Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gaudi Wonderland

Wow! Words and pictures don't even come close to revealing the wonders of Gaudi's marks on Barcelona. We have slowly been making our rounds to see some his buildings and monuments around the city. Yesterday it was the Casa Batlló part mansion, part dragon and part pure whimsical joy.

Today we visited Park Güell a beautiful terraced public park sprinkled with many Gaudi treasures. It was designed as a private pleasure garden for the upper classes, but now can be enjoyed by all.
From there we wandered down the hill to La Sagrada Familia; Gaudi's unfinished masterwork.

Consecrated as a Basilica by the Pope just last month, La Sagrada Famillia is one of the most outstanding buildings anywhere in the world. It is still under construction and won't be completed for another 30 years but already it is unbelievable.
Gaudi was killed by a tram in 1926, but at least 400 workers are still on site working to complete his fantastic vision.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas in Barcelona

Matthew and Ruth
It's Christmas time in Barcelona! Most of our trip has been chasing the early signs of fall as we moved south, but by the time we made it to Marrakech summer had arrived again.Two days ago I was putting on sunscreen and listening to the call to prayer. Now we are surrounded by parka wearing Spaniards doing their Christmas shopping. I think the parkas are more of a fashion statement than a necessity - it is sunny with highs of 16 degrees!

Gord and I have colds but we are still getting out to explore. This morning we walked around the Barrio Gotti and this afternoon,  Matthew headed off to the Meseu de l'erotica while Gord and I went to the Picasso Museum. Each to our own artistic interests.
The huge nativity scene here has a unique Barcelona addition. Each year somewhere in the city's display lies a figure of a man taking a crap. I really don't understand the symbolism but it is unusual enough to merit a mention. The Christmas market follows up this theme by selling a wide variety of famous figures taking a crap, including Michael Jackson and local politicians. I am taking orders right now. How about a Thriller for your crèche.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Last night in Morocco

Our last day here has been pretty low key. Gord, unfortunately has food poisoning; I think it was the date that didn't taste right. He has been laying low with a pussy cat for most of the day. When I asked someone at the hotel what the cat's name was I was told quite clearly that, "the hotel has no cat." Well then who was that purring mess sleeping with us last night?

In the morning we visited the  lovely Bahia Palace. I spent the afternoon in the souks shopping. I would love to report that I have become a shark at bargaining, but I'm afraid that would just not be true. Our timing in the square was late today so we missed seeing John Malkovich - Oh well. We are still waiting and hoping Susan Sarandon will drop by.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Snake Charmers and Movie Stars

Hotel Sherazade, Marrakech

Marrakech is a city of contrasts where everything comes together. Even within Djemaa El Fna, the main square in the Medina, snake charmers and acrobats share space with VIPs here for the International Film Festival. Apparently Catherine Deneuve and Francis Ford Coppola are among some of the celebs in attendance.

We saw Susan Sarandon tonight at an outdoor screening of one of her films. The film was competing with drumming groups and the high pitched flutes of the snake charmers. In all the chaos Susan still flashed me a winner smile when I called out to her with shameless abandon,  that we loved her. We were only about ten feet away. I think we'll be great friends.

As we wind through the noisy and congested streets packed with shops and restaurants, doors become frontiers into other worlds. From the street you would never guess what magic lies within the grubby walls. We are staying in a Riad, one of these new worlds, where all the outside chaos is left behind. Instead we have court yards and terraces filled with plants and cozy corners in which to enjoy a cup of mint tea.

Mint tea is the common element of both worlds. We have enjoyed it within our Riad and also out of dingy cups on crowded sidewalks. No doubt mint tea is also being sipped by the movie stars at the Mamounia Hotel.

Extreme Clean

An update on the Hammam healing:

Well my skin is starting to heal. All the sanded pores on my tummy have tiny scabs now- I think that's progress. My hands and fingernails are still quite orange from the henna but at least I'm getting used to it. It is unfortunate it's a shade of orange that clashes with the rest of my skin. My big toes are the only real problem. It's too bad that in her efforts to try to sand off my callouses she missed by about half a centimeter and left dents. I guess that's just the price I have to pay for beauty.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

An afternoon at the Hammam

Hotel Riad Nakhla, Essaouira
I am glowing. This afternoon I arranged to meet a local woman for a traditional hammam. Our first stop was at the spice market where she bought cloves, henna, a lemon and other mysterious ingredients. Then we wove through the medina until we reached the Pabst Hammam. A plaque at the entrance announced that Orson Wells frequented this Hammam while he was in Essaouira filming Othello. In spite of that particularly famous visitor, it is a local hammam and I was the only tourist there.
After stripping down to our underwear we entered a steamy warm room through what looked like a massive dungeon door, about six inches thick. There Halbia fetched buckets of water and motioned for me to sit down. The room was full of women and girls in various stages of scrubbing. Many of the older women were working vigorously on their children while they let their own green goop facials do their magic.

The process began with something that looked like petroleum jelly but smelled much nicer. After I was completely coated she went to work, somewhat unsuccessfully, on the calluses on my big toes. The next step was the gommage or exfoliation which she did with an intensity that was bordering on scary. Although the idea is to remove all the dead skin, I think a lot of the living stuff was also successfully liberated.

After so much of my DNA was rinsed down the drain I was coated in a new oily concoction of cloves and other spices. This was for the massage stage which involved almost no pain and a great deal of pleasure.

After the massage I was rinsed again while Halbia started mixing up henna, water and the lemon. This mixture was then applied to all my skin and allowed to steep for a while while she worked more of it into my palms and the soles of my feet. Let me just say that fresh lemon juice on my chaffed tummy was quite an experience. Halbia giggled when the rinsing revealed my new orange palms; not quite the red/brown tones the Moroccan women get.

Finally we made it to the washing stage where I was soaped up only to see, to my horror, the return of the abrasive mitt. Fortunately covered in soap it was not too scary a weapon.

With my hair shampooed and my skin gleaming I headed out into the warm evening feeling cleaner than I have ever been. I would do it all again if I only had more skin.

Location:Rue Mohamed el Qory,Essaouira,Morocco

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Castles Made of Sand

Hotel Riad Nakhla, Essaouira
"Castles made of sand slip into the sea eventually."

The locals here will point out a sand covered Kasbah at the end of the beach that they claim inspired Jimi Hendrix to write the song. In reality he released the song before he ever came to Morocco. Unlike the local folklore which makes you assume he practically made Essaouria his home in the late sixties. In reality he might have stayed here for about three days; the same length of time I'm staying. I wonder what myths will developed around my visit.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Suerta Loca

Hotel Suerte Loca, Sidi Ifni
We came out of the mountains and down to the coastal town of Sidi Ifni, which has only been a part of Morocco since 1969. Prior to that, it was a Spanish enclave. Much of the town was constructed in the 30's and as a result it is full of art deco buildings and a Spanish vibe.

Just like the name of our hotel suggests, we are having suerta loca or crazy luck with the weather now. After all it is December and we need sunscreen! We spent the the morning walking five kilometers down the beach to the port and encountered only a few other people. Most of the foreign tourists in this town are European snow birds staying close to their motorhomes. Otherwise there are just a handful of surfers here to catch the excellent curls.

In the afternoon we put on our swim suits and played in the waves. The Atlantic here is cool but still warmer than the Pacific at home in the summer. Gord and Matthew were maniacs in the waves. We were the only three people swimming so we had very personal attention from the two life guards on the beach. They were quick to point out that we had chosen the most dangerous area to swim. We decided to take there advice and moved down further thus averting certain death. It was a great day.

Location:Sidi Ifni

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Ameln Valley in the Anti Atlas Mountains

Hotel Salama, Tafraout
The sun returned today and we had a terrific hike through the Ameln valley. Our first stop was in a village where you could visit a traditional house that is now a museum. After a tour and tea our host insisted he dress me up as a Berber woman. Eventually Gord and Matthew joined in on the fun.