Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Dr. Plotnick's Moroccan Cat Adventure - Day 3 – Marrakech

Morocco Day 3 (Day 1 Day 2)

I started my Saturday in Morocco with our riad’s lavish rooftop terrace breakfast, only this time I was joined by the resident cat. 

Soon afterward, we were joined by the neighborhood tomcat, who hopped onto the terrace from a nearby rooftop, and made himself at home in the covered seating area on the terrace.  

Yesterday we explored sites in the northern part of Marrakech’s medina.  Today, we were going to check out the happenings in the southern part. 

We headed west (our usual direction) toward the Jemma el Fna, and then turned left and continued south, past the Koutoubia mosque, down Rue de Bab Agnaou.  In a few minutes, we arrived at the impressive gate itself: Bab Agnaou, the most beautiful city gate.  It’s the only one built of stone.

The gate leads to a complex that houses the Saadian Tombs.

Before entering, I saw a few people milling about, enjoying the antics of a very cute kitten.

The 66 royal tombs housed here are from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, but were kept hidden from the outside world until the 1920s. The complex is relatively small, but has lots of carved cedar, stucco, and nice tiles. Here’s a picture showing all three:

We passed through the main chamber where some of the tiled tombs were visible.

The serene garden had a bunch of tombs, and couple of cute kittens.

I caught this little one napping.

I made a little noise, and she looked up, and I snagged this nice portrait of her. 

Here’s another cute one hanging out in the garden

This entryway off the garden shows some of the elaborate carved cedar.

The highlight was the Hall of Twelve Columns, which holds the tombs of the Sultan Ahmed El Mansour, along with his entire family.

The stele is made of finely worked cedar and stucco. 

The graves are made from Carrara marble from Italy.  On the way out, I spotted (and played with) this little calico/tabby.

About a block south from the tombs, on Rue de Kasbah, was a real local market.  This was authentic Marrakech; I don’t think I saw any tourists here at all. People were buying mint;

they use a ton of mint in the mint tea, which they drink like coffee here. There were lots of vegetable sellers as well.  

Many Moroccans dislike being photographed or filmed. I wanted to catch the vibrancy of the market on film, so to be inconspicuous, I took a video with the camera discreetly held by my hip.  It’s a little shaky, but it came out okay.  Toward the end, in the covered part of the market, on the left you can briefly see a butcher stall. Hanging from a hook is a lamb carcass, I believe.  Pinned to the lamb carcass is a testicle, indicating that it’s a male.  Male meat is considered more desirable than female meat. (No shocker there, in an Arab country.)

Close by the Saadian Tombs was the Badia Palace.

This 16th century palace used to be the mansion of Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour, and was once one of the world’s most impressive monuments, until it was ransacked by Moulay Ismail in the 17th century, to help him complete his own palace at Meknes. It took armies of laborers and craftsmen 25 years to complete.  There was a massive pool with an island flanked by four sunken gardens (which is still visible). The place was so huge and amazing that it took 12 years to ransack the place.  All that survives there now are the denuded mudbrick ruins.  The most interesting part of the visit are the storks who build their nests on the protrusions in the crumbling walls.  An old Berber belief that storks are actually transformed humans has rendered the storks holy here. I took this cool picture showing some of them on a nest, visible through a window in the wall.

The initial entryway had some nice floor tile.  Here’s some tile, with a cat sleeping in the shade nearby.

Some tiled steps lead to a roof terrace which gives sweeping views over the place.

You can see the swimming pool, and the sunken gardens flanking them. There really isn’t much to see, I have to say.  All I could do was imagine the place as it used to be, with walls and ceilings encrusted in gold and mosaic. Here’s another view of the pool,

 and of the sunken garden.  

Yawn.  I shouldn’t complain; it was a nice sunny day, and I did get to see a bunch of cool stork nests

and on the way out, I saw another kitty, munching on a piece of meat that had been tossed to her by the security guard. 

Another act of kindness toward kitties here.

Right nearby the Badii Palace is a very cute, picturesque little square, the Place des Ferblantiers.

Most of the shops on the square are run by artisans to work with glass and metal to create lamps and lanterns.

Sitting by one of the shops was this very pretty calico cat.

 I called her over and she came right over and let me hold her. 

The owner of the shop saw Mark taking the photo of me holding the cat.  After I put the cat down, I went to take one more photo of the cat, and the owner came over, and in perfect English said that it cost 20 dirhams to take a photo of the cat!  I said to him, angrily, “Cut me a break! I am NOT paying you ANYTHING for a picture of your cat!” and stormed away.  Seeing that I was ticked off, and knowing that it’s not a good idea to tick off a potential customer, he quickly said that he was kidding. It didn’t matter.  There was no way now that I would ever buy anything from him.  Sheesh.  I saw this other really nice looking cat in the plaza, too. 

We were going to eat at a restaurant in the corner of the square that was recommended in my guide book, but it just looked too touristy.  There was a restaurant just around the corner with a clientele that looked mostly like locals, so we ate there, and it was great.

Nearby to the Badii Palace is the similar sounding Bahia Palace. 

Bahia means “beautiful”, and it definitely was.  The palace features floor to ceiling decoration begun by Grand Visier Si Moussa in the 1860s, and then later embellished from 1894 to 1900.  The ceilings are amazing, with inlaid woodwork that elicits a “wow” from the visitors. After you go through the entryway, you walk up a long, tree-lined path to the palace.  I spotted this tree with four cats chilling beneath it.

A few feet away, a tourist was playing with a totally adorable orange kitten.  You can see this at the top of the photo.  I spotted the kitten on the way out.  Cutest thing ever!  As for the kitties under the tree, it was frustrating.  I went to check them out, and one of them had a really snotty nose; mucus was just pouring from it.

  A simple course of antibiotics would almost certainly have cleared this up.  Sigh.  I gave him some food.

The palace itself had some incredible features.  After you walk though a peaceful courtyard,

you walk through a lovely garden,

and then, the breathtaking handiwork.  Look at this ceiling!

 This one is equally stunning and intricate.

I like this one, with the Arabic calligraphy.

The colors and the detail were truly mesmerizing. 

Back out in the garden, I saw a mother cat and her one kitten.

She was being a good mom, looking after the kitten and grooming it.  I picked up the kitten and saw that it had some pretty nasty conjunctivitis, so once again, out came the antibiotic eye drops.  

As we were leaving, I saw the kitten that another visitor was playing with when we first entered the palace.

This kitten was one of the cutest that I had encountered on the entire trip.  Look how cute!

Hopefully the kitten’s mother was nearby, because this kitten couldn’t have been more than five or six weeks old.

Dar Si Said is a 19th century palace that is now a museum.  They have an interesting collection of antique Moroccan crafts including pottery, jewelry, daggers, carpets and leatherwork.  That was our next destination. We figured hey, we may never be in Morocco again, admission to museums here is very cheap (I don’t think any place was more than 10 dirhams, which is about $1.23), and I never get tired of the spectacular mosaics and tile work.  The walk there was interesting, taking us through colorful shopping areas that show off the handmade Berber rugs,

a rainbow of spices,  

and leather stalls with their multicolored offerings. 

 I took this cool picture of a cat resting under a watermelon cart. 

We finally found Dar Si Said.  

 They did indeed have a collection of leather and embroidery, but the exhibits themselves were boringly displayed, I thought.

 The ceilings

 and the tiles 

 made up for it, though.  Check out this beautiful arched doorway.  

You can see some of the pottery displayed in the room beyond.  The real highlight is the salon upstairs.  It’s a somber room, with beautiful old doors 

zellij tile walls, 

and a stunning carved cedar ceiling painted in the zouak style   (bright colors in intricate patterns.)

No one picture can really capture it all, but here are two amazing photos.

Heading back to our riad, I passed this old Moroccan gentleman sleeping. I thought he made for a compelling photo. 

We prepared for a great dinner.  Weeks before our trip, I made reservations at Al Fassia, one of the best restaurants in Marrakech. 

The restaurant is outside the medina, in the Gueliz neighborhood.  It is run entirely by women.  They offer a la carte items rather than the typical set menu that almost all other places offer.  Getting there by cab required the usual annoying haggling. The décor inside was upscale and lovely.

Alcohol is prohibited in Morocco, and restaurants do not usually serve it, but Al Fassia does.  We had a Casablanca, the only beer brewed in Morocco.  

For starters, we had the pastilla, again filled with pigeon. 

I had a lamb and prune tagine, which was served with the fluffiest, tastiest couscous.  Mark had skewers of beef, chicken and lamb over rice.  The food was truly fantastic.  For dessert, I ordered ice-cream, which came out in two scoops, with an orange-glazed cookie.  When it arrived, Mark and I both agreed that the presentation of the dessert was interesting, to say the least.  Very interesting.

This was our first venture out of the medina into the “ville nouvelle”.  We were amazed.  It’s a regular big city! Modern buildings, neon lights, cars, 

fancy restaurants, 

cool shopping plazas, 

and other, um, fine dining...  

It was really eye-opening.  We didn’t see much of it, but it really made us wonder if this could ever be the kind of place we could live.  We both love big cities, and whenever we travel, we always ask each other, if push came to shove, could we survive here?  Rome, yes.  Amsterdam, yes.  Paris, yes.  Copenhagen, probably not.  Helsinki, no.  Stockholm, probably.  Marrakech?  We didn’t see enough of the ville nouvelle to be able to say, but as a gay couple in a Muslim country… um, no.  Still, we were impressed. 

Tomorrow is the big day-trip to the coastal fishing port of Essaouira!

Day 4
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