One big thing I miss about Morocco? The mouthwatering breakfast at the riad. I DREAM of this breakfast. Imagine waking up to this:
Coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice (this seems to be a big thing in Morocco - they have tons of carts at the main square selling this stuff), Moroccan crepes like baghrir or msemmen (both are really delicious!), and a tray of two types of jams and chunks of butter. I'm planning to recreate this breakfast at home, so look out for a possible future post!
The night we arrived, we decided to explore Jmaa el Fna, the main square in Marrakech. There was so much going on, it was crazy busy and everyone was out. I think it was even more crazier than usual because of Ramadan. At the middle of the square, there are these open tents that serve dirt cheap food - you can get all of the below for about 100 dirhams, equivalent of about $13.
I ordered the mystery meat kabobs and my friend had vegetable couscous. She escaped unscathed, but I didn't feel great the next day. And the day after. And pretty much the entire week and a few days back at home.
I didn't learn. We came back the next day. They make a damn good pastilla (traditionally pigeon pie, but more popularly chicken)
So that's one dining option - the dirt cheap tents where you can grab a meal for two for less than $15. And risk getting sick. But mind you these tents were packed (although almost always with tourists).
Later that week, our tour guide recommended another restaurant, where we found ourselves on a rooftop surrounded by plush seating and a tent with fans (thank god, because Moroccan summers are oppressively HOT!). Check out the dishes below:
Another vegetable couscous.
Tagine with prunes. This was AMAZINGLY good.
Cookies and sweets for dessert
I think all of this, one dish, dessert, drinks and a plate of fruit, totaled 150 dirhams per person, or $20 per person.
After a few days had passed, we realized that the only Moroccan dishes we could find were kebobs, tagines, and couscous. And eating day after day of kebobs, tagines, and couscous can get pretty... tiring. So when we went to Essaouria (a beach town, day trip away from Marrakech where apparently Jimmy Hendrix and hippies would hang out during the 70's), we spotted a hole-in-the-wall Mexican cafe owned by a British couple (random!), called La Cantina, where I gluttoned on fresh OJ, a chicken dish, and homemade cheesecake! Anyway, the point is that I was really surprised at the lack of variety.
Throughout the week, we befriended a lampseller at the souks and asked him what was up with the food. He said it was because kebobs, tagines, and couscous cost the least to make and therefore make the most money. Moroccans have much more to offer foodwise, but you can't really try it without being invited to someone's home for dinner. We were told most Moroccans almost always eat at home, by food that their wife or (in his case) mother prepared. And then he said he would have invited us, but we had told him we were leaving the next day.
Originally, I never really had plans to go to Morocco. Morocco was so out of my comfort zone, it never really popped into my head when I thought about where I wanted to travel. I wanted to travel to Greece or Spain, but then my friend suggested Morocco and it seemed so random and so exotic that I agreed enthusiastically. So we bought tickets to Marrakesh and booked a riad, with plans to stay in Morocco for one week.
Flying from Lyon to Marrakesh was so stressful, figuring out how to pack and carry all those heavy bags was a nightmare! My friend and I were constantly over the weight limit and quickly learned how expensive it is to pay for overweight fees. After all that heavy lifting, you can imagine my delight when I saw....
this bed! Looks like it's made for a Moroccan princess!
The design seems modern, but in actuality modern design derives its inspiration (in part) from the traditional Moroccan style.
Yes, that's a crap load of bags. I wasn't kidding when I said "heavy lifting".
I have way too many pics and stories to tell about Morocco, so rather than tackle everything at once, I'm gonna try to break it down into small posts - so stay tuned for the next installment!
The village of Gordes, taken from a panoramic point
The surrounding countryside
The village is protected by these stone walls, a unique architectural signature of the region.
Driving on the way to Les Baux (which unfortunately I did not take many great pictures - maybe it was a long day and I got tired?) our tour guide stopped by this sunflower field.
There was a wedding at Les Baux (it would be an amazing place to have a wedding - the village is so quaint, and they have wonderful shops there that look old-fashioned but sell gourmet luxuries like regional olive and truffle oil, fine wines, and traditional candies). I bought a pack of nougat candies and "olives" - chocolates that look like olives.
Sad story about the olives though - they survived the entire trip, I was amazed that they didn't melt in the sweltering heat of Morocco - and when I got back home, I decided to give them as a gift to my aunt. So my parents drive up to LA to meet up with my aunt, and at the end of a long day of shopping and eating I pull out the candies from my bag and they were horribly melted to an unrecognizable state. I kept them in my bag and tried to stay indoors as much as possible, but I guess it was just too hot (it turned out to be one of the hottest days of the summer).
The tour ended with the Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct
Back in Avignon, here is the main square where all the restaurants are
I had a totally surreal, Amelie-esque moment when my friends and I dined at the outdoor patio of one of these restaurants and the wind was blowing really hard. It reminded me of the scene with the dancing tableware. You could hear the whistling of the wind and the clinking of glassware, and I also remember there was a man strumming Gypsy Kings tunes for tips.
The next day, our last day, we ran around Avignon trying to see all the sights. We packed away lunch at the food market in the morning, had a picnic on the hillside watching the river, took in the vistas at Rocher des Doms, and toured the Papal Palace.
Here is the courtyard in front of the Palais des Papes, where the popes used to live
The architecture is stunning, these pictures really capture the dramatics
The views from one of the towers
And then it was time to say goodbye to Avignon. But it wasn't so easy, we accidently missed our train to Lyon, where we were supposed to catch a flight to Morocco. Thankfully, everything got sorted out in the end.
Why do I find myself lusting year after year over winter coats, when there's obviously no time or place to where them here in sunny SoCal? This mint tweed coat from J. Crew is absolutely perfect, except for the fact that it's made of sweat-inducing wool. Although, it is "lightweight wool"...
I tried googling when it's socially acceptable to wear wool coats in SoCal, and of course the snarkiest answer I found was "when you're cold", the more precise answer answer was "when it's below 50 degrees", and the answer I was really looking for was "when you feel like it". Why can't more women in the LA/SD area wear their winter coats out so that I don't feel so self-conscious about it (although, of course, not right now since it's god awful hot) - can't we apply that same mentality we have toward Uggs to winter coats? ;o)
After the wine tasting, I toured several picturesque villages. The first stop, Roussillon, was my absolute favorite! There used to be a thriving industry there for natural pigment paints (before synthetics became popular) because the soil has this striking ochre color, and the entire town is awash in lovely hues of ochre.
A sweeping vista of the Provence countryside - and my pants from Parisian brand Naf Naf! They were fun to wear around France and Morocco, but a little too unusual for casual Socal.
I love the little details...
And you can find yummy and unusual flavors of gelato here, like lavender (which was okay in my opinion, great to try but I wouldn't order it twice - now orange, on the other hand... *drool*)
Following the Antic Theater was a wine tasting at Châteauneuf du Pape. On the way to the winery, my tour guide drove around the scenic points and vineyards of the area.
Apparently, this vineyard grows Grenache grapes, one of the select varieties of grapes that can be grown in the region and used to make the wine.
And at the winery I got to learn a little bit about wine tasting. I don't remember all of it, but I do remember to really swish the wine to get the smells going. And inspect the color of the wine against a white background. Oh, and also take two sips, a quick sip for your first impression and let it linger for the second, because the first taste is very different from the second.
I believe the name of the winery is Maison Bouachon. And I brought home a bottle of very expensive red wine for my parents! It was a pain to get home, but hopefully well worth it (they're saving it for a special occasion).
Jury duty is sucking up all my time, but I still want to finish my photo diary of my trip so I'm going to do small spurts of photos from time to time.
After Nice, I took the train to Avignon and went on a day tour of the sights of Provence. Below are photos of the Antic theater in Orange, one of the best preserved amphitheaters in the world with a stage wall that still stands today.
There's a statue of the emperor in the wall, but a fun fact is that the head can be switched. ;o)