Have Bag, Will Travel
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Category Archives: Morocco
““Do you like that?” I’ll say and she’ll look at me as if I’m mad. That!?” She’ll say, “No, it’s hideous” “Then why on earth,” I always want to say, “did you walk all the way over there to touch it?” but of course…I have learned to say nothing when shopping because no matter what you say… it doesn’t pay, so I say nothing.” Bill Bryson – ‘Notes From a Small Island’
In several previous travels to Alicante and the east coast of Spain we had visited much of the coast and the obvious places to go and see so today we set out to do something different.
I didn’t really have shopping at the top of my travel itinerary but you have to give and take sometimes and Kim and Lindsay wanted to go and look at sparkly things so we spent the morning at a modern mall at the town of La Zenia. I didn’t do a lot of shopping I have to say, just wandered about a bit and found somewhere for a drink as the girls enjoyed a frantic two hours or so in the shoe shops.
Later that day we eventually did something quite different. Mick and Lindsay knew of a secret place at the foot of the mountains inland, Moroccan Tea gardens called Carmen del Campillo the ‘Casa Morisca’. This it turned out is an unexpected and enchanting place with echoes reminiscent of Moorish Spain.
The description Moors derives from the Latin Mauri, a name for the Berber tribes living in Roman Mauretania, modern day Algeria and Morocco. It has no ethnographic meaning but can be used to refer to all Muslims, Berber or Arab, who over a thousand years ago travelled north out of Africa and colonised the Iberian Peninsula. The Moors arrived in Iberia in the year 711 and began a period of history which would give Spain a different and unique history to the rest of Europe as the entire region adapted to a new religion, language and culture.
The period of Moorish occupation was to last nearly four hundred years and normally I would look for palaces and castles as a reminder of this time but in the Levante you have to look at the countryside because the Moors created the landscape of the region.
They expanded and improved Roman irrigation systems to help develop a strong agricultural sector. After the irrigation they planted citrus groves and peach and almond orchards. They introduced many new crops including the orange, lemon, peach, apricot, fig and pomegranate as well as saffron, sugar cane, cotton, silk and rice all of which remain some of Spain’s main products today.
The terraces on the hillsides throughout the region are an everlasting Moor legacy. There are no olives or vines in Valencia and Murcia just acres and acres of fruit that stretch as far as the eye can see.
In holiday brochures this might be the Costa Blanca or Costa Calida but it has a less well-known alternative name – the Orange Blossom Coast which owes its name to the sweet smell of citrus that hangs in the Spring air. Spain is Europe’s largest producer of oranges and two-thirds of these little balls of sunshine come from the region around Valencia. The millions of orange trees are shiny green the year round, clothed in delicate white blossoms in spring and bright orange baubles in the autumn when each tree groans under the burden of up to five hundred fruits.
The Moroccan Tea Gardens are difficult to find and involved a long drive along a dusty track until we arrived at what seems at first sight to be an oasis in a thirsty plain. Getting in is easy enough but I worried about getting out again when the iron gate was closed firmly behind us with a firm jailhouse rattle.
One inside the whole place is a rapturous assault on the senses, the sights, smells and sounds of Morocco, brightly painted walls and decoration, the aroma of burning incense and the music of North Africa.
Terracotta pots with effervescent geraniums and boiling blooms. The garden weaving intricately and effortlessly through the house, making it an indoor and outdoor experience all at the same time. The house consists of a labyrinth of rooms that open onto open balconies, sun-bleached decks and private terraces that lead directly to the rooftops. The objective of this tea house is to encourage tranquillity and relaxation and as afternoon slipped into evening it was illuminated with Islamic lamps and traditional wood burning fireplaces in every other room.
After we had investigated the house and gardens we found a table and ordered tea and sweet pastries and waited for the sun to disappear behind the mountain range, the Serra de Crevillent and when it had gone and we felt tranquil and relaxed we left the little piece of Morocco in Spain and made our way back to Rojales and the coast.
The blue of the sky and the terracotta of the earth…
“I distrust camels, and anyone else who can go a week without a drink” – American comedian (if there is such a thing) Joe E. Lewis
The beach at Essaouira in Western Morocco stretches for a couple of miles or so and about half way along there are camels, lots of camels. Once they used to carry trade goods from the Sahara to the port but now their job is to provide rides for visitors and tourists.
I have always thought that some things should only be done once in life and for me a camel ride is quite high on this list.
I took a camel ride in Lanzarote in 1984…
Having very quickly forgotten my lesson in the boat yard about being easily hustled I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself negotiating with a camel owner for a one hour ride along the beach and before I could say Lawrence of Arabia I was sitting on a shaggy carpet on the back of a dromedary and being hoisted into the air! It is a long way up on a camel so once on board there is no realistic opportunity of changing your mind that won’t involve a sprained ankle or a broken leg!
To be fair I was happy with the price – 150 dirham (£12) for one hour and one mile which compares very favourably with £2.50 for a five minute and two hundred yard donkey ride at home on Cleethorpes Beach, near where I live.
And so we set off at a leisurely pace along the beach with the camel man persistently trying to persuade me to spend more and extend the ride to two hours. I refused, I was certain that an hour was long enough and I held out. I was proud of myself for that.
In my pocket I had brought with me some pages from a note book so that I could make a record of the day and at one point I thought of something so brilliant, so Bill Bryson, so Hemingway, so Laurie Lee, that I felt I needed to write it down immediately in case I forgot this potential literary gem and I reached inside my pocket for pen and paper.
Unfortunately it was quite windy and as I clung on firmly to the wooden saddle with one hand I was surprised by a strong gust that separated me from the paper and it went back-flipping across the sand like an Olympic gymnast and it was lost. Now I would have to rely on memory.
As it happens, this was rather like Lawrence of Arabia himself. Lawrence kept extensive notes throughout the course of his involvement in the First-World-War and he began work in 1919 on the manuscript of his book ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’. By December it was almost complete but he lost it when he misplaced his briefcase while changing trains at Reading railway station sometime in the following year. It was never recovered and he had to start all over again.
At least Lawrence still had his notes but he did have to rewrite four years of memoirs, I only needed to recall four days!
Another famous loss is the story of Thomas Carlyle and his book ‘The French Revolution: A History’. In 1835 he finished volume 1 and gave it to his friend John Stuart Mill to read for his comments.
Unfortunately it was the only copy of the work and Mill’s servant allegedly mistook the book for household rubbish and used it as a convenient source of material to get the kitchen fire going one morning!
Unlike Lawrence, Carlyle apparently kept no notes at all and had to completely rewrite the first volume entirely from memory.
Little wonder he looked so glum…
In 1922 Ernest Hemingway lost his entire early work including the only copies when his wife had a suitcase stolen from a train in Paris as she was transporting it to her husband in Switzerland. I can’t imagine Hemingway being terribly understanding about that.
Anyway, the camel ride continued until it reached a block of stone in the sand – a ruined red brick fortress, battered by the years into submission and collapse by the unrelenting waves. At some point in the late 1960s Jimi Hendix visited Essaouira and stayed a while in a nearby hippy village and they like to tell you around here that it was during this sojourn that he was inspired by the ruin to write his song ‘Castles in The Sea’ but sadly the dates don’t quite correspond and it turns out that he actually wrote the song two years before ever setting foot in Morocco.
And so the camel ride had reached its turning point and then returned me as promised to the start where I was mugged for a second time today when the owner told me that we had been out for an hour and a quarter and that I owed him 200 dirham. Another lesson learned!
Following the unexpected election of Donald J Trump to the office of President of the United States the Walt Disney Corporation may find it necessary to have a rethink about the way countries are represented at EPCOT World Showcase at World Disney World in Florida to more accurately reflect the thinking and the policies of the new Commander in Chief.
Here are some ideas that they might consider…
Starting with China the Temple of Heaven could easily be demolished and replaced with a replica of the Great Wall of China to reflect an immigration policy which will redesign the USA/Mexico border with the construction of Trump’s Great Wall of Texas/New Mexico/Arizona/California.
Rather appropriately we come now straight to Mexico which could be completely redesigned with the removal of the Aztec Temple and the boat ride El Rio del Tiempo with its audio-animatronic figures clad in authentic folk clothing, singing, dancing, and playing music. They are all way too happy and friendly and I suggest should be replaced with a Western theme based entirely on the movie ‘The Magnificent Seven’ which will emphasise the Trump image of Mexicans as fearsome gun-toting criminals showing no respect to their neighbours and swarming illegally over the borders of their village.
No really big changes required at Norway except for more emphasis on Elves and Fairies because these are the sort of mythical creatures that Donald consults with at his policy think-tank meetings and a lot more Trolls because he is good at being sexist and insulting and trolling is the basis of his interactions with normal and respectable people.
“Belgium is a beautiful city” Trump said during a rally in Atlanta, Georgia.
Donald doesn’t seem to have an especially good understanding of the complexities of Europe and the diversity of its constituent countries so to make it easy for visitors it would be a good idea to simply amalgamate Germany, France and Italy into one brand new attraction called the European Union and put the Eiffel Tower in amongst the canals of Venice and next to the Brandenburg Gate.
The United Kingdom could be included if it wasn’t for the distracting issue of the referendum and the decision to leave the EU but thinking ahead it would make sense to place the two attractions side by side so that they could easily be integrated if the democratic decision of the British people is overturned by the Remainers.
Until that issue is resolved the United Kingdom should remain mostly unchanged to reflect the ‘special relationship’ that Donald has promised to maintain but with one important addition to represent his own personal ‘special relationship’ a waxwork image of his pal and UK BREXIT champion Nigel Farage might be placed at the bar of the Rose and Crown pub.
The concept of Neighbouring Canada is designed to represent the great healthy outdoors with a canyon and a lake with a waterfall and a healthy forest but to reflect Trump’s threatened environmental policies and a reckless denial of global warming it might have to go through a complete remodelling and a whole different sort of attraction.
My suggestion is forest of stumps, trees killed by acid rain.
Currently the only country at Epcot that represents the Muslim world is Morocco where six shops decorate the pavilion which showcase Moroccan art and skills, selling visitors everything from rugs to leather goods and traditional Moroccan clothing.
Donald of course has little or no respect for Islam and seems to regard them all as treacherous terrorists so all of these representations of art and culture and peaceful religion I am afraid will have to go and will need to be replaced with exhibits that explain just how sinister and dangerous these people are.
With Donald reassessing his foreign policy alternatives and threatening to withdraw support from traditional allies then there will no place in the new EPCOT World Showcase for poor Japan who I recommend simply be replaced by new allies Russia and a replica of Red Square and the Kremlin and a Victory Day Military Parade ride.
That only leaves USA and there seems no urgent need for change in this pavilion, Donald has promised great things and Hillary has said ‘give the guy a chance’ and anyway, there are four years of Trump Presidency so if he fails or lets people down we can return to World Showcase USA and make any changes we want any time we want.
Anybody else got any suggestions for a restructured World Showcase?
If you are at all interested you can check out my original World Showcase post here…
“Granada! Holy place of the glory of Spain,
Your mountains are the white tents of pavilions,
Your walls are the circle of a vase of flowers,
Your plain a Moorish shawl embroidered with colour,
Your towers are palm trees that imprison you” – José Zorrilla y Moral
We had a good room in a nice hotel in Romilla and from the balcony we began to adjust to the pace of the place which, it has to be said was dangerously close to reverse.
The sun was shining now so we went for a stroll at what I would describe as a sort of normal walking pace but which seemed to startle a couple of the locals who were busy sitting around doing nothing and who broke out into a sweat just watching us amble by and then we came across a bar who seemed surprised to suddenly have some customers. Anyway, it was very pleasant sitting in the sun at last and we stayed for a second beer and the barman prepared us some complimentary tapas.
I was reluctant to raise the issue of the obvious absence of restaurants in Romilla but despite my efforts to avoid it conversation inevitably turned to evening dining arrangements. These were so limited that our only real option was to return to a service station at the side of the nearby main road. This could have been a disaster for me but luckily it turned out fine, there was a motel on the site and an excellent reasonably priced restaurant where we enjoyed an unexpectedly good meal.
We had an unusually early start the following morning because we were driving to Granada and had timed entrance tickets to the Alhambra Palace complex and believe me this is a good tip – make sure you book in advance on line because entrance tickets are strictly limited to a prescribed number and if you turn up on the day expecting to buy a ticket and it is full then you won’t get in. End of!
I have been to Granada several times as it happens. Not this one of course but the Granada Cinema in my home town of Rugby. What a flea-pit it was. A towering brick building built in 1933 and originally called the Plaza but later in 1946 changing its name to the Granada in the same way as so many others as they borrowed continental place names such as Alhambra, Rialto, Amalfi and Colosseum to make them sound more exciting. Later car manufacturers did exactly the same of course and we had the Ford trio of Corsair, Cortina and Granada, Triumph had the Toledo and the Dolomite and the Seat the Ibiza and the Cordoba.
And not just Granada, I have also been to the Alhambra, that is the Alhambra public house in Coventry which was on the once a month Saturday night pub trail when I was a lot younger.
It was a short drive to Granada, one of the great cities of Iberia, located at the confluence of four major rivers and at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the highest in all of Spain and still snow capped at the highest peaks which created a picturesque backdrop as we made our final approach to the Alhambra.
At ten o’clock it wasn’t especially busy and we easily collected our tickets and began our visit to a place that with three million visitors a year claims to be the most visited site in Spain.
Top ten most visited are Alhambra, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Mosque at Cordoba, Santiago de Compostella, Burgos Cathedral, the Alcazar of Segovia, Roman Theatre at Merida, Casa Mila in Barcelona, the Cathedral and La Giralda in Seville and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. I have visited them all except for the Guggenheim.
We began in the gardens of the Generalife, the summer palace of the Sultans and Emirs and built in the shadow of the mountains in the coolest spot on the site away from the suffocating heat of the Alhambra itself.
The Alhambra complex was built for the last Muslim Emirs in Spain during the the Nasrid dynasty who at the time were increasingly subject to the Christian Kings of Castile. After the final expulsion of the Moors and being allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, the buildings occupied by squatters, the Alhambra was rediscovered following the defeat of Napoleon, who carried out retaliatory destruction of the site.
It has been restored now to its former glory and exhibits the country’s most significant and most precious Islamic architecture.
The 1492 surrender of the Islamic Emirate of Granada to the Catholic Monarchs is one of the most significant events in the history of Granada as it marked the completion of the Reconquista of Al-Andalus. As part of the deal the Muslims were allowed to stay in Granada and afforded religious toleration but within only a few years the Christians reneged on this and those who refused to convert were expelled.
Christians took possession of the site and added a cathedral and a castle complex and sometime later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V demolished part of the site and built himself a grand palace but then having gone to all that trouble he never bothered to move in. What a waste!
Fortunately today much of the Palace of the Moors remains intact (restored of course) and eventually we used our timed tickets to join a queue to go inside. It was wonderful and it immediately transported us back to Morocco and the Palaces of Marrakech and Meknes. Architecture that foams like a carelessly opened bottle of fizzy water, slender columns, floating arches and wood and stone that dissolves into fragile lace.
Hanging gardens, foaming fountains and sparkling streams of water, cool welcome shade, sunshine trying to break in like a thief, startlingly fine alabaster white stucco work, geometric tiled patterns exploding with colour, decoration like stalactites dripping from the elaborate ceilings, carved columns and horseshoe arches and I immediately understood why this just might be the number one place to visit in Spain.
We stayed as long as we possibly could in the Palace complex but inevitably the flow of visitors carried us like an estuary to the exit and we left with an overwhelming feeling of total satisfaction.
In the heat of the afternoon we visited the Palace of Charles V and the museum inside and then the Alcazaba with stunning views over the whole of the city of Granada.
I had hoped that I might persuade Kim to walk down into the city centre and at least visit the towering cathedral but I could tell that she wasn’t particularly keen so I kept that suggestion to myself with the thought that one day we might return to Granada and see all of the things that we were now going to miss.
Perhaps we should have stayed in Granada rather than Romilla but it was too late to reverse that decision now so we made our weary way back to the village and the hotel El Soto de Roma and rested a while before making our way back to the village bar for wine and tapas and later we returned to the motorway service station for evening meal where we reflected on a really excellent day.
The custom of painting doors blue extends across Europe and beyond and is common across the entire world.
Even today in provinces of Spain buildings are decorated with blue bands and designs, houses in Egypt, in the Arab villages of Israel, and entire villages in Morocco, have blue walls. The same colour decorates the houses of Mexican Indians and in the United States the Amish in Pennsylvania paint their doors blue because, just as in Greece, many folk magic traditions and customs maintain that a witch cannot cross a blue threshold and according to such belief, a blue door is an effective barrier against evil, much like laying a broom across the thresh hold, putting salt on the windowsills or a hanging a horseshoe above the door.
Milos Island, Greece
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Black Forest, Germany