Sunday, February 26, 2012

Jardin Majorelle - Marakech, Morocco

Used to be the studio of the artist but now a museum in Jardin Majorelle
When I was in Marrakesh, everybody said we should not miss Jardin Majorelle. From Riad Mur Akush, it was about 15 minutes walk from Bab Doukala and the direction was pretty easy to follow. We spent about two hours strolling around this petite garden. How much time you want to spend here is relative. It is really not that big but what's so special about this garden is the people associated with it and the strong colors and contrasts that attract our eyes. 

This garden is like an oasis in the middle of Marrakesh. Created by a French artist, Jacque Majorelle in the 1920s, the garden was first opened to the general public in 1947. However, it was neglected after his death in 1962. And in 1980, the garden was bought by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé , where they successfully managed to restore its glory. When Yves Saint Laurent died in 2008, his ashes were scattered in the garden honoring his affection for the place.

There were bourganvilleas, palms, bamboos, cacti, olive trees and many small plants in distinctive cobalt blue, yellow and orange pots. This little garden is full of vibrant colors but the distinguishable shades of blue dominate the garden and giving it a unique character. It is just so different from any garden I have seen in my life. It is cool to be in this garden on a hot day in Marrakesh but the place can be crowded with tourists who flock here to escape the hectic Marrakesh city. Try to come early and you would have a quieter moments in this tranquil garden.

The garden is open daily at 8:00 to 17:30 (in Winter) and the entrance fee is 25 Dirham. There is an artist studio in the garden which is currently converted into a Islamic Art museum. But unfortunately the  museum was closed when we were there.

The potted plants
The striking cobalt blue building among the trees
Lovely group of cacti in the garden

Fresh delicious dates on the tree
A giant cactus

Yves Saint Laurent in Memory
Giant cacti decorate the surrounding of the house
Small blue fountain

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Rambling in Goreme - Cappadocia, Turkey

Amazing landscape near Goreme
Naturally crafted by nature
Having a guide is a luxury that we can't afford all the time when traveling. But every corner of Goreme is so picturesque that you don't really need one to experience the spectacular landscape. Ramble through the unknown and the result can be rewarding!

One late afternoon, after having coffee and sweet patisseries at a tea shop in the town, we decided to explore Goreme on our own to see if we can find some interesting scenic location at no cost. The only cost that we're about to incur is time which is worth spending every minute!

From downtown, we walked up the cobbled streets leading to the top of Adylini Hill. In just two years the town and villages around it has changed tremendously with small and medium sized hotels and pensions sprawling everywhere.   But with such rapid development going on, we are still lucky to see the uniqueness of the surreal landscape.

As we descended the other side of Adylini Hill we came across a small vegetables farm and the friendly farmer invited us to taste the sweet ripe tomatoes. Perhaps the fertile volcanic soil has given the tomatoes the extra sweet and juicy taste. From the farm we crossed over a little bridge near Goreme Kaya Otel. And from there we started climbing up the hills. It was an easy walk up the hills but the wind was very strong that day and we felt like we were going to be blown away. Once on the hill, we found that we were surrounded by valleys full of fairy chimneys. It was just amazing!

We passed by Goreme Kaya Otel
Goreme Kaya Hotel carved in the rocks
The scenery on our way to higher ground
Fairy Chimneys
Amazing rocks formation
It feels surreal seeing it!
View from a high plateau
We walked on the rocks
Goreme town from the hill
Part of Goreme on an Autumn day
Massive chimney shaped rocks - like in the fairy tales

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Photogenic Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou - Morocco

Ait Ben Haddou is situated on a hill overlooking the Ounila valley
We started our day with a hearty breakfast at the hotel, Kasbah Ben Moro. It will be a long way to Marrakech, with several stopovers. Loaded all our stuff on the vehicle and we were all set to begin the journey. We were heading to Ait Ben Haddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. But before that I requested a stop somewhere as most of us were running out of Dirham. Mostapha told us that we will go to a bank in Ouarzazate (Wazazat). I have read about Ouarzazte and its famous movie industry.

Cinema Museum in Ouarzazate
Ouarzazate is a valley at the foot of Atlas Mountains. Apart from being the film capital of Morocco, the desert town is a place where travelers stop to stock up their provision for desert trek. Just a glimpse at a row of shops on the main street, one can tell that this is an expensive place. The town is clean and the film studios, huge fortress and museum in the town are among the impressive sights in Ouarzazate. There are some interesting places to visit around this town but we haven't got much time. Ahmed stopped us right in front of the bank, we buzzed the door bell and was allowed to enter. This is one of the peculiarity about banks in this country - you don't get to enter or exit the banks freely! We had the same experience in Fes.

The Impressive Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou
We changed some Euros and GBP to Dirhams but careful enough not to have too much in hand as they are not tradable outside the country. After taking some pictures along the road we headed to the photogenic Ait Ben Haddou which is about 33 km away. Ahmed made few stops as we got closer to Ait Ben Haddou to allow us to take some beautiful pictures of the ochre Ksar (fortified city) from a distance. We finally stopped in a little village by Ounila River. From the other side of Ounila River, Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou looks very impressive, parading its earthen architecture of Southern Moroccan from the 17th century.

Crossing Ounila River
Half of the fun is crossing the stony muddy river. To get to the Ksar, we had to cross Ounila River where the water level would change according to the season and weather. We were lucky that day as the river was almost dry but a little bit muddy. The good thing is we don't need a donkey or a horse to cross over. That save 20 Dirham! To enter the Ksar you need to pay 10 Dirham. When we arrived, some Moroccan workers were busy working in some parts of the Ksar for restoration. It is a wonderful feeling rambling every corners of the fortress - feels like you are walking through middle ages!

Seen as a perfect ambiance for movie location, several Hollywood movies have been filmed in Ait Ben Haddou. Among the famous were: Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Message (1976), The Jewel of the Nile, The Sheltering Sky (1990), Kundun (1997), The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), Alexander (2004) and Kingdom of Heaven (2005). After 2 hours of climbing the fortress and wandering around the place, we could feel the intensity of the heat and it was about time to leave for our next destination Pasha el Galoui.
Kasbah Taourit - Quarzazate
The town is dominated by the huge Kasbah Taourit
The film studio in Ouarzazate
Oscar Studio outside Ouarzazate town
Barren land on the way to Ait Ben Haddou
The village from the Ksar
Part of the fortified city
Dates and olive trees surrounding the walls of the fortress
High mud walls fencing the settlement
View of modern village taken from the top of Ait Ben Haddou