Thursday 23 June 2022

New Japanese style garden

The middle of our very long and thin garden was a bit dull, and this is how it looked in April.


In the last week I have started to work on it, and yesterday I had the idea of digging down to make a gravel garden. 

Within a couple of hours I had a good sized hole and I banked the soil up all around the edges. Part of the plan was that because all of my plants are quite small, then I thought that if we sat below them and looked up then they would all seem bigger.

Then I looked online for something to edge the sides and found someone selling almost 200 reclaimed for £50. This seemed a really good deal so I set off to pick them up. Once I got there I realised how big and heavy 200 old bricks were. In fact, they were probably twice the weight of the bricks that we used to build our house.

Not to be deterred I started loading them into bags for life and storing them in the footwells and front seat, and then stacked all of the remainder in the boot. Eventually it was done and the car seemed very heavy as I made my way back.

Darren unloaded them for me, and after a suitable rest I started setting them up.

In the end it took 138 bricks, and I have 56 left to build something else, so that's great. 

Darren has ordered some gravel and stepping stones that are due in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime I am expecting the plants and weeds to start growing. 

Thursday 16 June 2022

Gardener's World Live

Unfortunately Darren has been stuck down by Covid, so I am making a solo trip to Gardener's World Live at the NEC.

To my surprise it was taking place in a massive outdoor space, rather than in one of the exhibition rooms. I barely had time to start looking around before I spotted TV cameras so I got my camera ready to take a photo without knowing who was there. Looking up I realised that my favourite presenter, Adam Frost was heading right towards me, and I just had time to close click once.

Straight after he looked up and said hello to me.

What a great start, particularly as I looked around and saw how big the place was with thousands of visitors.

I then admired a natural swimming pool and rang Darren, who was very practical and said that we couldn't have one.

The floral marquee was enormous and I had a great time wandering around.

Exiting from a side door I spotted the TV cameras again, and there was Monty Don and Rachel de Thame!

Unfortunately Monty was chatting to the camera and kept moving so my photo is a bit blurred, but it was lovely to see him in real life.

I didn't buy too much in the end, just some secateurs and a metal otter, but I was so pleased that I went, and have now driven down to the cottage so that Darren can recover in peace.

Saturday 11 June 2022

Ouarzazate to Marrakech

Another day, another long drive, but this is the last one of the holiday.

First stop was a kasbah about a mile from our hotel called the Kasbah of Taourirt. It was built by Pacha Glaoui, who was the most powerful governor in the Atlas Mountains. 

It has recently been restored using all of the old traditional methods, and once inside the labyrinth of rooms within rooms, it was surprisingly cool despite the almost 40 degrees heat outside.

We were only commenting to each other yesterday that we hadn't been to a carpet shop yet, but then our next stop was suddenly obvious. We weren't tempted but they did good business with our fellow travellers.

Then on to the Kasbah of Ait Benhaddou. This is considered one of the most beautiful sites in the country and has been used in many films. Probably the most famous was Gladiator with Russell Crowe and I really must watch it when we get home.

I think that this gate was also used in the film, although I would be surprised if they managed such a dramatic shot as this.

Then we drove over the High Atlas Mountains and down to Marrakech. After an overnight stay in the best suite in the hotel (!!), we are now at the airport for our flight home, and I have given our last dirhams to this excellent busker.

Thursday 9 June 2022

Erfoud to Ouarzazate

We had a nice morning sitting around the pool at the hotel while we waited for the rest of our group. They had been on an overnight trip to sleep in the desert in a tent, but we were very happy with our hotel choice.

This is our hotel from the front entrance, one of the most scenic places that I have ever stayed.

Once we were all back together then we were off on another long drive. This time we had various photo stops along the way to see ruined kasbahs (sort of castles) and an oases (this is the plural of oasis as I looked it up on Google).

We arrived at our main stop of the day called the Todra Gorges - an incredible gorge carved out of the red rock and with the great rarity of a stream running through it.

Darren took loads of photos of me on the rocks in the stream as he thought that I might fall in. I thought it likely to, but I got safely and dryly back to shore.

Afterwards we carried on with our drive to Ouarzazate for an overnight stay.

Fez to Erfoud

 A nice start to the day as we climbed 1,000 metres into the Middle Atlas mountains and arrived at the town of Ifrane. Getting off the coach we were surprised to find the temperature nice and cool, and the area is known as little Switzerland in Morocco - possibly.

There used to be lions roaming in Morocco, but no more. However, the country's football team is known as the Lions and there was a good statue.

Next was the monkey stop to see macaques in the cedar forest. These are the same type as in Gibraltar, so I stayed on the bus. Daz was braver though.

We then descended back into the desert and the heat, and the long drive east. Along the way were lots of villages, and to cope with the intense heat the houses were single story, with tiny windows and made of mud, so the same colour as the desert.

Nearly all with electricity and satellite dishes, so hopefully pleasant inside.

We stopped at an oasis. How big do you think it was? I would have guessed a little pond and 20 palm trees. This one appeared out of nowhere and had many villages and 50,000 palm trees.

Further on still, through an area that 350,000,000 years ago was under the ocean, and as a result has loads of fossils. Darren bought one for me from a roadside stall.

It is an ammonite split into two and polished. He is insistent that it's a fake from a factory, but I know that it's real and lovely so I don't care.

Further and further on and then we get to our hotel. A beautiful traditional building with rooms around a courtyard.

Surprisingly for the desert our room smells quite damp, and it's very dark inside, but the aircon works which is good as it is roasting outside.

Tuesday 7 June 2022

Tanneries of Fez

We started this morning with a visit to a pottery and mosaic workshop. We had the obligatory tour of the workshops 

that was very interesting and then our fellow tourists proceeded to buy almost everything in sight. We joined in and bought two cereal bowls and a great time was had by all.

Then we moved on to tour the Medina, or old city. The streets were so narrow and steep that we had to walk in single file. 

As we got nearer to our next stop we started to notice an unpleasant smell that got worse and worse. At the entrance to the tannery shop we were each handed a big sprig of mint to try and reduce the smell.

I noticed one lady stuff some into each nostril, and another guy balanced it under his nose by pushing his lips out into a sort of Hitler moustache look. I was very pleased with myself as I whipped out my covid mask,pushed the mint inside and then wore it for the rest of the visit.

Once we got up on to the top floor we had an amazing view of the tannery.

If you look closely you can see men working in the little pools. 

The guide explained the process of turning camel,cow and sheepskins in to leather of different colours that they then turned in to bags, coats and poufs etc. It was a huge eye opener, and all done in the traditional way. I can't remember all of it, but the light coloured pools on the left hand side are full of pigeon droppings and the skins are left in it for many days as the acid does something to the skins.

It also accounts for the terrible smell. After that they are moved to the coloured pots where they are washed for 25 days in natural coloured dyes to add colour to the skins. It looks like an awful job,but apparently the jobs are passed down through the generations of families.

After that time, they are then left in the sun for a number of days before they are ready to be turned into clothes and bags.

Unfortunately I think that everyone was as shocked as me by what they had seen and smelt, and I don't think that anyone bought anything.

After that we had lunch which our guide told us was a fantastic Fez delicacy. Called a pastilla, it was a sort of chicken and spicy pie topped with icing sugar and cinnamon. I had huge doubts about whether chicken went well together with sugar and in my opinion I was right - it doesn't. However, we had good company and Daz and I shared one between us,which was more than enough.

We also toured a beautiful old building called a Madrassa, which is a Muslim school dedicated to learning the Koran. It is empty now, but had amazing decorative plasterwork in an enclosed courtyard.

We were told that the best students had the windows overlooking the courtyard and the others had darker rooms at the back, which seemed quite fair really.

Tangier to Fez

 I have worked out that Morocco is a large country and the cities are very far apart,so we spend a lot of time getting from place to place. The countryside in between is often very beautiful, but it can last for a bit too long at times.

Today's highlight was a town on the way called Chefchaouen. In the olden days the women of the town used to paint it blue as in the winter they were troubled by mosquitoes, and if they painted the buildings blue then the mosquitoes thought it was water and stayed away. Apparently.

Anyway, it makes for a lovely place and lots of photos.

Our guide is called Mohammed is called Mohammed and is really nice. He dresses in traditional clothes now that we are out of Marrakech and can be spotted immediately.

Lots of other men dress this way too, but usually in white and they are much smaller than him, so our guide looks like the grim reaper.

Watch out Darren, he's just behind you.

Our hotel in Fez is great and we had a rooftop dinner with Morrocan Champagne, as the waiters called it, or sparkling water as that was what it was.

Monday 6 June 2022

Casablanca to Tangier

Our hotel in Casablanca was right next to a huge mosque, and we were keen to get a closer look.

It was on a platform over the sea and all around people were having a great time on the beach and jumping in to the sea. There was a lovely promenade in both directions and we had a nice walk along it.

After dinner we went back to see the sunset behind such a beautiful building.

This morning our guide told us that it was the third largest mosque in the world, but although definitely enormous, Wikipedia said it came in at about 10th. Not that it matters.

Our tour group has been joined today by 30 Canadians, and they are very friendly, but it's a big group.

Looking back on today, all that I can think is that it was very long, lots of driving and looking out of the coach window. However, we did also see some good stuff.

Rabat is the capital city and is up the coast from Casablanca. It was supposed to have an identical mosque tower to the one in Marrakech but the king died before it was was finished, his heirs didn't finish it either, and then it was badly damaged in an earthquake in the 1700's. It's been repaired recently and looking very nice.

Lovely beaches with a large and very scenic cemetery just behind them.

A very nice old town also overlooking the sea.

Then we carried on up the coast for a very long time, but a genuine highlight for me happened at the motorway service station. Everywhere we looked there was storks nest on the top of electricity pylons.

Finally, it was getting quite late by then but our guide insisted on taking us the very long route to Tangier so that we could see the meeting of the Atlantic and Mediterranean seas. I did try, but it all looked like water to me.

Ps, now that I look really closely at this photo, maybe near the horizon the water is a different colour. Amazing!!!

Saturday 4 June 2022

Walking tour of Marrakech

Off on a tour of Marrakech with our group and guide. It's a beautiful morning and not too hot.

First stop was the Koutoubia Mosque which dates by to the 13th century. Our guide told us that after people worshipped there for the first 100 years they found out that it was not facing towards Mecca.  Quite a disaster really, but they seem to have rebuilt the ground floor but left the tower as it was.

Next past all of the horse and carts waiting at the Jemaa el-Fna Square. This is a photo taken a bit later of one of them as viewed through an arch in the city wall.

It's supposed to be a bit arty and I kept pressing my camera button either too early or too late, so this is one of Darren's pictures.

The Square whose name I can't pronounce was quite empty as it was quite early in the day, but I spotted a sad looking monkey on a chain and stayed well away.

Then our guide took us into the souks and backstreets for a very long time.

Eventually we emerged into the daylight and went to see the Bahia Palace. It is a beautiful place that was built by the Vizier for his first wife called Bahia. Apparently it means 'beautiful' in Arabic and she was his favourite and had her own private quarters in the Palace.

Unfortunately she also had to live with his other three wives, and his hareem of 20 other ladies. Our guide didn't tell us what she thought of that arrangement.

This is the hareems rooms.

Selfie with Bahia's garden in the background.

Beautiful ceiling.

Finally our last stop was the oils and spice shop where the salesman did a great pitch, but unfortunately we are a cheap group and only one lady bought some hibiscus tea.

The afternoon saw us drive the 200 miles to Casablanca and we have just checked in to our hotel.