Saturday, September 18, 2010

Making Sausages

We attended the Oxford Food and Wine Festival at Oxford Castle and the girls had a chance to learn how to make their own sausages. Mommy decided to stand back and take photos!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Magical Marrakech

Nearing the end of the summer, the travel bug seized us and we decided to venture to Marrakech, Morocco. What more exotic a thing to do than pop over to Africa for a long weekend! A mere three hour flight from Gatwick later we stepped into oven-like heat and the crazy magic that is Marrakech.
Life in Marrakech revolves around the Jemma el Fna, the sprawling central square in the Medina. By day, the square is crowded with orange juice sellers offering fresh-squeezed sweetness. By night, the square is transformed into a frenetic mishmash of food stalls, storytellers, vendors, acrobats, snake charmers and monkey minders - everyone offering whatever your heart desires - for a small fee of course! The girls thought the monkeys were very cute. However, after seeing several cobras lunge for their keepers, we opted to steer clear of the snake charmers :-)
Off the Jemma el Fna wind the labyrinthine alleyways of the souks. Walking some of the souk streets is like stepping back a few hundred years in time - a photographic dream!
We visited the Ben Yousef medersa - an ancient Koranic school that boasted amazing stone carved arches and beautifully inlaid woodwork.

Many of the craftsmen still use techniques from a bygone era. Here a man is using a spindle rotated with a rope and a knife held between his toes to carve a handle for a child's toy.

The tile work was impressive.
Notice the water spritzer in Mira's hand - they are a necessity to beat the August heat. Lightly misting oneself helps the body to cool itself. One of the days we were there the mercury reached 51 degrees! It's a dry heat which means it's slightly more tolerable, but REALLY hot just the same.

I think you could find anything your heart desires in the souks. Dirty, noisy and confusing, but an explorers dream.

In the wool dyers souk, the girls learned how different coloured powders are combined to created the rich colours that dye the wool and silk scarves.
Hannah and Mira turned out to be our little ambassadors. I had read that Moroccans love children, but until we were there I didn't really understand how much. They do really love children, often hugging and kissing complete stranger's children at every opportunity. It was a bit off-putting the first time someone spontaneously grabbed the girls in a hug, but we quickly realized it was a sincere expression of kindness and nothing more. In fact, the Moroccan love of children often helped to to negotiate our way out of the more unpleasant aspects of Moroccan culture - the pestering vendors. A few words about the heat and the children and fatigue and they would kindly retreat. The moral of the story - if you are visiting Morocco - take a child with you!

The girls proudly show off their new Moroccan slippers.

There are water features almost everywhere and the girls were always quick to slip their toes into the cool water. You can see from above that they also discovered fizzy drinks this trip - we've done well to keep them off pop this long.

The orange juice sellers.

We have had an excellent record with Novotel during our travels. They have hotels throughout the world and are very family friendly with spacious rooms, play areas for children and reasonable pricing for families. The Novotel in Marrakech also boasted a fantastic pool. With the extreme temperatures it was a definite necessity. Our strategy was to do some sightseeing after breakfast and then lounge by the pool all afternoon!

I'm sure if I look closely enough I'll find the beginnings of gills on Hannah and Mira!

Being as it was Ramadan, our food choices were a little limited. Many of the better restaurants were closed until between 8 and 9 at night, by which time our kiddies were needing their beds. So we pretty much survived on pizzas and panninis from a local cafe although Stan and I did manage a Moroccan tagine dish one evening by bribing the kiddies with fizzy drinks :-)

The most touristy thing to do in Marrakech is to hire a caleche to drive you around the Medina. The driver takes you to different spots and waits while you explore.
The caleche was a great way to capitalize on some photographic moments.

I'm convinced that ancient Moroccans must have spent a lot of time reclining - why else would they make their ceiling so bloody beautiful!

No Smyth-Liu travel blog would be complete without the requisite cat photo!

A Marrakech water seller.

Waiting for the bus.

Hannah and Mohammed, our driver.

The Jemma el Fna by night.

The girls were excited to get henna tattoos.

The girls loved the Morrocan couch in the hotel lobby.
On our last morning we visted the famous Majorelle Gardins. An ancient garden that fell into desrepair, Majorelle was purchased and brought back to it's former glory by fashion icon, Yves St. Laurent.
Majorelle offers shade and beauty admidst the chaos that is Marrakech.

...and so our visit to Marrakech ended. We survived the heat and explored a truly magical gem of Nothern Africa.