Monday, 27 August 2007

Agdal Changes

Wandering around the streets of Agdal since my return, I am amazed at the changes. Hard to believe but there are even more coffee shops/cafes/restaurants. On Atlas a new restaurant, Findi, has opened which has nice snack-type food such as sandwiches, pizza, brochettes, pasta, panini and salads. I had a nice meal there the other day. Just down the street a little further another similar place has opened but haven't had time to try it. Next door the coffee shop has undergone renovation.

Stepping over one block to Ave. de France, a Venezia Ice has opened with the carpet and menu lectern on the street. Pinchos has opened a second shop, Pinchos Pizza, next door while further along a nice looking juice bar has opened with a couple of tables and chairs inside. Still need time to try these out.

On the other hand I here the excellent French restaurant that I frequent on a regular basis, 81/2, is closing. Hopefully it is only for renovations but will need to find out more. Hopefully will dine there on Saturday night, and not for the last time.

While on the topic of food, I also need to go and investigate the three Agdal wine shops that Cat in Rabat mentioned on her blog. Oh I am going to miss her witty and informative posts.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Terres des femmes - Women of the Earth

Yesterday I went and visited the pottery shop, Terres des femmes (Women of the Earth) at Sale.
This pottery shop sells traditional pottery made by village women in northern Morocco who have been encouraged to produce traditional pottery by a volunteer group behind the project. These same volunteers not only run the shop, but also drive to these often remote villages to collect the pottery.

Using the available soil, the pottery has a natural feel and is usually decorated in brown and black geometric designs. Completely natural, these dyes come from ground up leaves and rocks and are painted onto the pots with a donkey hair that acts as a paint brush.

Not only has this project aided in the survival of a traditional craft, but has also provided the women with money and independence. Even the young boys have started to get in on the act, making pottery animals to be sold. While some of the girls who don't want to make pots because it makes their hands large and ugly, are instead doing embroidery, which is also sold at the shop.

The shop can be found at Extension du complexe des potiers a Oulja-Sale, or on the Rabat side of the Sale Pottery Complex.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Back "Home"

From high above, first I saw the estuary at Larache, then the lagoon at Moulay Bousselham, the Bou Regreg and Rabat, then reality struck as Casablanca and surrounds were blanketed in smog. Back on land, it was the pedestrians walking on the road, the crazy drivers on the road and the shepherds with their sheep that reminded me, I'm back "home", back in Morocco. But at least my luggage did arrive this time.

Back in Rabat, Atlas wasn't the "crazy street" it normally is on Saturday nights, my favourite butcher and hanoot were closed for a few days and yet more cafes/restaurants have opened up in Agdal. Mind you, some have been under construction and renovation for months and months. All is quiet as August is the holiday month, Moroccans living in Europe come back to visit, and those living in the city head to the beaches (a good place to avoid this month unless you love crowds).

Now as reality comes seeping back in, I have to consider the return to work. Time to get organised, focused, but I am sure I will fit in some time for reading and sorting out my travel memoirs and photographs.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Transylvania - Dracula country!

Here among rugged mountainsof Transylvania; spires and cobblestones form part of the old settlements, around which vampire legends abound. It is the latter (and THE CASTLE) that led to its Dracula links.

The highlights:
Sighisoara is a hilltop fortress, which is the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, sometimes called the "real" Dracula being renowned for activities such as driving stakes through people! The house in which he was born is a restaurant today. With a Saxon clock tower and Gothic churches and a huge hilltop cemetery, my visit seemed dominated by music as I attended 2 classical music concerts and many young people were carrying around and playing violins.
Brasov's old town centre is full of 800 year old buildings including the Black Church. But the reason most people stay is to visit the nearby Bran Castle - Dracula's castle. Attractive from the distance on its hilltop, inside there are no evident Dracula links as you get pushed along in the crush of people following the one-way tourist route throught he castle.

More interesting is the ruins of Rasnov Fortress, which is also nearby. A stunning location on the mountain top, one can easily see why only once were its defences broken.
Not actually part of Transylvania, but also visited as a day trip from Brasov was Sinaia, home to the stunning Peles Castle. Let you imagine run riot when the word castle is mentioned, the image produced is probably something likes Peles. So much ornamentation, gold, carved wood, venetian glass, marble with statues and frescoes outside. Incredible.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Stepping Back in Time

No; I haven't found the way to travel in time but instead have been travelling through northern Romania. Time spent there is really like stepping back in time, especially watching the farmers at work. Here they use horse and carts for transport, still cut the grass with scythes and use rakes and pitchforks to turn it over for drying. Not a tractor in sight until I travelled further south. Such back-breaking hard work but maybe they will start to catch up with the present now they are in the EU.
Outside the Bar/Cafe in Salva

Also had some scenic, but very slow, train trips winding through the mountains, past small villages and plots of crops, over high bridges and through long tunnels. It is a good way to get a look at life in Romania outside the cities. The trains run on time but are not in good condition - no air conditioning so swelter on the hot days.
Winding through the mountains in north west Romania

Went to Sapinta to see the Merry Cemetery, distinguished by the colourful metre-high crosses that are at the top of all the graves. These crosses are painted in bright colours including pictures that typify the person's life and may also show how they died plus an inscription about their life, death and the people they leave behind. Only existing in this form since 1935, many people dies young and many died violent deaths such as getting shot while swimming across the river (it is also the border), getting run over by a tractor, hit by a taxi and struck by lightning while in bed. It was an interesting but bizarre place in the grounds of a church nut also full of tour groups who stop off as they pass by.
The Merry Cemetery

The Painted Monasteries near Suceava were the other highlight of my travel in the north. From the 1500s, these churches are not only decorated with pictures on the inside but also on the outside. Most pictures relate to stories in the bible or people from the bible or saints, but also include the siege of Constantinople. They also include local touched like including local musical instruments, dress, food etc. The outside ones are very colourful while the ones inside are much darker. Black from smoking candles has obscured those inside for many centuries but they are slowly being revealed at a cost of 700 euros per square metre. I went on a guided tour which was great as it meant I found out a lot more detail about the pictures and their history. Many of the monasteries till have nuns in the adjoining buildings today and they are the ones collecting the entrance fees and leading some groups around.

Sucevita Monastery

Detail of Voronet Monastery