, the kasbah in Chefchaouen, opens off the town square.

Of all the sites we saw in Morocco, the town of Chefchaouen  remains one of the most memorable — from its colorful blue walls, steep steps and simple, yet fairly complex doors.  “The Blue Pearl,” as it’s called in several guidebooks, is one town you don’t want to miss in this country that seems to have it all.

Best thing to do in Chefchaouen? Wander through the blue.

Best thing to do in Chefchaouen? Wander through the blue.

For more information:

We booked our trip to Chefchaouen and other towns in Morocco through Ortelius Travel.  Our agent, Lauren Gunnels, can recommend riads and restaurants — some of which even have blue doors! (We stayed at Lina Riad & Spa and dined at Auberge Dardara Restaurant, at the recommendation of our guide.)

For more Thursday Doors, click here.

For more about Morocco, go to Marvelous Morocco in the bar at the top of this blog.

 

 

Posted in Destination, Marvelous Morocco, Morocco, Photography | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Glamping in Erg Chebbi or How We Rode Camels in the Sahara

If you’d told us six months ago that we’d be riding camels in the Sahara, we would have

Camel riding in the Sahara: just do it!

Camel riding in the Sahara: just do it!

replied, “You’ve got the wrong people for that.”  After all, we had done just that at the Knoxville Zoo atop a mangy, reluctant beast who shuffled around a dirt ring with us and our granddaughter hanging on for dear life.  But when in the Sahara, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.  There’s only one way to see sundown in Morocco:  on a camel’s back.  And yes, you still may be hanging on for dear life.

After leaving Ourzazate, you drive half a day (at least) past oases, farm land, clusters of homes surrounding yet another beautiful mosque until you finally come to Merzouga, the

The "road" from Merzouga to Erg Chebbi

The “road” from Merzouga to Erg Chebbi

place where you leave the comfort of your guided tour and hop into a jeep headed to the desert.  You travel along an unmarked road.  (Well, really there is no road.  And how the Jeep drivers know their way through sand was just one of the baffling realities of our trip to Morocco.)

We went past campsites of nomads, past tourists mounting camels, and into what seemed to be the end of the earth as we knew it.  But it was really just the edge of Erg Chebbi.  Now, an erg is a sea of dunes formed by wind-blown sand, but this erg is dotted with campsites the likes of which you may have never seen before.

With mint tea and cookies in front and luxury behind the door, we approached our tent in the Sahara.

With mint tea and cookies in front and luxury behind the door, we approached our tent in the Sahara.

Welcoming us with open arms and a pot of herb tea in a silver pitcher, our hosts for the evening guided us to a white tent worthy of Lawrence of Arabia.

Welcoming us to Erg Chebbi with open arms.

Welcoming us to Erg Chebbi with open arms.

And once inside, we were surprised by red velvet “walls” and down comforters — not like any tent camping we’d ever experienced.  On one side of the tent: a private shower.  On the other side: a private toilet.  Sinks, mirrors, and hot water, too:  all part of the standard luxury treatment.

Deep red walls and plush bedding greeted us in our tent for the night in the Sahara.

Deep red walls and plush bedding greeted us in our tent for the night in the Sahara.

But behind the tent was what we came to see: dunes piled high against an afternoon sky with camels sitting idly by, waiting for a sunset run with yet another batch of tourists.

Camels await the sundown tour through the desert.

Camels await the sundown tour through the desert.

Wrapped tightly in all white, our guide waited patiently for our party of six to arrive.  And then he shared secrets of successful mounting — some of which we understood, some of which we didn’t.

Posing with the guide who would help me mount a camel -- hopefully!

Posing with the guide who would help me mount a camel — hopefully!

It was all good advice, we quickly learned, even if we didn’t fully comprehend:  “As the camel moves, you move in the opposite direction.  If he comes up, you bend down. If he dips down unexpectedly, you move upright.”  And we thought about that, not really knowing any more than when we started the journey.  But with a few flourishes and counter moves, we were up.

Success! Bert mounts a camel!

Success! Bert mounts a camel!

And then (even before we were ready) we were off!  The guide held the rope of the first camel which was tied to all the others, and the camels knew the drill.  (Take the tourists one careful step at a time: up and over and around those dunes!)

A camel caravan in the desert. (I'm number five, taking pictures from behind.)

A camel caravan in the desert. (I’m number five, taking pictures from behind.)

We dismounted once, as we were given the opportunity to climb to the highest mound of sand.  Some did. Some didn’t.  But all took in the afternoon glow as the sun began its descent.

Dismounting to rest and take it all in.

Dismounting to rest and take it all in.

 

Want the best view of the sunset? Ya gotta climb!

Want the best view of the sunset? Ya gotta climb!

By the time we re-mounted, we had only a few shaky camel steps downward before we all held tight to the reins with one hand and our cameras with the other to capture sundown in the Sahara.  Worth it.  Totally.

Riding again -- into the sunset

Riding again — into the sunset

Sundown. At last.

Sundown. At last.

Meanwhile back in the camp, dinner was bountiful — Moroccan dishes, one after another.  And entertainment that got us up: bouncing, singing, clapping and cheering on the brave ones selected by the drummer to entertain the group.

Circling the firepit and waiting for the stars to come out.

Circling the firepit and waiting for the stars to come out.

After dinner the light show began. With nothing more than a fire pit for a soft glow, we sat around and pointed at stars, the moon, and the pitch black sky before turning in and putting our tired bodies to rest on those plush beds in the tents.

Dawn's early light in the Sahara

Dawn’s early light in the Sahara

Morning began at 4:30 a.m. when we did as we were told the night before: “Put on your clothes and get outside.  You may only have one chance to see sunrise at the Sahara.” And the host was right.  Worth it again.

How's this for a screen saver shot of dawn in the Sahara!

How’s this for a screen saver shot of dawn in the Sahara!

Saying good-bye was like parting after a week of camping — sweet but a little sad.  But back into the Jeep again — and on to the next adventure.  Morocco just may have it all — cities with medinas, vast stretches of fertile land and small farming communities, coastal towns, and sand.  Lots and lots of sand.  What a country!

Saying good-bye at Bivouac Sahara, a perfect desert experience.

Saying good-bye at Bivouac Sahara, a perfect desert experience.

For more information:

Contact your travel agent and ask for information on camping in the Sahara.  Or just Google “Camping in the Morocco desert.”  You’ll find prices, dates, and accommodations for just about every budget.  But, for sure: don’t mark it off your to-do list ’til you’ve done it!

Thanks for traveling to Morocco with us —

Bert and Rusha Sams

For more places to see in this fascinating country, click on Marvelous Morocco under Travel Series.

 

Posted in Marvelous Morocco, Morocco, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 30 Comments

Creepin’ out in McClellanville

I’ve saved this story until Halloween, but I’ve thought of it several times since this past summer.  Each July, we leave our hometown of Knoxville to vacation at Pawleys Island, South Carolina, for a week.  On the way home, we take different routes home just to see more of those sweet coastal towns you read about in Southern Living.  This past summer, we passed through the charming Southern town of McClellanville, as we’ve done several times before, on our way home.

Sweet Southern home in McClellanville, SC complete with front porch, quiet grounds, and trees festooned with Spanish moss.

Sweet Southern home in McClellanville, SC complete with front porch, quiet grounds, and trees festooned with Spanish moss.

Visiting McClellanville is a trip back in time: Lovely homes with wide front porches sit underneath trees dripping with Spanish moss.  We generally park the car, walk the two or three blocks known as “downtown,” eat lunch, and then head home with our blood pressure lowered and our need for a small- town fix satisfied.

But not this time.  As we walked down the uneven sidewalk beneath draping trees, we suddenly — and I do mean suddenly — stopped dead in our tracks with this sight.  Yes, you’re seeing this correctly:  a head.  Tall as the bottom story of the house, tucked under a porch, unpainted, and apologizing to no one.

Somethin' creepy in McClellanville

Somethin’ creepy in McClellanville

I desperately wanted to go toward it to see what it was made of.  To see if it had a back.  To see if I could figure out what it was used for.  But going onto the grass might mean I was trespassing, and I was a little freaked out thinking what someone might do if that someone saw me patting down the forehead or looking behind the ears.

So, with my trusty iPhone, I moved as close as I thought the law would allow and snapped a picture as surreptitiously as possible.

A little bit closer, but only a little bit!

A little bit closer, but only a little bit!

And then both of us beat a hasty retreat to the car, only to pass this house in full decay mode.

Seen better times in McClellanville.

Seen better times in McClellanville.

I guess it’s true:  What’s real is sometimes pretty surreal.

Happy Halloween!  And beware:  a slow stroll through a cute town might actually creep you out.

— Bert and Rusha Sams

Posted in Boomer Travel, Photography, South Carolina | Tagged , , , | 27 Comments

The Hollywood of Morocco: Ouarzazate

Ait Ben Haddou is the site of numerous films, making it part of the Hollywood of Morocco.

Ait Ben Haddou is the site of numerous films, making it part of the Hollywood of Morocco.

Touring Morocco isn’t just seeing mosques in the cities and sand dunes in the Sahara.  A day spent in Ouarzazate, the gateway to the desert to the east of Marrakech, will have you walking where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed and wondering what else you’ve seen that was probably made in Morocco.  Even our hotel, Ksar Ighnda, offered Hollywood luxury at the edge of the desert.

Looking like a movie set on its own, our hotel Ksar Ighnda was an oasis in the Moroccan desert.

Looking like a movie set on its own, our hotel Ksar Ighnda was an oasis in the Moroccan desert.

For a first glimpse into movie making in Morocco, stop at the ksar (series of fortresses) of Ait Ben Haddou, not just for its role in cinema production but also to examine the unique mudbrick construction of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The mudbrick facade of Ait Ben Haddou has been used as a town backdrop for numerous movies.

The mudbrick facade of Ait Ben Haddou has been used as a town backdrop for numerous movies.

With the High Atlas Mountains in the background, this series of six kasbahs joined into one city-like structure has been standing since the 1600s as home to hundreds of residents and temporary lodging for travelers along the caravan road.

Although Ait Ben Haddou is crumbling now, its construction of mud, straw, and sticks has served it well through the ages.  And wandering its rooms and hallways is nothing less than a step back in time.

Today, Ait Ben Haddou is known as a set where movies like The Mummy, Prince of Persia, and Kingdom of Heaven have been filmed.

For the movie Gladiator, townspeople stood on multiple levels to cheer on Russell Crowe in the arena built into the sand below.

At the base of the hill, a round depression is all that's left of the arena used in Gladiator. Townspeople stood on the various levels of Ait Ben Haddou looking down at the action.

At the base of the hill, a round depression is all that’s left of the arena used in Gladiator. Townspeople stood on the various levels of Ait Ben Haddou looking down at the action.

Sometimes new structures are built at Ait Ben Haddou to blend in with the old — like this stately entryway seen in Jewel of the Nile. (True movie making artIt’s hard to distinguish what’s new from what’s not.)

Gateway to the city in Jewel of the Nile

Gateway to the city in Jewel of the Nile

But no trip to Ouarzazate would be complete without a trip to Atlas Film Studios.  Tour guides reveal movie magic like how “weighty” boulders are just made of Styrofoam, and town markets are mere walls held up by scaffolding. You’re free to roam and experience being a movie star or an extra on the set.  You can even pretend you’re witnessing daily life in Biblical times.

For King Tut, Cleopatra, and Exodus, the Atlas team created grandiose scenes worthy of the grandeur of wealth and power.

Movie set for Cleopatra at Atlas Film Studio, Ouarzazate.

Movie set for Cleopatra at Atlas Film Studio, Ouarzazate.

And, of course, some tourists wouldn’t be able to resist the opportunity to ride in a chariot or stand where Cleopatra waved to her subjects.

Feeling queenly in a chariot fit for Cleopatra!

Feeling queenly in a chariot fit for Cleopatra!

Cleopatra greets her subjects: Atlas Film Studio, Ouarzazate

Cleopatra (well, a wannabe) greets her subjects: Atlas Film Studio, Ouarzazate

We weren’t allowed to walk into the wide open spaces to view a set used in Game of Thrones, but we stopped to take a picture – just to say we’d been there, of course.

Game of Thrones movie set, Atlas Film Studio

Game of Thrones movie set, Atlas Film Studio

After a day touring movie sets, you can dine where producers, directors and actors have all been — in Hotel le Berbere Palace.  According to our waiter, producers of each major film have been asked to leave something from their movie — a prop, for example —  for tourists to admire.  And the grounds are littered with movie memorabilia like Ben Hur’s famous chariot.

Chariot used in Ben Hur on display at Hotel Le Berbere Palace

Chariot used in Ben Hur on display at Hotel Le Berbere Palace

If you’ve seen movies with a desert-like setting in a foreign place, you may have seen Ouarzazate from the comfort of your movie theater seat and not even knownBut if you’re visiting Morocco, it’s a place you’ll want to see for yourself.

For more posts from this fascinating county, check out Marvelous Morocco.

 

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Food, glorious food: West End Market, Cleveland, Ohio

We’re taking a break from writing about the colorful country of Morocco to share with you some American colors that made our hearts (and stomachs) skip a beat.  After checking off a bucket list destination — the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — we saved a day or two to explore Cleveland, Ohio, with a must-do visit to West Side Market, the oldest indoor/outdoor market in the city.  The trip solidified one of our long-held beliefs:  there’s no better way to get to know a place than by visiting a market filled with local foods from the farms and kitchens nearby.

Fall brings apple cider and pumpkins to West Side Market.

Fall brings apple cider and pumpkins to West Side Market.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, West Side Market opened in 1912, dazzling visitors with its lofty ceiling of yellow brick, a wide concourse arrangement that houses over 100 vendors, and a 137-foot clock tower that dominates the area around it.

Since 1912, West Side Market has housed vendors of fresh foods and produce in an architectural gem of a building.

Since 1912, West Side Market has housed vendors of fresh foods and produce in an architectural gem of a building.

It’s estimated that over one million people visited West Side Market last year.  We’re  thrilled to be counted among the guests this year as the whole marked amazed us with colorful produce, unusual offerings, and artful displays.

Up first — fruits and veggies. (And if you don’t know passion fruit from figs, someone will patiently explain all. We know because we asked a lot of questions.)

Inside the main hall, the variety is endless.  From bacon with flavorings you’ve never heard of to links and sticks of sausages. And yes, even chicken feet.

And Bert’s favorite, though, had to be this packed-with-goodness apple provolone stuffed tenderloin!

Stuffed tenderloin bundled and ready to take home.

Baked breads were ready to purchase whole or sliced as were several varieties of fresh, homemade pasta.

And what could be wrong with a bagel topped like a pizza?  Nothing we could find.

From the Pizza Bagel Lady's booth: yum!

From the Pizza Bagel Lady’s booth: yum!

Sweets like French macarons had delectable names like Salted Caramel, Red Velvet Cake, Pistachio, and Dreamy Mango.

Cookies were big: you could hardly get your hand around them!

How many calories?

How many calories?

Pretzel sticks lay in waiting, covered in chocolate and nuts, drizzled with icing.  To die for.

At last: a snack you can eat while walking!

At last: a snack you can eat while walking!

But I really wanted to try something I had never tasted:  a perogi.

Perogies ready to take home -- but where could I find one cooked?

Perogies ready to take home — but where could I find one cooked?

It was easy to find ready-to-cook perogies, but not the ones ready to eat.  When I asked the perogi vendor where I could taste one, she suggested that we have breakfast in West Side Market Cafe, the restaurant in the back.  Which we did.  Immediately.

West Side Market Cafe in Cleveland, Ohio

West Side Market Cafe in Cleveland, Ohio

After ordering a plate of corned beef hash with an over-medium fried egg and crispy toast, I felt a little sheepish asking for a perogi on the side.  But how else could I taste one?  The waitress brought out two freshly cooked perogies so we could both try one.

On a diner plate (what else?) was piled-high corned beef hash at West Side Market Cafe

On a diner plate (what else?) was piled-high corned beef hash at West Side Market Cafe

One bite of a hot perogi — a tasty bit of fried dough wrapped around creamy potatoes — and I knew I could live in an area that served this on a regular basis.  Carb heaven, perhaps.  But soooo good.

A perogi on the side!!!

A perogi on the side!!!

If you live in the neighborhood, don’t take West Side Market for granted.

And if you’re a visitor, start your day here.  Just be sure to bring along a cooler.  You’ll want to take something — or a lot of things — home for later!

Historic West Side Market filled with edible treasures!

Historic West Side Market filled with edible treasures!

Do you have a favorite market you like to visit?  If so, we’d love to hear where.

Other markets we love:

Decatur Farmers’ Market in Alabama

Red Stick Farmers Market in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Capital City Public Market in Boise, Idaho

 

For more information:

West Side Market, 1979 West 25th Street, Cleveland, Ohio 44113; westsidemarket.org

Open Year-round:  Mondays and Wednesdays, 7 to 4; Fridays and Saturdays, 7 to 6; Sundays, 10 to 4; Closed Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Posted in Boomer Travel, Farmers Market, Ohio, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 25 Comments

Beautiful dilemmas: Rug shopping in Marrakech

You see them from rooftop restaurants . . .

From a rooftop restaurant, you can enjoy the market scenery including rows of rugs hanging from balconies.

and you pass them by on your way in and out of the medina . . .

Rugs hang near the doorway of a shop in the Marrakech medina.

Rugs hang near the doorway of a shop in the Marrakech medina.

but there’s nothing like a couple of hours being courted by salesmen in a Marrakech rug shop!

Chef Joanne Weir gets a hug from a favorite rug salesman in Marrakech.

Chef Joanne Weir gets a hug from a favorite rug salesman in Marrakech.

From the minute you step in the door, you’re bombarded with colors, textures, and salesmen guiding your every step.  Rugs are ready, beckoning you to come inside to look, to touch, and to make you wish you could buy one for every room of your home.

Stacked on the floor are the now-popular white and black rugs popular in today's American decor.

Stacked on the floor are the now-popular white and black rugs popular in today’s American decor.

Waiting for someone to come back to the loom at a Marrakech rug shop.

Waiting for someone to come back to the loom at a Marrakech rug shop.

If you’re lucky, you may meet someone who’s mastered the art of weaving, someone who’s made it her day-to-day profession, as hard as it may be.  Weavers study patterns and then get to work, picking up one strand at a time and weaving methodically in, out, in, out until the job is done.

A weaver pauses to show us her work.

A weaver pauses to show us her work.

You may see rugs in piles . . .

Even in Morocco, gray is a popular color for decorating. Here, rugs wait to be selected by customers ready to decorate.

Even in Morocco, gray is a popular color for decorating. Here, rugs wait to be selected by customers ready to decorate.

or hung over balconies.

Upstairs, more rugs are piled high and flopped over the balcony rails. Rugs everywhere!

Upstairs, more rugs are piled high and flopped over the balcony rails. Rugs everywhere!

But when you finally take a seat in the showroom, you are treated to a presentation like no other as men unfurl for your scrutiny one hand-woven art piece at a time.

You can leave your comfortable viewing seat to touch and feel, take pictures, and imagine how a rug would look in a room back home.

Two California ladies shop for Moroccan rugs.

Two California ladies shop for Moroccan rugs.

Or you can stay seated while someone dramatically pours hot, freshly brewed mint tea into a glass cup for you to sip while you stare at the one-at-time show.

A salesman pours mint tea in dramatic Moroccan fashion for customers.

A salesman pours mint tea in dramatic Moroccan fashion for customers.

Longing for a blue-patterned rug?  They’ll bring it out.  Something more traditional? They’ll probably have whatever you want — just ask.

A contemporary rug incorporating a traditional diamond pattern

A contemporary rug incorporating a traditional diamond pattern

And then it all comes down to choices, of course, and how much you can afford to ship home from Morocco. Since deciding is not for the faint of heart, here are a few tips we learned from our experience.

  • Enjoy the education.  Salesmen will want to show you as many styles as possible and then ask what you like.  Treat that “show” as an education as you learn the differences between Berber and Kilim rugs, traditional versus contemporary, and hand-knotted versus printed, etc.  If you have a culture, color, or pattern in mind, let the salesmen know.  But if you don’t even know enough to ask (That would be us), allow the salesmen to share what they know with you.  You’ll never regret this hands-on, right-in-front-of-you parade of culture and history.  (It was one of the best learning days we had in Morocco.)
  • Stacked to the ceiling, hand-woven rugs in Marrakech.

    Narrow your choices down to seven rugs, then five, then three.  It’s hard to send rugs back to the shelves, but do it. And do it carefully. You may not be able to see a rejected rug again if the sales people put it back in a piled-high stack in another room. Narrowing your choices helps you eliminate rugs you can live without so you can focus on just a few.

  • Ask the price but know that the quoted price is not the final one.  Offer less — as much as half of what the asking price is.  But be willing to move back up.  You want to honor the workmanship by paying for the hours spent in design and weaving.  But you also want to pay what’s fair for both of you.
  • Negotiate shipping.  Sometimes shipping is included; sometimes not.  Ask.  If you’d rather not pay for shipping, see if the shop can roll up your rug, bind it, and add a handle to the package to carry it onto the plane.  You can save money by taking it yourself, but it may not be worth the effort.  (We bought 4 rugs, had them shipped and never looked back.)
  • Mark your goods.  A reputable rug dealer may ask you to initial your rug on the back near the edge.  If you do, you’ll know when you get home that the rug shipped to your door is indeed the one you selected.
Admiring this dramatic but simple rug with woven symbols are three shoppers from California.

Admiring this dramatic but simple rug with woven symbols are three shoppers from California.

One thing’s for sure.  You learn a lot about culture, regional patterns, and salesmanship from the best sales people in the city.  And, if you’re lucky, you’ll make friends at places you’ll want to come back to.  Buying rugs from reputable dealers can be one of the most memorable experiences of a stay in Marrakech — or anywhere in Morocco, for that matter.

Explaining that diamond shapes represent females, this tour guide in the Ourika Valley helped us understand the history of rug making in Morocco.

Explaining that diamond shapes represent females, this tour guide in the Ourika Valley helped us understand the history of rug making in Morocco.

Click on Marvelous Morocco for more posts on this fascinating country and its culture.

For more pictures from Morocco, check us out on Flickr.

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Best Foot Forward: Woodworking in Marrakech and Fes

Nothing stops you in your tracks while wandering in and around Marrakech like this sight:  a man turning wood with nothing more than a sharp blade and his feet!  Yes, you may wince a bit looking at these pictures.  We certainly did.

Wood turner in Marrakech medina working with his feet!

Wood turner in Marrakech medina working with his feet!

Moroccan woodturners are pros, though.  And with skilled hands and strategic balance, they seem to be quite productive even with tourists looking on.

Chef Joanne Weir grabs a shot of a wood turner in the Marrakech medina.

Chef Joanne Weir grabs a shot of a wood turner in the Marrakech medina.

Take this guy, for example.  He places the wood on a pole, lays a knife on top, and spins a little make-shift lathe with — you’re seeing it correctly — only a foot or two!  We watched.  We clapped.  And then we purchased freshly turned pieces of an art you don’t see often, if at all, in the U. S.

Later in Fes, we happened upon this workman who — everyday, no less — sits in this little box-like space in the medina and shapes combs out of natural bone.  He, too, uses his feet to steady the piece of bone.

A craftsman in Fes uses his feet to shape bone into creative combs.

A craftsman in Fes uses his feet to shape bone into creative combs.

He carefully presses his foot against a large piece of bone while he cuts shapes such as whales, ducks, birds, etc. to top off his combs.

Bird comb made of bone and shaped with a workman's foot: Fes, Morocco

Bird comb made of bone and shaped with a workman’s foot: Fes, Morocco

In Morocco, most craftsmen we met or acknowledged with a head nod absolutely, positively didn’t want their picture taken.  But the comb maker seemed genuinely enthralled when our guide asked if I could pose with him.  So, here’s one of the happiest people I met in Morocco — a man who goes every day to his workplace, sits in what seems to me to be a cramped space and cranks out the finest examples of bone combs in creative shapes.  A fine memory, for sure.

It's a rare to find someone who not only allows photos but actually poses with a tourist!

It’s a rare to find someone who not only allows photos but actually poses with a tourist!

For more posts on Morocco, take a look here.

And to see pictures of our journey, head to Flickr to take in the sights of this colorful country.

Thanks for traveling with us,

Bert and Rusha Sams

 

Posted in Marvelous Morocco, Morocco, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments