Sunday, April 4, 2010

Things we do for fun!

This might be the first blog post I've ever done on time! It's just a short bit on the things we do in between vacations. A couple of weeks ago, Lisa and I were hanging around when I thought we should go bowling, because bowling is fun. So we called up some of our friends and asked if they wanted to go. Because our friends are awesome, they did. We met at the bowling alley, which had a deal on two games and a drink. We got on our awesome bowling shoes and got a lane and went for it. It was a ton of fun, though none of us are particularly good. A few of us broke 100. Still, a game with friends is never bad. Here's Lisa, bowling a split:

In Rouen, the museums are free during the school vacation, so we thought we'd take advantage of that. There's a cool place called the Musée des Antiquités, which has lots of neat old stuff in it. But outside, there was an awesome fountain that I'd never seen before.

They had a courtyard in the museum, with some sculptures and stuff.

They had some cool stained glass windows, which left amazing shadows when the sun came out.

Today, Easter Sunday, we had a pancake and mimosa brunch with some friends. It was a great success, we had all sorts of yummy stuff to eat and drink, including Vermont maple syrup (thanks David & Margaret!) Lots of fun. A couple of pictures:

Hooray for fun!

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Nice Weekend

When rich old English people used to get sick, their doctors prescribed a nice vacation on the Riviera. So after a couple weeks back in Normandy, in the cold and rain and wind, I too was ready for one of those prescriptions. Unfortunately, my doctor couldn't do that. Luckily, my bank account could. Lisa and I bought tickets leaving Paris Friday night, and we were ready! The train was a night train, taking 10 hours, but it had some cool stuff. First, we went all out on first class tickets. An extra 5 Euros each, well spent if you ask me. The seats are bigger, it's quieter, and it's a lot more comfortable if you're long like me. Stretching out was a huge benefit. They also had party cars, with a live DJ and lights and a bar. Pretty awesome stuff. Not much to look at though, until the morning. And what a thing to wake up to. Lisa discovered that the view out of the other side was this:

This is a good way to start the day if you ask me. The train followed the coast for quite a while, so we built up a lot of excitement watching the sun reflecting off the sea, seeing palm trees, and scattered beaches. Hooray warmth and sunshine and other things Normandy doesn't have! We arrived at the train station around 830 in the morning, giving us a full day to explore. We had a short walk to the hotel, which is cheap AND amazing. It's one block from the beach, behind one of the most famous hotels in all of Nice. Seriously, you can't ask for anything better. We arrived, paid our dues, and received a nice clean room, some tourist literature and a map. Our host was nice enough to pencil in a few of the more important things and areas on the map; thusly armed, we wanted to go out. However, a long night on a train doesn't leave one in the cleanest condition, so we showered and dressed and went out hunting pastries.

Upon successful completion of our mission, I wanted to go to the Promenade des Anglais. It's a great walkway along the beach, and it runs for miles. Everyone goes there on the weekends, so we did too. It's sunny, there's a nice sea breeze, and lots to see. We walked on the beach as well, which is pebbly. I played around in the water because I have to, Lisa watched. In the early afternoon, we decided that a nice sit wouldn't go amiss, nor a coffee. So we found a little cafe and prepared to pay out the nose. It didn't turn out to be too bad, so that was a pleasant surprise. The view is never bad.

I also had a beer; it was cold and I was warm, and besides, I'm on vacation. Since the promenade continued, we did too. There were some people on the beach, enjoying the sun. Here's a shot looking back towards the main beach:

I love the color of the water. It doesn't look like that in Le Havre. If you look closely at the left side of the picture, you can see a pink dome on one of the buildings. That's the Hotel Negresco, which sits between our hotel and the beach. Nice place, bit out of my price range though.

So we continued walking along the promenade, and it rounded a point and sort of ended. On the other side of the point sits the Monument Aux Morts, to the soldiers who died in the world wars. It's pretty awesome, especially when you're close to it.

After passing the monument, we found one of the harbors. There are a lot of small restaurants around it, plenty of houses and Notre Dame.

It's fascinating how many different styles of church there are in France. This felt a lot more like a Roman building than a church, which isn't surprising as the Italian border is about 20 miles to the east. And as pretty as it was, it didn't fill our stomachs, so we stopped at a nice restaurant and ordered some pizzas. A bit pricey but delicious. Just what a couple of intrepid and bold explorers needed. Sated, we enjoyed the view; the buildings in Nice have a much different color scheme. It's very warm, there are lots of orange and red hues, often muted; I do not know if this is intentional or from the sun. Here's one such building, adorned nicely:

I could stand to live there, I think. We headed down into the harbor to look at some of the boats. There were lots of cute little sailboats, some fishing boats, and a few yachts. Ah! I bought a boat! There was this great boat for sale, not too pricey, and honestly, why wouldn't I? I've since canceled my return flight and will be taking this home:

I'm thinking of keeping it in Nantucket for the summer. You're all welcome to come down for a little putt around the harbor.

As afternoon was settling in, we decided to head back towards downtown Nice. The hill that the Monument Aux Morts is carved into has some paths winding up it, so we hiked up to get the view. There are a few buildings and ruins there, and some awesome mosaics.

On the other side of the hill, you can see Nice spread out before you. It's very pretty, especially in the sun. I really understand why people like it here.

There's also a waterfall near the top, which looks amazing from down below but is just as cool when you're under it. I had a blast taking pictures here, trying out the different modes on my camera. Water offers so many possibilities.

We then headed down as we were getting hungry; a quick trip to the supermarket fixed us up. We bought some snacks and drinks (read:beer) and went to the beach. Not a bad way to cap off the day.

The morning we decided that we would do a little bit of wandering through Nice proper. After our daily stroll down the Promenade, we headed through a park that cuts into the city. There were tons of awesome fountains and statues and palm trees.

Soon thereafter, we came to an open square. There were tram lines, crazy groundwork, and weird modern art...things. They're little light up people on top of poles, and they light up in different colors and rotate through. It's really cool at night.

Lisa wanted to look for some restaurants she wanted to go to, but they were unfortunately closed as it was still the off season. Though there were many cool things to see, our stomachs once again dictated that we find food, so we stopped into a little bakery with some amazing sandwiches. Lisa bought one that is a specialty of Nice, it's got a very odd mix of foods in it. Because you're never far from the beach in Nice, we walked towards it for another picnic. Back on the promenade, we'd found that many fences had been erected and there were tents and vehicles and lots more people than usual. That Sunday was actually the end of the Paris to Nice bike race. Lisa asked a nice man when it ended, and he said around 2PM. So we wandered through the crowds looking for a good place to relax. I took this shot of the opera house on the way:

Ah, and here's why we really came:

Relaxing on the beach in the sun. Life is sooooo good.

After working on our tans (because we forgot sunscreen and it is prohibitively expensive in France), we headed down towards the finishing line for the bike race. Here's a video of the winner and other really insanely good bikers. GO BIKERS GO!

After cheering and watching for a while, we again walked down the Promenade. Sensing a pattern here? I decided that we ought to prove that we were actually there, so here's Lisa enjoying Nice.

After, we decided to hit up the Old City. It's a lot of narrow streets and little squares and tiny shops. There was a great little church in one of the squares. How Mediterranean.

Also in the square was a small gelato shop that had more flavors than I could count. I think it must have be at least 50. Given the wide variety of flavors, I decided to try something weird, like...cactus. It's not bad, it's just different. Tasted kind of sweet

As the sun began to set, we found a nice restaurant that we thought we'd try, so we went back to change and clean up, because we dress up at the drop of a hat. It's fun!

On the way, we came across this statue of Nike, the Winged Goddess of Victory that Nice is named after. Between that and the colors of the sky, I couldn't resist. I'm such a sucker for photos like this.

And in the fading light, a photo of the Negresco.

Dinner was fantastic. Unfortunately there are no photos, but I had some rabbit with garlic paste and toast for an appetizer while Lisa began with watercress soup. For the main course, Lisa dined on pork medallions with sage and I had some type of fish (I've sadly forgotten) in cider sauce. We split a bottle of wine as well. All in all, one of the tastier dinners I've had this year. Everything was perfect. Lisa had tiramisu for dessert, while I finished off the night with licorice crème brûlée. I think Tracy would be proud. It wasn't exactly what you'd call a cheap night out on the town, but if you're going to play jet-set, you can't skimp on the food. And I'd pay every penny to do it again.

The next morning, I wanted to wake up early to see the sun rise over the hill. So we set alarms, woke up, was cloudy. Foiled again! But eventually some blue sky appeared, and it got larger, and then the sun came out! Look at all the god rays!

Despite the early hour, the bakery at the grocery store opened up and we got coffee and pastries and then sat on one of the many benches lining the Promenade. And just before leaving, I had to take this shot. The background is the facade over the scaffolding covering the Negresco, which was having some work done on it. France is very good about making sure even construction sites look good.

Although it was a short vacation, I feel like we packed a lot of awesome into just over two days. And I'm just maybe considering applying for an assistant position there next year...

More photos on Facebook.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A weekend trip to Etretat

One of my teachers, who is very kind, offered to take Lisa and me on a day trip to Etretat, a small town north of Le Havre. We met up with him at his place, and took a short drive up to St. Addresse, which is the the nice part of Le Havre. Here's the view looking back down at the town center and beach:

After a short drive, we arrived in Etretat. Parking wasn't available near the town center, so we had a bit of a walk. We did see some cool stuff on the way, like this house with crazy carvings on it.

But Etretat is not known for houses. It's known for the cliffs, which are France's version of the White Cliffs of Dover. So when you go to the beach, you find this staring back at you:

It really is a nice place to visit, the views are fantastic, and it's very charming. A bit like Nantucket in that way. Plus, it's the weekend getaway town for the rich Parisiens, so it's similar there too. Thankfully, you can get away from the town by going up on the cliffs. Here's the sleepy little town of Etretat.

It's great, although the day we visited it was incredibly windy and just a bit cool. I risked my life to take this picture.

But the best view is of the arch and needle. We lucked out by having a perfect sunny day, and it was just so pretty.

Here we are posing in front of it.

After just about freezing to death, we headed back down into town. They were having a small celebration for the end of winter and the start of spring (not actually March 20) and there were weird costumes and dancing and kids dressing up. We decided that some hot food wouldn't go amiss, so we went into a little pizza place and ordered pizzas and cider. It wasn't cheap, but after the walk and chilling wind, it was just what we needed.

As the light faded, we walked down the beach a little to catch the dying sun.

A nice little trip, just what you need to spice up a weekend.

Facebook album for more pictures.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

An African Adventure of Epic Proportions

Settle down everyone, it's story time. You'll want to have a seat somewhere comfy because this is going to be somewhat longer than War & Peace.

So, I like to start at the beginning. We left Milan early in the morning, and got to the airport right on time to deal with security and all that. It wasn't a particularly nice day, some cloud cover, but no problems either. As we were sitting on the tarmac, I looked out the window at the Alps. They were nicely shrouded in the clouds, which was a disappointment. After we broke through the clouds though, the views were amazing. The Alps stretch on forever. For those of you interested in the higher altitudes, I give you this:

I have a lot more photos like this, some of which will be on the facebook album. It was gorgeous. I felt like a giant bird, and it's a shame I can't see the rest of the world this way. I'm working on it, a few trips at a time. Our flight path took us along the French and Spanish coasts, so we also had a view of the Pyrenees and some of the mountain ranges in Morocco. Unbelievable sights.

One of the things that really strikes you about Marrakech is how red it is. Even from the air, it's obvious. It's known as the Red City, as opposed to Casablanca which is significantly paler. And unlike many cities in the first world, Marrakech is very flat. There are no tall buildings there, no obvious city center (at least from the plane), no modern skyscrapers of steel and glass.

I'm really beginning to enjoy this seat and the views it affords.

That's the end of the flight portion. The airport in Marrakech is very small, perhaps slightly bigger than the one in Burlington. It's clean and modern, very light, and easy to navigate. Our first order of business was to get some money. Morocco uses the dirham, and it's around 11 dirhams to the Euro. So I stopped by the little teller station and walked away with more than 1700 dirhams. HOLY CRAP I'M RICH!

Outside, we found the bus that brings you into the city proper. It costs 30 dirhams round trip; this should give you an idea of how cheap things are in Morocco. We found a little map and figured out where we would need to stop. Once we reached the main part of the city and everyone else got off, the bus driver asked where we were going. We showed him the address and he said that we should get off here, because Google maps was wrong. He knew that the place we were staying was nowhere near the address we had. He gave us a map and pointed us somewhat on our way.

When I say that Marrakech is mad, picture this: Times Square less the lights, a dozen languages, and no discernible traffic laws. Stepping off the bus is like getting thrown into a blender of otherworldly culture. On top of that, it's impossible to fit in. In Europe, it's normal to see travelers with suitcases. We aren't obvious tourists. In Africa, it doesn't work like that. Our skin tones are lighter than anything else in existence. You can't not be a tourist. So that gets us accosted by everyone, in every language we recognize and several we don't. Taxis, horse carriages, children, street vendors, crazy people, restaurants, you name it. Everybody wants your money. But we were determined; we are pretty good at getting where we want and Marrakech was not going to defeat us!

HA HA HA. Just kidding. We were at the main square, which everyone knows. There are restaurants and shops and souks and entertainers. It's the central hub of Marrakech. From there, we had an idea of where our riad should be. We even knew the street names we'd have to find. Unfortunately, street signs are few and far between. We wandered, presumably in the right direction, through some souks and refused a million offers of whatever people were selling. After finally figuring out that we had no idea where we were or were supposed to go, we headed back to the main square. At that point, we found a street with a name and found it on the map. It would bring us closer to our riad, so onwards and upwards, adventurers!

It really didn't. We did run into a nice French couple though, who showed us where on the map we were. Somewhat helpful, but we still couldn't get to our riad. Mind you, this is about an hour after we'd set off. Leaning up against a wall for a break, a kind man came up and asked if we were lost. Yes, we are. How can you tell? By this point, several other people had come over to look at our map and everyone began to talk and make a general mess of things. But we did get our bearings, but more importantly, a guide! Children are the best resource in Marrakech. This one knew how to bring us to our riad, and he did. He even knocked on the door to make sure someone was home before he left. I paid him five dirhams for his service, and we went in to deal with paperwork and the like.

Once settled, and a bit rested from dealing with everything, we headed back out to figure out where we were and get some food. As it turns out, the other riad we were going to stay at was right next door! Handy! It was also a fairly short walk to get out of our "block" and perhaps 10-12 minutes to the main square. Finally armed with my camera, I did what I think every tourist does. I took a picture of the Koutoubia Mosque.

It's the largest mosque in Marrakech, and most of a millennium old. Though it's not actually in the square, it's very visible and makes a great landmark and meeting point. Lisa thought about buying some shoes, we found some nice pairs but the salesguy was a bit aggressive and wanted more than Lisa wanted to pay. On top of that, almost all stores have the same items, so you really can get whatever you want anywhere. It was the first shop, and when you have to bargain for everything, you want a little bit of experience before buying.

One of our other goals for the day was to get to the tourist office. It was quite a ways down Muhammed V, which is as near as I can tell the Moroccan version of Main Street. We did eventually find it, closed, so not much help there. On our walk back, we found one of the more gorgeous things I've seen yet this year: a sunset.

The main square is where most people eat. Every night, dozens of little stalls set up tables and tents and kitchens and then they start yelling. Everyone wants you to come to their stall. They try to corral you, offer free drinks or food, or whatever it takes. Since we were a bit overwhelmed on the first night, we ate at one on the edge. It was tasty, we had tagines with meat and vegetables, water, and bread. They always bring bread, it's a low round loaf about 7 or 8 inches in diameter. They also bring out a light tomato sauce and a spicy sauce. All of this costs 5 dirhams. Our whole dinner cost 70 or 80 dirhams, which comes out to about 4 Euros each. It's a fantastic and tasty bargain. We then retired for the night. Not bad for one day.

The next morning, we awoke and found breakfast had been prepared for us. There was sweet green tea, which I will get into later, and coffee, and some fresh citrus juice. We also had round bread, although it wasn't quite as hearty as the dinner bread. There was butter and jam to go with it, and some pastries as well. Very tasty and just what you need to get going.

Our first day was mostly given to exploring. There are the souks, of course, and the square with all the entertainers. Lisa found another shoe store, with a much nicer vendor. She bargained him down quite a bit and ended up buying a nice pair of ballet flats. After we bought them, he made tea for us and we chatted for a good long while. Apparently it's a custom to serve tea to customers. No complaints there. He also asked me how many camels Lisa was worth. That got a good chuckle out of us. A much better experience than the day before.

As is my custom, I found a shop with a flag for sale. The price the man wanted was laughable, so I offered a lower price and we haggled for a bit. He wouldn't meet my price, so we ended up walking away. He came running after me and offered the flag at my price, so I purchased it. It's simple but pretty, and I felt pretty good about the deal. Haggling can be a bit stressful but it's also fun.

We also enjoyed sitting in the park around the Koutoubia, watching the insanity, and just enjoying the warm weather. We also had coffee and got some ice cream from one of the shops and sat in the sun. Lisa also discovered that even if a place looks relatively modern on the outside, there might be squat toilets inside. Frowny face. The joys of other cultures.

After our little afternoon rest, we decided to watch what happens with traffic in a country with no observable traffic laws. So here's rush hour, Marrakech style.

[video forthcoming]

It's just crazy. Everyone is driving everywhere at once, and people walk through the middle of it. And I never saw an accident. Not on the main streets or in the tiny alleys. People ride scooters through them, sometimes drive trucks if they're not too narrow. I don't get it. I think some laws of physics are being broken on a regular basis.

Later that evening, another assistant from Rouen was showing up. We arranged to meet her in the square once she'd gotten to her hostel and unpacked a bit. We had dinner together and messed around in the square. We also took a pretty picture.

The Koutoubia is lit up at night, of course. What else did you expect?

The next day, we went to a craft market. It's a far cry from the souks, it's very quiet and no one bothers you unless you have a question for them. Lots of nice stuff, good textiles and woodwork and metalwork and even some henna artists. Lisa bought her name written in Arabic. It's pretty, and like everything, cheap. I wasn't so much for the souvenirs but it was really nice to look around.

We were then supposed to meet up with Keri (the assistant) to go to the Musee de Marrakech (Marrakech museum). On our way back from the market, we came across a main road so we thought we'd use it as a shortcut. Ha ha ha oops. We got really lost. Like, "we've never been here and never seen anywhere like this" lost. But it turned out that ended up where we were planning to go, sans Keri. But we texted her and she met us at the museum with another girl she had met at her hostel. Keri was planning to head off to do something else, so Rosalind (the new girl) and Lisa and I went into the museum.

African art and design is so foreign to us after spending lots of time in European cities. Tile is huge, and there are a lot of geometric patterns in every sort of building style. Many designs are painted onto ceilings, walls and floors are usually tile. The metalwork is also very geometric. This lamp was in the Marrakech Museum, and it's a pretty good example of the fancy work you see in the palaces.

The courtyard in the museum had many great tile patterns, a few fountains, and a ridiculous chandelier. The wooden shutters around the windows are just as intricate as anything else you can see. The rest of the museum talked about the history of Marrakech, from the time it was settled to the influences and the important cultural events. They had some gigantic teapots, since it's the most common drink and also great if it's cool in the evening. Lots of cool stuff but you don't want to hear about all of it.

After finishing up our little learning adventure, Lisa and Ros and I walked back through the souks to Koutoubia for a break. On the way, I was walking in front and Lisa and Ros were behind me, talking. One man remarked, in English, "Good businessman. Have two wives." when we walked by. Cue laughter. In the park around the Koutoubia, there's a nice park with orange trees and benches and little paths. As I am a tourist, I was required to take a picture of it. So here it is.

We also did some posing in front of it because it amused us. Here's Ros:

And Lisa!

Now, one of the things that I loved about Marrakech was the view of the High Atlas mountains. When you're in the sun and it's warm and there are orange trees and palm trees and sand and you look up to see snow-covered mountains, it says something about just how high those mountains are. They're over 4,000 meters high, so I believe they're the tallest mountains I've seen. When the afternoon sun hits the snow, it colors them with a beautiful orange and deep blue color. So you get fantastic photos like this:

That's another mosque on the right. Like churches in Rouen, they're everywhere. Looking back towards the west though, and the sun is giving me another treat. Sun through clouds and the occasional palm, with resulting god rays.

During my photography session, Lisa was dutifully writing postcards for the folks back home. I had attracted the attention of a young boy who looked a bit like Harry Potter. He was fascinated by the scenes on my camera, so I let him have a look. Despite not being able to communicate at all, we had a nice time taking pictures and looking at them. He was a bit camera-shy, so this is the best I could get.

By the time Lisa had finished writing, I'd gone off exploring through the park. It was nice, though not too different from what I'd already seen. As it was slightly less busy, I did find an empty path to go orange bowling on. I'll be pro by the time I get back.

That evening, we met up with Ros and Keri and two other assistants, plus another couple from Rouen who were there at the same time. One of them had found a nice tea salon with a rooftop terrace and a grand view. Tea, when ordered from a fancy place like that, costs about 10 dirhams and you get your own pot of it. But the atmosphere was nice and we sat and drank tea and talked and enjoyed watching the square and all the other people and looked at Koutoubia.

All in all, a good day.

The next day, Lisa and I went to a madrassa, or school of Islam. It's half a century old and is surprisingly similar to a college. There are lots of dorm rooms around a central square, some communal areas, and rooms for prayer or other major activities. They even had a few rooms with a student's possessions, which were very basic. A bit monastic. This shot is of the central courtyard with the pool. I'm not sure what that was used for, probably washing. You can see just how much detail is carved into every bit of the wall. This is pretty standard for important buildings. They even carve the ends of wooden beams!

While we were there, Lisa had an unfortunate camera accident, and her pretty little camera stopped working. A sad day. But look! She's still smiley!

Paul would really enjoy some of the woodworking they've done. It's oftentimes simple yet beautifully decorated. We also went to a few other historical Islamic sites in the area. One, the Almoravid Koubba, was for the ritual washing before entering a mosque. It was fairly simple in design, yet it utilized many different types of arches. We also got to see the cistern and ducting that it drew water through. Cool stuff.

That night, we met up with the same crew and went out to a "proper" indoor restaurant. Slightly more expensive, but still well under 10 euros per person. I ordered a tagine, which is a bowl of meat and vegetables over couscous. Good god those things were good, and very filling. Morocco also has a lot of crazy types of juice, including avocado. Apparently it's not the best thing ever, but I was happy with whatever yummy fruit juice I had. I think of all the things I miss from this trip, the cheap food is number one. It can't be beat.

As was becoming our custom, we did some wandering about the square, then found some nice desserts. Some people bought pastries, while Lisa and I and a few others got some ice cream. Sadly they wouldn't let us take our ice cream into the back, so the others went in and we chatted outside. After finishing, we went in for tea. We met another great couple that Keri had met at the hostel and chatted for a while. Deciding that we really liked them, we planned to meet up the next day for our adventures.

It was our palace day. We met up with Jay and Kate, who are both working in Britain, for the day. There are a few really famous palaces, including the Bahia and El Baadi, and some tombs as well. We went to the Bahia first, it's more modern but more decorated as well. There are a lot of gardens there, lots of fancy rooms and tile and paintings and things like that. Here's on of those insane roofs that I can't seem to wrap my head around. And it's all painted in crazy patterns. I don't even know. Everything is so mathematical, it's reminiscent of 8th grade and those drawings we had to do.

These rooms go on forever. There are just tons of them, and I have no idea what purpose most of them served. They are interspersed with gardens, tons of them growing trees and flowers and sometimes even fruit. Mostly oranges and lemons and limes and bananas, though there may be a few things I'm not familiar with mixed in. Here's Kate posing under one of the natural doors in one of the gardens.

And here's Lisa sporting a flower I picked up! Pretty!

You can see more tile and carvings in the background, though some of it is fairly worn down. By the time we finished with the Bahia palace, we decided to take a break from being in places and wander out through the old city gate and down the road that runs alongside it. Being me, I had to take pictures of the mountains. They're just so beautiful, so big, and RIGHT THERE. So I stood in the middle of this street (warning to future travelers: the insanity of Marrakech rubs off on you) and took this picture.

There was a nice open area on the other side of the street, so we walked along that for a mile or two before turning back. It was nice to just chat with Jay and Kate during that time. On the way back, we climbed up some ramp thing to get a better view, and got yelled at. Oops. And we looked into some cemetery, and got yelled at. You'd think I would learn, but no. We also checked out the royal palace, though we didn't take any pictures lest we get arrested. Morocco is still a kingdom and he does have the power to do what he wants, though the parliament deals with most of the administrative stuff.

One of our other required stops was the Kasbah. It's technically just part of the old city, but there was a sign and we rocked it. There was also a great little cafe which had all sorts of delicious looking pastries and smoothies and other things to make you hungry. So, being as we'd walked a lot and gotten yelled at a lot, a break with some cold drinks and snacks sounded amazing.

Voila! I think this cost us roughly 1.5 Euros each. It was so delicious, it just hit the spot. God bless the cheap food. And it all tastes great! Why wouldn't you? Feeling nicely sated, we moved on to the Saadian tombs. These are the burial grounds for some of the Saadi dynasty's leaders. They were discovered fairly recently, and preserved nicely. Some are indoors, like the tombs below, while others are outdoors. Apparently these guys were some sort of special because the other cemeteries didn't look anything like this.

One of the sultans of Morocco is buried in there. Fit for a king, or sultan, or whatever. I think this is the most decorated thing I saw there. Columns excluded, everything is carved. This guy certainly thought that he deserved the best in death and I have to say, he did pretty well.

We then moved on to the El Badi palace, which was built by the same sultan. Much of its former glory is gone, due to some other sultan stealing all the decorations after this guy died. Such is the life of a palace, I suppose.

Not that it isn't still grand. This palace is HUGE. The green areas, which you're not allowed into (check off another yelling at), could house a small forest. And yes, there are four of them in the main area. There are also some prison cells underneath it, which are very dark and creepy. We didn't stay long. I can only imagine how crazy it must have been when it was in use.

Hey look, it's us!

Being on top of the palace also afforded us another opportunity. There are some giant storks or something that nest on the walls. They make this machine gun noise, and it's really loud. I tried to capture it on video but I never managed to. Bah! But their nests are crazy huge. Must have weighed well over a hundred pounds. So here's one of the birds:

After leaving the El Badi palace, we stopped for hot tea on a nice rooftop terrace restaurant. Honestly, when it costs a Euro for a pot of tea, why wouldn't you? We chatted for a good hour or so, then headed back in towards the center of the city. Jay and Kate headed back to the hostel, and Lisa and I went to change hotels.

We'd found a nicer place to stay, but since it did cost more we didn't want to stay there the whole time. So we moved for the last three nights, and it was fantastic. It also turned out to be right next door to the first place we were.

I'll spare you all the detailed pictures as you can find them on Lisa's blog, but I do want to show you the courtyard. Many places in Marrakech have courtyards that are open during the warm season. Ours had an orange tree and banana tree and some birds and turtles and a fountain and other cool stuff. You can see the breakfast laid out, which was wonderful.

Since we were there during the rainy season, the courtyard was covered with plastic to keep out any inconvenient showers. No complaints from me though, I thought it was fantastic. It's run by a really nice guy and a few people he hires for cleaning and cooking and other odd jobs. Abdul, a teenager, works with him on a lot of it, and was very helpful. He would tell or show us how to get places, he made us breakfast early on the day we had to leave, and dealt with any problems we had. All around a great experience.

Being Valentine's Day, we booked a table at one of the nicer restaurants in Djemaa el-Fna. It sits on a corner of the square (which isn't square at all) and looks out over the restaurant stalls and souks and entertainers. The food was absolutely fantastic. We had the tasting menu, and though it was expensive, the variety of foods made it all worth it. There was tons of small bowls of various vegetables to make your own salad, tagines of oh-my-god that was delicious meat and vegetables, couscous with the same, and crepes with honey and orange for dessert. I had a Moroccan beer, as it was one of the few places you could get alcohol and I wanted to know what it was like. Nothing special, but now I know. The restaurant also had girls come in to dance periodically, which made for nice breaks in the meal. Hilariously, they would take guests from some tables and bring them up to dance. Needless to say, tourists aren't nearly as graceful as professional dancers. Once we'd finished, we ambled home to our new place and had a wonderful night's sleep. A great meal on top of a fun day usually does that to you.

The next day we hit up a couple more small museums. Then Lisa got attacked. A woman started drawing henna on her hand. So Lisa bargained for a while and ended up with a handful of henna. After that we went to the cyber park, which had an exhibit based on the "World from Above" photo series. It was very nice, and I relaxed in the sun for a while when Lisa was wandering around. Not a bad way to spend a late morning if you ask me. On the way back, we took some more pictures. Here's Djemaa el-Fna, being all crazy and busy and stuff.

The restaurants will arrive around 5PM right in the middle of it all. It may look calm in a still picture, but the farther you go, the crazier it gets. There are also roads running through the square, though I couldn't tell you how anyone knows where to go. Practice, I guess. We went to one last museum in the afternoon, got some orange juice (because you always need more orange juice), and went back to the hotel for short break. We had dinner from a street vendor, just a kid my age or younger, but he made some awesome...things. They were round bread filled with fried rice, egg, spicy ketchup, onions, meat, and maybe a few other things. Good god they were so good, and less than a Euro each. Street food is one of my favorite things about visiting other cultures. It's greasy, it's delicious, but most of all it's dirt cheap. MIAMIAMIAMIAMIAMIAM!

On our last full day, having done everything else on our list, we wandered a bit just looking for something to pique our interest. We ran into Keri, and she wanted to go check out the Jardin Majorelle, which is a nice closed off botanical garden with a lot of species of trees and cacti and flowers. And it was nice. Being closed off meant it was relatively quiet and there were no street vendors to pester you. Lots of tourists, of course, but that's par for the course. There were a lot of paths covered by greenery, like this:

I got attacked by a cactus (it drew blood) but I refrained from retaliating. Lisa and Keri had a good laugh about that, to my chagrin. The rest of the garden was nice, and we relaxed for a while. It's good to be away from the noise and insanity.

We had a good walk back as it's quite a ways outside of the old city, and it almost rained on us. I saw Abdul go by on the back of someone's scooter, and he waved to us. It's nice to have someone recognize you, even if it's made much easier by the shade of your skin. Back at the hotel, Lisa's henna had dried to the dark brown shade it should be, so look!

Isn't it pretty?

One of the other things you have to get used to is the prayer call. They happen 5 times per day, every day. It's a bit odd at first, especially the morning calls. Here's a video here with some panoramic views of Marrakech and a prayer call going on. It's a bit windy so it's not the best quality sound.

[video forthcoming]
For dinner that night, we went out with the other assistants. Lisa and I ate in one of the restaurant stalls, and the assistants had the street food since we'd raved about it. Some of us bought some scarves as well, after some serious bargaining. We also did the tea thing, and got our last orange juice as well. So sad. :( But we had to pack and make sure everything was dealt with, so we went our separate ways.

In the morning, Abdul had prepared some breakfast for us, and we left the keys with him and wheeled our stuff out through the mostly empty streets. We caught the airport bus, which gave us one last tour of the city. As we arrived at the airport, the sun was coming up, and that gave me a few chances to take pictures. So I did.

Those mountains again, with a mosque and even one of those storks! Once I finished taking photos, we checked in and...found out we had a three hour delay. This is what a three hour delay looks like:

Exciting, huh? But our plane did finally show up, and we headed out. I took this last shot as we winged our way up and over to another continent.

What a great adventure. Certainly the most exotic place I've been, the culture is so vastly different from anything I'd ever experienced. Insane in ways I never thought possible, and yet so much fun. Who wants to go?

As always, more photos are available on my Facebook album.