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 , , , , , | 23 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.

Posted in Marvelous Morocco, Morocco, Retail Shops, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

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 , , , , , | 7 Comments

Memories of Marrakech: Shoe Fetish

There’s nothing dark and mysterious in the medina of Marrakech, especially if you’re in the apparel section.  Shoe stalls literally screamed color.

Cramming hand-made leather slippers onto the walls of tiny nooks must take patience and skill, but every shoe stall was packed to overflowing.

All lined up: Yellow shoes in the Marrakech medina

All lined up: Yellow shoes in the Marrakech medina

From pom-poms to fancy stitches to pointy toes, the shoes of Marrakech were not to be denied. And yellow ones took center stage in many displays.  My favorite:  the ones made of cut-up rugs, or at least that what they looked like to me!  But all were picture-worthy (if you could get permission to snap away)!

For more on Marvelous Morocco, click here.

Posted in Destination, Marvelous Morocco, Morocco, Retail Shops | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

Memories of Marrakech: Getting around.

Old meets new as a man in traditional Moroccan dress chats with a friend in motorcycle attire.

Old meets new as a man in traditional Moroccan dress chats with a friend in motorcycle attire.

We’re people watchers (especially when we travel), fascinated by how people work, worship, and live in countries other than our own.  And in Marrakech, how people move from one place to another was in stark contrast to how we get around in the U.S.  Rarely did we see cars in lanes (lines on the street were merely a suggestion in some places), and ingenuity ruled the day as far as transportation went.  People got around any way they could — from carts to motorcycles to bikes to skate boards.  Here are a few glimpses of transportation, Marrakech style.

Horse-drawn carriages

Not just for tourists in Jemaa el-Fnaa.  Locals hopped on, too.

Mostly it's tourists who ride in horse-drawn carriages, but locals use them as well, especially in Jemaa el-Fnaa.

Donkeys with carts

Piled high and to the breaking point.

Donkeys pulling carts were the norm for those who needed help with deliveries.

Donkeys alone

Waiting to deliver the goods, a donkey stands tethered in a Marrakech marketplace.

Waiting to deliver the goods, a donkey stands tethered in a Marrakech marketplace.

Carts piled high

Adding a third wheel actually doubles what you can haul!

Adding a third wheel means you can add a cart to a cycle -- double duty, double efficiency.

Carts piled low

Have flatbed, will deliver — open and airy transportation, for sure.

Give me a flatbed, and I'll deliver you some produce -- open and airy transportation, for sure.

And carts filled to overflowing!

No comment needed.  We have no idea how people negotiate mile-high loads!

Walking gets you there. 

Ladies at Koutoubia Mosque get around by foot — possibly the most expedient way in crowded tourist areas.

Ladies at Koutoubia Mosque: Walking won out as most common way of getting around, especially in the areas where tourists want to see the sites.

And so does riding.

A cyclist whizzing by?  Not following the lanes?  Just another day in the streets of the medina.

A motorcyclist speeds through the crowds of the Marrakech medina -- and no one seems fazed at all!

But at the end of the day, a cart can be anything you want it to be.

For more of Marvelous Morocco, check it out here!

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Memories of Marrakech: Mats at Koutoubia

 

Mats laid out for the Call to Prayer at Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech

Mats laid out for the Call to Prayer at Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech

Since we love the brevity and pop of Instagram, we’ve decided to share — in short bursts of photography — a few images that have stayed with us after a visit to the colorful, exotic city of Marrakech in a series titled Memories of Marrakech.  Here’s the first one:  The Mats at Koutoubia Mosque.

Mats laid out end to end on an area adjacent to Koutoubia.

Prayer mats laid out end to end on an area adjacent to Koutoubia.

Koutoubia Mosque is a central landmark of Marrakech, a place where tour guides begin an explanation of the city and its people.  We marveled at the sandstone and brick architecture, the horseshoe windows, and multifoil arches.  And we were fascinated by the fact that the first mosque built on the site had an error in orientation — those who prayed on the plaza surrounding Koutoubia really weren’t facing Mecca as they should be doing.  A new mosque soon took the place of the first “disoriented” one.

But what we found most fascinating during Ramadan (when we visited) were the dozens and dozens of mats all lined up ready for Call to Prayer.  It’s an image that has stuck with us ever since.  Although we never witnessed people praying, we could imagine how the plaza might look with so many devout worshipers in one place.  Definitely a focal point for Marrakech and this cultural, religious center of town.

Ready for Call to Prayer!

Ready for Call to Prayer!

We hope you’ll check out our whole series:  Marvelous Morocco!

— Rusha and Bert Sams

Posted in Marvelous Morocco, Morocco, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

For a night in Marrakech: Riad Les Yeux Bleus

 

Looking down into the courtyard of Riad Les Yeux Bleus, Marrakech.

Looking down into the courtyard of Riad Les Yeux Bleus, Marrakech.

Although I’ve heard from many people traveling to Marrakech that it’s difficult to book a night at Riad Les Yeux Bleus, but please give it a shot as early as you can.  Near all the action of the city yet in a very quiet place, Riad Les Yeux Bleus is tucked away in the medina only ten minutes from Jemaa el Fna and offers all the luxury you’d ever want in a Moroccan riad.

Places for relaxation, sipping mint tea, and swimming -- all in the courtyard at Riad Les Yeux Bleus.

Places for relaxation, sipping mint tea, and swimming — all in the courtyard at Riad Les Yeux Bleus.

A riad is a traditional Moroccan house with an interior courtyard or garden.  Riad Les Yeux Bleus takes advantage of its open-air space by flanking a crystal clear pool with lounge chairs and tables where afternoon tea or cocktails await. As you might expect, heavily carved doors open to the courtyard adorned with tall, leafy plants and colorful Moroccan tiles.  But the unexpected is also quite nice — like lush banquettes offering a quiet respite for two or a group meeting for a party of four or five.

Alcoves and lounge chairs offer luxurious relaxation at Riad Les Yeux Bleus.

Alcoves and lounge chairs offer luxurious relaxation at Riad Les Yeux Bleus.

In good weather, the rooftop is the place to be — ample seating in clay-colored decor bounded by the exotic fronds and colorful flowers you’ve come to love in Morocco.

But no matter what you do at Riad Les Yeux Bleus, don’t miss dinner where you are seated among layers of patterns and colors and served Morocca specialities on a silver platter.

Dinner is served at Riad Les Yeux Bleus

Dinner is served at Riad Les Yeux Bleus

It’s comfortable in this romantic room off the courtyard where rich colors of Moroccan rugs contrast with white columns and tablecloths.  Elegant.  Simple.  And oh, so Moroccan.

Elegant dining at Riad Les Yeux Bleus

Elegant dining at Riad Les Yeux Bleus

And the dishes just keep coming — Moroccan specialties like salads, brochettes, and pastilles made of fresh ingredients (bought at markets in the medina, perhaps?). You’ll be happy your stay for the night is just around the corner in this intimate eight-room riad.

For convenience, impeccable service, authentic decor, and bountiful repasts, book a room at Riad Les Yeux Bleus.  But do it soon.  You won’t want to stay anywhere else if the medina’s shopping and hubbub are what you’re in Marrakech to see!

Loving the service and surroundings at beautiful Riad Les Yeux Bleus.

Loving the service and surroundings at beautiful Riad Les Yeux Bleus.

— Rusha Sams

More posts on Marvelous Morroco are only one click away.

 

Posted in Hotels, Marvelous Morocco, Morocco, Stay the Night | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

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