Party on the Plaza: Morocco’s Jemaa el-Fnaa

Birds-eye view of the Marrakech plaza known as Jemaa el-Fnaa.

Birds-eye view of the Marrakech plaza known as Jemaa el-Fnaa.

If you enjoyed seeing the Marrakech medina — that dizzy meld of colorful goods in tiny shops — then you’ll love passing through the giant plaza to get there.  But caution:  you’ll stop and stare. A lot.

The name, Jemaa el-Fnaa (sometimes spelled Djemma el F’na) means “assembly of the dead,” since it’s been the site of public executions since 1050.  In all the world, Jemaa el-Fnaa could be one of the most memorable public squares you’ll ever see.

A lady applies henna designs to the hands of a customer in a temporary booth on the plaza.

A lady applies henna designs to the hands of a customer in a temporary booth on the plaza.

During the day, it’s a market place where hawkers of all things Moroccan set out hand carved camels, rugs, and pottery.

A seller of carved wooden camels waits for buyers in Jemaa el-Fnaa.

A seller of carved wooden camels waits for buyers in Jemaa el-Fnaa.

Carts filled with produce file past you, making deliveries or selling to customers right on the spot.

But come 5:00 or so in the evening, and Jemaa el-Fnaa starts puts on its party hat.  Vendors open up big green tents showing off rows and rows of colorful fruit and trinkets tourists love.

Stalls open up offering fruit and tourist trinkets on the plaza known as Jemaa el-Fnaa.

Stalls open up offering fruit and tourist trinkets on the plaza known as Jemaa el-Fnaa.

Fruit stall No. 18 with tidy rows of bottled water, oranges and other tropical fruits.

Fruit stall No. 18 with tidy rows of bottled water, oranges and other tropical fruits.

Looking like a patchwork quilt, rows of nuts and dates wait for customers.

Looking like a patchwork quilt, rows of nuts and dates wait for customers.

And sellers of live snails offer you a to-go cup so you can steam ’em at home.

A seller of snails ready to scoop up a ladle full for you.

A seller of snails ready to scoop up a ladle full for you.

Need a bigger meal? Men in green tented stalls fire up the grills offering cooked meats with sides of couscous, tagine vegetables, and olives, of course.

You're not in Kansas anymore: heads and meat ready for purchase in Marrakech!

You’re not in Kansas anymore: heads and meat ready for purchase in Marrakech!

The real party, though, is center stage where monkey handlers beckon you to come in closer.  Not to worry.  A few dirhams is all it takes for a photo as close – or as far away – as you care to be.

A monkey handler shows off for the camera in Jemaa el-Fnaa.

A monkey handler shows off for the camera in Jemaa el-Fnaa.

Snake handlers lay out their best cobras and patterned slitherers sure to elicit an “ooh, ah,” or more likely “I’m not coming any closer” from the crowd.

At dusk, the cobras come out.

At dusk, the cobras come out.

"Heads up. Tourists are watching!"

“Heads up. Tourists are watching!”

This is as close as I wanted to be.

This is as close as I wanted to be.

In the background, the thumping vibe of African drums and metal clappers draws you closer to red robed dancers who invite you (most persuasively) to line up and stomp to the beat.  So we did.  Here’s Chef Joanne Weir who brought our group from Culinary Journey in Morocco 2018 to the plaza.  And then, like the good sport she is,  started movin’ and groovin’ Marrakech style.

If you only get one chance to dance in Jemaa el-Fnaa, take it. Chef Joanne Weir did.

If you only get one chance to dance in Jemaa el-Fnaa, take it. Chef Joanne Weir did.

On our second visit to Jemaa el-Fnaa, we found an even better place to see this aggregate of sights and sounds:  up top at a restaurant balcony.  For the price of an orange soda, we nabbed premium seats for the unfettered chaos below.

If you’re squeamish in crowds, sit this one out. Go sip hot tea in a posh, beautifully tiled restaurant.  But if you’re looking for sensory overload from hard-driving music, the whoosh of undirected vehicles, foreign foods in outrageous stalls, and people moving willy nilly in and among and around, you have to take in Jemaa el-Fnaa.  Only in Marrakech.

Moroccan musicians performing at Jemaa el-Fnaa

Moroccan musicians performing at Jemaa el-Fnaa

For more information:

Follow us in Morocco by clicking onto Travel Series: Marvelous Morocco.

And to see pictures, head to our Flickr account, Marrakesh album.

Posted in Destination, Marvelous Morocco, Morocco, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Morocco’s Cat Fetish

"So whadya think, Harry? A lot of tourists today?"

“So whadya think, Harry? A lot of tourists today?”

Furry felines flourish in Morocco.  And maybe they have for years.  Not sure about the history of it all, but everywhere we went, there was another cat — or two or three or so.

One guide told our group in Marrakech that Moroccans like cats better than dogs.  “They are clean animals.  You know how they lick their paws and clean their whole bodies?  Dogs don’t do that!”

Could be, we thought.  After all, cleansing is part of Muslim ritual, so it makes sense.  Whatever the explanation, we rarely saw a dog the  whole three weeks in Morocco. In Marrakech especially, cats were everywhere — parks, monuments, the medina, and homes. We spied our first cat couple on the cobblestone plaza at Koutoubia Mosque.  They looked like two old people camped out watching the tourists go by.

Asleep at the door: Marrakech

Asleep at the door: Marrakech

Cats seemed to have the run of the place just about anywhere, but especially in the Marrakech medina.  Perhaps it’s because Muslims would prefer to put bowls of leftover food and scraps near the stalls for their furry friends rather than throw good food away.  We liked that.

A motorcycle seat makes a fine cat bed in the Marrakech medina.

A motorcycle seat makes a fine cat bed in the Marrakech medina.

In Bahia Palace, it didn’t seem to bother the resident furry ones that hundreds of visitors per day passed through their home.  After all, who’s going to let a few foreigners disturb a perfectly good nap?

Asleep on the stoop: Bahia Palace, Marrakech

Asleep on the stoop: Bahia Palace, Marrakech

Even in the early 1800s when the palace was built, special accommodations were made for this favorite of all Moroccan animals.  See that little hole?  It’s a going-in-and-coming-out place for — well, you guessed it. Now we know who really had the run of the house!  (And it wasn’t the 24 concubines kept on the premises.)

Cat door in Bahia Palace

Cat door in Bahia Palace

Some cats, like this one in Chefchaouen (the blue town) seemed to be posing for pictures — much like the tourists do.  (And, yes, you’ll see us standing beside a blue door, too, in an upcoming post on this charming town.)  Ready, set, smile!

Cat on a doorstep: Chefchaouen, Morocco

Cat on a doorstep: Chefchaouen, Morocco

We’re not so sure that Moroccan cats even care that they might be upstaging a take-back-home, frame-worthy picture. Like this little critter who just nonchalantly strolled through the stables at Heri Es Souani in Meknes.   We were posing so our guide could take what she said was “the one picture you’re going to treasure from this trip.”  But here came this cat, just calmly photo-bombing our photo image from beautiful Morocco.  Could it be that cat snobbery exists all over the world?  Maybe so.  It’s at least one thing we have in common.

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.

As always, thanks for traveling with us.  — Rusha and Bert Sams

For more information:

More posts on Morocco —  Travel Series:  Marvelous Morocco.

Follow Flickr for more photos of our travels.

 

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All the Makings of a Feast: Marrakech Medina

Shopping for preserved goods and spices in open bowls: Marrakech medina

Shopping for preserved goods and spices in open bowls: Marrakech medina

No culinary experience in Morroco, especially Chef Joanne Weir’s Culinary Journey, would be complete with a trip to the Marrakech medina.  It’s there that the freshest, most colorful foods are piled high for what is truly a feast for the eyes.  And once you get home, the makings of a feast for all!

It begins outside where donkeys and carts of all shapes and sizes bring in the goods. Everything from spices to herbs to fresh-picked fruits make their way over cobblestone plazas to the open markets or through winding alleyways to markets inside.

Trucking fresh food into the medina on a busy market day.

Trucking fresh food into the medina on a busy market day.

Herbs by bicycle: Marrakech medina

Herbs by bicycle: Marrakech medina

Spices become art forms as conical shapes in colors of the Mediterranean stand tall awaiting shoppers looking for such delicacies as cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cinnamon.

Cones of spices form a backdrop for open bags garlic and crushed ingredients.

Cones of spices form a backdrop for open bags garlic and crushed ingredients.

Herbs aren’t packaged in plastic, as we may see in the U. S.  They’re more likely to be found in armloads — thick, green, and aromatic.

Outside the medina, a seller of herbs awaits customers.

Outside the medina, a seller of herbs awaits customers.

Ready for purchase during Ramadan (May 17 to June 14, 2018) are sweet treats for the season.  Of course, those who fast wait until evening to dive into these goodies.

Bowls and platters hold sweets for Ramadan in this medina stall in Marrakech.

Bowls and platters hold sweets for Ramadan in this medina stall in Marrakech.

Going to the medina with Chef Joanne Weir meant frequenting her favorite places.  Like this booth filled with preserved lemons, onions, and olives of various shapes, colors and sizes literally overflowing their massive bowls.

Olives, lemons, spices, and preserves -- a colorful stall in the Marrakech medina.

Olives, lemons, spices, and preserves — a colorful stall in the Marrakech medina.

And if we had needed eggs, we could have bought them . . . with the chickens as well.

Fresh eggs and chickens: Marrakech medina

Fresh eggs and chickens: Marrakech medina

Rich brown dates begged to be touched — so we bought some and ate them while we walked!

Dates for sale in Marrakech

Dates for sale in Marrakech

If you live in the medina, you can bake your homemade bread in community ovens.  (Look closely to see the baker hard at work inside this one pulling out round flatbreads brought to him by residents.)

Community bread oven with baker inside.

Community bread oven with baker inside.

Flat breads cooling near one of many community ovens in Marrakech.

Flat breads cooling near one of many community ovens in Marrakech.

Our culinary group counted ourselves lucky to catch this in action:  young men spinning werqa dough (similar to phyllo) used in making pastilla, a meat pie usually filled with pigeon and apricots and topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon.  (But I have to say that the chicken version we cooked later in the week ranked right up there with one of my favorite dishes of Morocco.)

Spinning werqa dough for making pastilla.

Spinning werqa dough, a dough used for making pastilla.

Every turn in the medina market offered a different glimpse into Moroccan culture and cuisine.  How grateful I was for the opportunity to shop for fresh goods in a truly remarkable place:  the Marrakech medina!

Shopping for fresh fish in the Marrakech medina

Shopping for fresh fish in the Marrakech medina

— Rusha Sams

For more information:

To view more pictures of Morocco, check out my Flicker account: https://www.flickr.com/photos/placeswesee

And to see more posts on this exotic, fascinating country, click on Marvelous Morocco.

 

Posted in Food, Marvelous Morocco, Morocco, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 19 Comments

A Magical Mix: the Medina of Marrakech

A stall filled with pierced metal lighting in the Marrakech medina.

A stall filled with pierced metal lighting in the Marrakech medina.

Shopping is nothing new to Marrakech.  Located at the end of the Salt Road and on the way north to Casablanca and Rabat, visitors have poured into Marrakech for centuries as a place for goods, but mostly a feast for the senses.

I don’t pretend to have seen all of the Marrakech medina, even after three trips.  But I loved what I saw.  From the outside tourist stalls to the winding, skinny unnamed streets that take you past booths filled with everything from antiques to leather goods to basketry and pierced metal lighting, the medina offers an overload of colors, smells, and sounds.

If there’s one piece of advice to pass on, it’s this:  first-timers need a guide.  Negotiating narrow alleyways with sharp turns where stalls can look alike means you can — and probably will — get lost.  After all, you’re rarely focusing on where you’re going.: You’re too busy looking at what’s for sale. My first day in the medina was spent with two women from California, Susan Gaither and Kendra Hodder, who arrived at Jnane Tamsna one day early, as I did, for our Culinary Journey to Morocco with Chef Joanne Weir.

And when you arrive at the medina, there’s more to see than you can imagine.  Like these hands of Fatima, named after the daughter of  the prophet Muhammad.  The hands, our guide told us, are protective signs bringing the owner a sense of safety, happiness, and good luck.

Hands of Fatima offer protection from evil. We all need one, right?

Hands of Fatima offer protection from evil. We all need one, right?

I really had to hold back in this shop offering some of the finest work on inlaid pieces of furniture, hand-painted pottery, and carvings all in rich Moroccan style.

Pottery shops became one of our favorite places as well, but we had a hard time figuring out how to pack blue-and-white painted bowls, platters, and salt cellars into our suitcases to take home.  (Some of us — I’m not saying who —  bought an extra suitcase!)

Lovely painted pottery lined the walls of one stall in the Marrakech medina.

Lovely painted pottery lined the walls of one stall in the Marrakech medina.

Designer clothing hung over our heads in this shop, but the owner willingly brought pieces down to our level to try on or hold up to see if they would fit.

The designer himself was in this clothing shop to take down any items we wanted to try on.

The designer himself was in this clothing shop to take down any items we wanted to try on.

Our guide, Sharif, took us to a basket place that was touristy, but we didn’t mind.  After all, we thought we’d look pretty sassy carrying a Marrakech tote to this beach this summer.

Pom poms and embroidered words on baskets were popular this summer in the Marrakech medina.

Our guide, Sharif, shows Kendra Hodder the popular pompom we saw on baskets and shoes.

But my favorite areas of the medina were the souks where artisans work every day but Friday crafting specialty items by hand.  Families sometimes worked together as this one did in Souk Cherratine where bags, poufs, and coats of camel-skin (most expensive) or goat-hide (more reasonably priced) are made.

This young boy helps his father make leather poufs by cutting out the circles for the bottoms.

This young boy helps his father make leather poufs by cutting out the circles for the bottoms.

This maker of leather poufs took time to pose with two ladies from California.

A maker of leather poufs took time to pose with my friends Susan Gaither and Kendra Hodder from California.

Souk Smata is devoted to traditional leather slippers.  Saffron yellow slippers, we were told, are most popular among adults in Fes.  But we chose some for our grandchildren embellished with pom pom balls.

Yellow slippers all in a row in the Marrakech medina.

Yellow slippers all in a row in the Marrakech medina.

Overhead in the dyers souk (Souk des Tenturiers) you dodge shanks of yarn hanging from rafters or bamboo coverings.   Shopkeepers told us this was cactus silk made from the agave plant.  Whatever it was, it took the rich color of the dye quite well.  And it was here that we found men who actually didn’t mind if we took their picture.  One even posed for the “crazy ladies from the U.S.”

Finally, our guide found us a place to sit down — in a carpet shop.  Little did we know that we would spend two hours watching as men rolled out one Berber after another, letting us know regions of origin or weaving techniques or the meaning of the embedded patterns.  But sitting down felt good.  And we bought rugs we didn’t even know we needed. Not only that, a special treat awaited:  hot mint tea! Let the carpet show begin!

In our last souk of the day, Souk Haddadine, blacksmiths and woodworkers plied their trades in small, small spaces.

On the way out, we stopped by an argan oil shop to watch ladies in traditional dress shell argan nuts from the Argania spinosa tree.  The oil is extracted from the nuts and sold in several forms from lotions to pure oil meant to soften your skin.  A great takeaway from Marrakech.

Shelling argan nuts in the Marrakech medina.

Shelling argan nuts in the Marrakech medina.

Of course, there’s far more in the Marrakech medina.  My next post will feature food (at least the stalls that would allow photos of what they offer) sold within and outside the medina.

Bombarded by the sights and sounds of Marrakech, we headed into the medina to encounter even more sensory overload!

A sight to see: the Marrakech medina!

Colorful stalls, sounds of motorcycles whizzing through winding maze-like alleyways, artisans hard at work  — just another day in Marrakech!

— Rusha Sams

For more pictures of Marrakech, check out my Flickr album: Marrakech 2018:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/placeswesee/albums/72157697015074334

Posted in Marvelous Morocco, Morocco, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

Can you say tagine? Culinary Journey in Morocco begins!

Chefs Joanne Weir and Bahija like what the see!

Chefs Joanne Weir and Bahija like what the see!

If you ask anyone about Moroccan cooking — whether they live in Morocco or somewhere around the world — the person is bound to mention tagine.  A tagine is a cooking vessel with a sort of upside-down-funnel-shaped top that fits tightly on a deep saucer.  It holds an assortment of meats and vegetables, allowing the steam generated from the cooking to rise and caress those meats and veggies in a blending way.  But the word tagine is also used alone to indicate what’s for dinner — as in, “We’re having tagine tonight.” We found tagine dishes in almost every restaurant and riad we visited. So, it’s no wonder that Chef Joanne Weir and Chef Bahija of Jnane Tamsna chose tagine cooking for our first adventure in preparing Moroccan cuisine.

In a charming outdoor “room” with twig lattice walls and covered top, 15 participants in Joane Weir’s Culinary Journey in Morocco 2018 took their seats, picked up their knives and went to work. And I was proud to be among them!

Ready to make chicken tagine in the utdoor classroom at Jnane Tamsna

Ready to make chicken tagine in the utdoor classroom at Jnane Tamsna

The ever-vigilant Jnane Tamsna staff had started the fires of individual cookers on outdoor tables, so we were ready to begin.

Individual cookers for tagine cooking class.

Individual cookers for tagine cooking class.

There are some basics with cooking Chicken Tagine, our menu item for Day 1.  Although there are no required ingredients, we were told that most tagine dishes include a meat like chicken or lamb, spices (mostly salt, pepper, turmeric and saffron), diced red onion, and extra virgin olive oil.  For our chicken tagines, we first chopped red onion and laid it on the bottom of the tagine. Step two involved seasoning the chicken pieces with spices and herbs in various amounts.

Layers of chopped onion, seasoned chicken and spices in a pottery tagine.

Layers of chopped onion, seasoned chicken and spices in a pottery tagine.

Joanne and Bahija explained the types of spices used in Morocco, adding suggestions on how much or how little to use.  But even with their suggestions, we had the leeway to choose our own spices in the amounts we found most satisfying.  (I found that to be true for most of what we cooked during our Culinary Journey: we had the freedom to make the dishes our own.) For my chicken tagine, I went a bit heavy with salt and pepper, lighter on turmeric.  And then I slathered my chicken with cilantro and garlic.  Others ventured out with a blend of spices called ras el hanout.

Vegetables are piled high atop seasoned chicken and chopped onion.

Vegetables are piled high atop seasoned chicken and chopped onion. Do you see little threads of saffron on top?

Next, we added vegetables or fruits to our liking. For a chicken tagine heavy on vegetables, Chef Bahija and Chef Joanne laid out quite the variety:   tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, peppers, fava beans, and olives.  But if you wanted a sweeter tagine, there was something for you as well: apricots, apples, almonds, prunes, dates, raisins and pear.  As I said, your tagine was yours — from the choices you made to how to finely you chopped ingredients and even how you arranged it all into a pile.

And what fun it was! Some even became a bit giddy at this “doable dish.”  After all, the mystique of cooking tagine was over.  This was one dish we could make at home!

The mother-daughter team of Susan Gaither and Kendra Hodder from California had fun showing off their tagines!

The mother-daughter team of Susan Gaither and Kendra Hodder from California had fun showing off their tagines!

After layering the chosen veggies or sweets atop our chicken, we carried our tagines to the cooking table where Chefs Bahija and Joanne added water to each unit.  And the waiting began.

It wasn’t long before the steam inside the pottery tagines had done its magic, converting raw ingredients into a savory or sweet treat.  When all was done, we gathered at an outdoor table to eat what we cooked, thanks to the patience and guidance of our two chefs, Bahija and Joanne.

Chefs Bahija and Joanne making cooking fun in Morocco!

Chefs Bahija and Joanne making cooking fun in Morocco!

Cooking tagine was definitely fun, but so was another custom we learned from our guides.  Every time someone took our picture, we heard this:  “Say Tagine“! (And we smiled, loving this alternative to the “Say Cheese” we’d always heard.) “Say Tagine” became our go-to command whenever we took pictures of our group.  And there was much to smile about in our Culinary Journey in Morocco! Say Tagine,  ladies!

For more information:

Many recipes are included on Chef Joanne Weir’s website.  And be sure to check out Chef Joanne’s schedule of classes at  https://www.joanneweir.com/international-culinary-journeys/ In addition, her TV series Plates and Places can be accessed on Create TV and on Vimeo.

Jnane Tamsna, a boutique hotel near Marrakech, was the site of Culinary Journey in Morocco 2018.  

See photos of Culinary Journey in Morocco 2018 on Flicker.com/photos/placeswesee

 

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True Moroccan style with a sense of calm: Jnane Tamsna

Dramatic palm trees grace the arched entrance to one of the houses at Jnane Tamsna.

Dramatic palm trees grace the arched entrance to one of the houses at Jnane Tamsna.

As the driver pulled onto the property known as Jnane Tamsna, I could immediately feel as if a true Moroccan adventure were unfolding before me.  Jnane Tamsna is like no other resort or boutique hotel in Morocco — or maybe anywhere — thanks to the impeccable design sense of its owner MeryAnne Loum-Martin, a lawyer from Senegal who studied in Paris.  Together with her husband Dr. Gary Martin, a American ethnobotanist and founder of the Global Diversity Foundation, MeryAnne created an oasis near Marrakech that is now the only black female owned hotel in Morocco.  With its 24 rooms spread among five houses on nine acres, Jnane Tamsna has opened its doors, according to Essence magazine, to Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Giorgio Armani, and Donna Karen, but was my home for a week-long Culinary Journey in Morocco led by San Francisco chef Joanne Weir.

The simple yet dramatic entrance to Jnane Tamsna.

The simple yet dramatic entrance to Jnane Tamsna.

The sense of calm is evident upon arrival.  With a single palm at the entrance, a series of archways led me through the simple, yet elegant main entrance complete with roses floating in a crystal bowl sitting upon a typical Moroccan inlaid chest.   An open book on another invited me to register as a guest.

Floating roses atop an inlaid chest invite guests in for a stay at Jnane Tamsna.

Floating roses atop an inlaid chest invite guests in for a stay at Jnane Tamsna.

The living room became a favorite for me and others with its velvet chairs, indigenous art, and soft lighting.

Gathering room at Jnane Tamsna

Gathering room at Jnane Tamsna

An alcove in the main room invites guests to spend a private moment sipping mint tea offered upon arrival.  And books stacked willy-nilly make anyone feel right at home.

Comfortable alcove flanked by bookshelves invite guests into the main room at Jnane Tamsna.

Comfortable alcove flanked by bookshelves invite guests into the main room at Jnane Tamsna.

Outside, gathering places remain intimate, offering a respite from the jangle of the crowded souks in downtown Marrakech.

Favorite outdoor lounging area with painted tryptych and carved wood panel.

Favorite outdoor lounging area with painted tryptych and carved wood panel.

A stroll through the gardens reveals native plants marked for ready identification. Natural pathways offer closer looks, especially if they’re bordered by twig trellises and blooming bougainvillea, but they’re also where guests wind down on their way to beautiful lodging rooms.

Some of the houses offer spots for gathering. With their Moroccan furnishings — tapestries, weighty furniture, patterned rugs — guests take in the sensory stimuli reminiscent of the beauty of the area.

An outdoor gathering spot takes in the afternoon sun through the vine-covered archways.

An outdoor gathering spot takes in the afternoon sun through the vine-covered archways.

Indoor gathering spot with red patterned accessories: Jnane Tamsna

Indoor gathering spot with red patterned accessories:

Three rooms that I visited were all different.  Painted a deep purplish red, one room was a study in contrasts: cream-colored floor-to-ceiling curtains hung loosely and a patterned rug offered more texture and design.

In another, twin beds under a lush canopy awaited guests and offered a sprig of rosemary on the pillows.

Adding drama to this suite called Calligraphie for its frieze of Arabic writing near the ceiling, was an African garment displayed at the end of an arched hallway.

A third room held a welcoming basket of freshly-picked flowers.

Dining, too, is an experience at Jnane Tamsna.  At one end of the back dining room hangs a colorful, patterned textile and multiple framed portraits. On the ceiling, twigs woven into a grid form a nature-inspired covering.

It’s no wonder that people book Jnane Tamsna for special occasions — wedding receptions, reunions, corporate retreats, cooking schools, and the like.  After all, who wouldn’t want to dine at tables set under the trees overlooking an elegant pool?

Dinner setting under the trees.

Dinner setting under the trees.

Of course, the real treat at Jnane Tamsna is the cadre of people who are ready to serve, to answer questions, to guide you in your travels, and to make you feel at home in this serene oasis right outside Marrakech.  I hope you’ll follow along as I share glimpses of my Culinary Journey in Morocco 2018 with Chef Joanne Weir.  You can’t help but feel the calm and fall in love with the setting that, to me, was the best introduction to Morocco anyone could have.

At the final banquet: Chef Joanne Weir and MeryAnne Loum-Martin

At the final banquet: Chef Joanne Weir and MeryAnne Loum-Martin

For more information:

Jnane Tamsna, Douar Abiad, Palmeraie, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco; +212 5243-28484; jnanetamsna.com

Stunning photos: Follow on Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/jnanetamsna/

Please join me in this Travel Series: Marvelous Morocco as I share with you experiences from Culinary Journey in Morocco 2018 with Chef Joanne Weir and my travel experiences afterward with my husband Bert as we journeyed to Ouarzazate, the Sahara, Fes, Chefchaouen, and Tangier.  Our organizer for the trip was Lauren Medley Gunnels with Ortelius Travel Advisors.   — Rusha Sams

Posted in Marvelous Morocco, Morocco | Tagged , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Taking a Travel Break: Headed to Morocco

Well, we’re itching to travel again — this time to Morocco.  And the idea originated with a friend’s suggestion to take a course in Moroccan cooking from San Francisco chef Joanne Weir.  Chef Weir travels to international destinations conducting week-long adventures in sightseeing, shopping, and cooking the cuisine of the area.  Her new TV show, Plates and Places, can be seen on the Create Channel, or you can access videos of her shows through Vimeo. I’ll be with three former educators from Knoxville learning the art of cooking Moroccan dishes in Marrakech for one week.

After cooking school ends, Bert will join me for a travel adventure arranged by Lauren Gunnels, owner of Ortelius Travel.  Lauren has arranged for us to visit the medina, souks, and mosques of Marrakech; tour Ouarzazate and the World Heritage site Ait Ben Haddou; ride to Erg Chebbi, the largest dunes in the Sahara; shop the artisan workshops of Fes; photograph Chefchaouen, a blue lime-washed town; and walk through the medina in Tangier.

The blue-washed walls of Chefchaouen

The blue-washed walls of Chefchaouen

As always, one of our sources of information has been bloggers who have traveled this pathway before.  One site has been especially inspiring:  Image Earth Travel, a photography and travel blog by Nilla Palmer.  Nilla’s photos have inspired us to look at the people and places that contribute to the fascinating culture of Morocco, and we hope to capture some of the same colorful richness of the area that she shares on her blog.

Although we may not be able to respond to your comments for a while due to limited internet access, Oh, the Places We See will return in June ready to share the sights and sounds of a country with much to see.  In the meantime, keep us in your thoughts that our travels will be safe as well as richly rewarding.

We will be posting pictures on Instagram when we have WiFi service:  https://www.instagram.com/rushasams/

Thanks for following!

Rusha Sams

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A Place in the World: Pawleys Beach at Dawn

Pre-dawn view of Pawleys Pier from the Sea View Inn.

Pre-dawn view of Pawleys Pier from the Sea View Inn.

It’s just been in recent years that I’ve chosen to get up before dawn.  Oh, I did it before retirement, of course — to soothe a waking baby, to catch an early flight, or to set up a conference room for a morning meeting.  But now, I can choose to see dawn unfolding. And nowhere do I love it better than on the beach at Pawleys Island, South Carolina.

Quiet time before sun-up

Quiet time before sun-up

Recently, we stayed a few days at the Sea View Inn, one of the few remaining Old South bed and breakfasts that serve three low-country meals each day.  So getting up meant having time for myself in my place in the world without even having to make coffee. It was there, each and every morning, hot and ready for the taking, even before dawn.

Bathed in early morning light, the Sea View Inn on Pawleys Island.

Bathed in early morning light, the Sea View Inn on Pawleys Island.

Before the guests awake:  Sea View Inn

Before the guests awake: Sea View Inn

I left the porch and moved slowly down the beach, passing houses whose windows were lit with morning glow.

Greeting the sun at Pawleys Island.

Greeting the sun at Pawleys Island.

With salmon tones in the background from the almost-up sun, Pawleys Pier jutted out to greet the seas and make ready for sunny days.

Pink light before dawn at Pawleys Pier

Pink light before dawn at Pawleys Pier

Colors changed from smoky pink to peach and orange with a hint of yellow, but just a hint . . .

Orange skies replace pink as the sun's stonger colors come into play.

Orange skies replace pink as the sun’s stonger colors come into play.

until the sun peeked over the horizon, bathing all in early-morning glow.

At Pawleys, I never take dawn for granted.  Never ask for clear skies or cloudy ones with interesting configurations.  Come what may, it’s my place — albeit a temporary one —  just as it is.

To see places loved by other writers, check out WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Place in the World.

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Welcoming in so many ways: The doors of Castine, Maine

We’re not the first nor the only ones to declare Castine a tucked-away gem along the scenic coast of Maine.  Joining us in affirming the charm of this historic Down East hamlet  is Yankee magazine who named Castine one of the 10 Prettiest Coastal Towns in Maine. So it was with great pleasure that we took to walking the streets — not just to immerse ourselves in the ambiance of this tiny but impressive town, but also to look longingly (and enviously) at the architecture and doors of the village.

A Pinterest favorite is this home surrounded by trees of autumn splendor standing in the square of Castine.

A Pinterest favorite is this home surrounded by trees of autumn splendor standing in the square of Castine.

Our typical morning in Castine found us up before dawn, standing at Acadia Dock to greet the sun, and then hiking uphill to the open door (at 7 a.m. no less) of MarKel’s Bakehouse where the smell of hot-from-the-oven blueberry muffins and rich quiches greeted “the regulars” and visitors like us who quickly made friends.

Open for business: MarKel's Bakehouse near the Castine harbor

Open for business: MarKel’s Bakehouse near the Castine harbor

It would be easy to typify this town of predominately white clapboard homes as just another seaside village. But with the British, French, and Dutch all vying for dominance of Castine’s location at the mouth of the Penobscot Bay and settling troops and families in the village, the architecture took on a decidedly European look with embellishments not seen in other coastal Maine towns.  Some white homes in Castine boast painted doors.

But it’s not all white houses in Castine.  Colorful homes as well dot the landscape. Under renovation, this deep red home faces Water Street but opens its back to the beauty of the bay. Here are a few we loved.

Looking a bit like a fixer upper, this deep red beauty gets new doors and updated interior.

Looking a bit like a fixer upper, this deep red beauty gets new doors and updated interior.

Swaths of gray mark the age of this shingled beauty that blends in with the landscape.

At water's edge, a grey-shingled home greets the morning fog.

At water’s edge, a grey-shingled home greets the morning fog.

Dating back to 1796, this home is considered one of the oldest, if not THE oldest, in Castine. Its doorway remains one of its prettiest features, yet one of its darkest.

European styling with stone, plaster, and timber combined in the exterior.

European styling with stone, plaster, and timber combined in the exterior.

An inset door flanked by shutters and benches on the oldest cottage in Castine.

An inset door flanked by shutters and benches on the oldest cottage in Castine.

A few buildings are used for teaching and demonstrating crafts of yesteryear — like this place for blacksmithing with a distinctive red door.

Open only during summer months, this building houses equipment for blacksmithing.

Open only during summer months, this building houses equipment for blacksmithing.

Some cottages are quaint . . .

Gray cottage with black door

Gray cottage with black door

Yellow two-story with framed doorway

Yellow two-story with framed doorway

while others are quite elegant surrounded by walkways, hedges and formal gardens.

Elegant home and former antique shop -- one of the prettiest in Castine

Elegant home and former antique shop — one of the prettiest in Castine

But even among the finest, the largest, the cutest, and so forth, we found a favorite:  a simple, white Cape Cod with red door and stone wall facing the water.  Oh, to have a cup of coffee while sitting in the front window watching the boats sail past.

House with red door and rock fence facing Penobscot Bay

House with red door and rock fence facing Penobscot Bay

You know it’s Castine when even the typical becomes the extraordinary.

Every week, you can find more doors at Norm’s Thursday Doors.

 

 

 

Posted in Autumn Down East, Maine, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 19 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lines in Cinque Terre

As we stood with our tour group in Cinque Terre to listen to our guide, we couldn’t help but notice other lines in the landscape.  From clotheslines holding towels on colorful balconies . . .

Towels drying on the line: Cinque Terre

Towels drying on the line: Cinque Terre

to boats lined up and waiting at the base of the famous postcard-pretty hillside where small apartments and houses vie for space on the mountainside.

Boats lined up in Manarola

Boats lined up in Manarola

Half-opened shutters exposed their lines to the morning sun.

Green shutters:  Cinque Terre

Green shutters: Cinque Terre

And wavy lines of umbrellas shaded bathers on a crowded coast

Umbrellas on the beach:  Cinque Terre

Umbrellas on the beach: Cinque Terre

while two churches stood out among other buildings with their  distinguished lined facades.

A lined facade in Cinque Terre

A lined facade in Cinque Terre

Distinctive entrance:  church in Cinque Terre

Distinctive entrance: church in Cinque Terre

Find more lines — straight and curvy —  at Weekly Photo Challenge: Lines.

 

Posted in Destination, Italy, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , , , | 21 Comments