Saturday, September 20, 2014

Las Vegas, Nevada (VEE)

On another recent work trip to a trade show, I got to go to Las Vegas for the first time.  This post just has a few pictures from that trip.
The view from my room at the Palazzo 
Thankfully I have a friend who lives there and he showed me around when I was free in the evenings.  The first night we ventured over to Old Las Vegas and wandered around Fremont street. 
Downtown Las Vegas - Fremont Street
 On the way back we had to stop in the wedding chapel area (VERY sketchy by night!) to get a quick picture.

On my second night there, we had tickets to go see Cirque du Soleil's "O" at the Bellagio.. amazing!  My face hurt from smiling throughout the show.  If you go to Vegas, you've got to see O!  Afterwards we watched the Bellagio fountains do their thing through a few songs.
Bellagio fountains
Fountains and the Bellagio Hotel
 After the show and dinner, we drove out to the edge of time to see the famous Las Vegas welcome sign.

At the airport: First (and only) time testing out a slot machine

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (AOA)

I recently got to go to Philadelphia for a trade show for a few days and at the end of the show my sister and her family droved own from NYC to do a little sightseeing for a day and a half.  This is a short post of a few pictures from that trip.  In our few hours we walked from the hotel over to Independence Hall, saw the Liberty Bell, went to the National Constitution Center and took a carriage ride and learned about some of Philadelphia's history.

View of Philadelphia driving in from the airport
Independence Hall
My nephew at National Constitution Center
After our carriage ride around Philadelphia

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The last day: Marrakesh, Morocco (Day 9)

My last day in Morocco, we headed back to Jamaa el Fna to continue the search for a lamp and for me to get some pictures since I taken many when we went before.  We started off with a video of the snake charming:

Snake charming
And I finally got a picture of the robe I'd seen so many people wearing across the country:

Then we made our way into the souk, possibly my favorite place in Morocco.  Well.. tied with  hamams. I was determined to find a lamp to take home and Hajar was determined that he would find one offered for a good price.  It was a good goal because it required us to search the place up and down, giving me lots of opportunities for pictures of the fascinating place.

Walking through the souk
The colorful souk in Marrakesh
 Once we'd been searching unsuccessfully for a bit, we decided to take a break and have some coffee at a coffee place that overlooked a courtyard area of the market.
View of the market
My coffee
 After that we headed back into the souk to continue our quest to find a table lamp.

Hanging lamps
So colorful!
Spices for sale
Leather belts and bags for sale
After a lot of searching, we came across a man who decided he was going to help us; Hajar later nicknamed him our "guardian angel."  He left his own booth in the souk--which was filled with tea sets, plates and pots--and led us through the market to several different vendors until we found a lamp I liked that was a price Hajar agreed with.  He also haggled and argued with vendors for us... amazing!  Here is a video of a little bit of that journey:

Hajar had wanted to buy a tea set so she purchased hers from our guardian angel when we returned to his booth and then we each took pictures with him.

Me with our guardian angel who helped us find my lamp
My lamp and decorative bottle
Later that evening we made the drive back to Casablanca, I packed my things and headed to the airport the next morning to go home.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Essaouira, Morocco (Day 8)

The next morning, we woke up and went to breakfast with Hajar's dad and Rachid at Ftour Beldi.  Our waiter was hilarious and kept calling me "blonde baby" the whole time we were there.  After that we headed out for a day trip in Essaouira, a seaside town about 2.5 hours away.

A few miles outside of town, we stopped at a spot that had a good view of the town.

When we got into town, we parked and walked into the Medina.  Similar to Fes, it was made of alley-like walkways and you didn't see cars there.  Most of the buildings were white with details painted blue.  So pretty!  We wandered around for a while.. I kept going into the jewelry stores to look at their silver bracelets and amber rings.

Store in the Medina 

 Eventually we came to the beach.. a very rocky, windy and chilly one!  It was time for lunch, so we looked at a long row of vendors that were selling unprepared seafood that you could take to a restaurant nearby to have prepared.. I probably couldn't name half of what we saw for sale.

Beach of Essaouira

The guys didn't think the vendors had fresh enough seafood, so they led us back into the Medina into a tucked away market area that sold seafood to their liking.  If I didn't know what half the stuff was on the beach, the MAJORITY of the stuff in this area was unidentified.. and totally fascinating!

A few of the choices in the market
Hajar's dad and brother chose a wide selection of seafood for us and took it to a restaurant inside of the market and found a table.  After a bit of time, they brought our food (and there was a LOT) out to us.  We ate for what seemed like hours!  We had fries, tomato salad and some of the seafood we had was grilled shrimp, squid and grilled seabass.
Looking out at the market from our table
Some of our food
After lunch we continued to explore the Medina, walking through a plaza filled with kids playing soccer, until we all wanted a break to sit down, still full from lunch.  We went onto the terrace of Riad Nakhla for a view and to sit, relax and even nap for a few minutes.
Terrace of Riad Nakhla
When we were done resting, we got up and ended up going to the car.  At this point it was just Hajar, her dad and me, Rachid had gone somewhere while we were on the terrace.  After a bit of sitting in the car, Rachid turned up and had a box with him that he'd bought.  He passed it to Hajar and asked her if she remembered how to open it.  Sure enough, she did. She called it a puzzle box.  I thought it was SO cool and was wishing I'd bought one and then he said it was a gift to me!  Yahoo!!  Adore it!

All together again in the car, we headed back to Marrakesh for dinner at the hotel.  The next day would be the last of my trip to Morocco.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Marrakesh, Morocco (Day 7)

In the morning we had breakfast and then went to meet Hajar's middle brother, Rachid.  He drove us to Jamaa el Fna, a square and market ("souk") nearby that Hajar had told me I was going to love.. she was right.  When we walked onto the square, there were vendors showing off monkeys and snake charmers!  I had no idea snake charmers were an actual thing.. but there they were.

We ventured into the market and began shopping.  I bought instruments for my niece and nephew (a small version of the iron castanets the Gnaouas played in the desert to go along with the CD), a wooden tissue box for my grandmother, a personalized bookmark for my brother-in-law a scrubbing shower mit (like what was used in the hamam) for me, and a black leather belt for my dad.  The belt turned out to be quite the adventure.. I knew that my dad would need a belt that allowed for the buckle to be changed out, but no one had snaps or even understood what I was talking about.  Rachid was sure we could figure it out, so I bought one and we went around trying to find a vendor who could convert it into snaps!  We didn't find snaps, but he ended up taking it somewhere and it had removable screws installed.  We also searched for a lamp, which I had really wanted to find, but didn't see the right one.

After lunch, we went to Jardin Majorelle, a garden formerly owned by Yves Saint Laurent and wandered around, then went into the Berber museum connected to it.

Jardin Majorelle
Jardin Majorelle
me and Hajar in Jardin Majorelle
Jardin Majorelle
While we were in the area by the garden, we went into a store and I found a Simpsons postcard that I bought to send to a friend.
Marge Simpson in Morocco
After that, it was back to Jamaa el Fna, where we continued shopping and I bought a Hand of Fatima charm for my charm bracelet, and a silver bracelet.  A little later, we met Hajar's dad for some Moroccan mint tea and then went to the square for dinner.  At night, the square at Jamaa el Fna transforms into a myriad of food vendors/restaurants.

Jamaa el Fna is covered with food vendors at night
Hajar's brother and dad chose one for us, and we waited, standing closely behind people sitting at the counter until they were done and we could take their seats.  We had fish, calamari, bread, and eggplant.. all so good!

Dinner on the square at Jamaa el Fna
Once we were finished eating, Hajar's dad wanted to go to one of his favorite places nearby to buy tongue!  So we went, and I tried some.  Not my favorite, but he was thrilled I tried it.

About to cut a piece of tongue for Hajar's dad
Tongue and bread
Herb juice
After trying the tongue, we went over to a vendor that sold a sort of juice made out of countless spices, and we each had a small cup of that.  Again. not my favorite.  I would probably take the tongue over the juice actually.  But it's supposed to be healthy.  The vendor let Hajar and me climb up into the booth to take a picture with her dad.

me, Hajar and her dad
After that, we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ouarzazate, Morocco (Day 6)

The drive for today, Ouarzazate to Marrakesh
When we woke up, we packed our things and loaded back into the car to head to the Atlas Studios nearby.  The studios were built in the 80s and parts of many American films have been recorded there, including Gladiator, Alexander, The Bible, Passion of the Christ, and Game of Thrones.  It's said to be the world's largest film studio with the property reaching out into the nearby desert and mountains.

Touring one of the sets at Atlas Studios
The view of Atlas Studios' backyard
Touring Atlas Studios
Set at Atlas Studios
Set at Atlas Studios
Once we finished our tour of the movie studios, we got back in the car and were driven to a booth-feeling store by the road that sold rose water.  I bought several bottles for my family for Christmas gifts.  Then we drove to a museum/rug store nearby.  The man there showed us the different pieces they had, most of them artifacts from Berbers, and then rolled out enough rugs to show us that the floor of the room was covered in them.  Hajar found a beautiful purple one that she wanted, and I purchased a woven belly binder for my sister to use when she teaches her childbirth education classes.

Hajar's rug
Once we were done there, we went to Kasbah (fortress) ait Benhaddou, another location that is frequented for filming.  We followed Hassan across a bridge and up to the top of the fortress, stopping on our way up to take a tour of someone's home.  At one point, we were handed weapons used in filming Gladiator for a photo op.  There were vendors along the way selling small items and yellow paintings made from saffron.  When we walked back down, Hassan led us across a little stream to a good photo spot.

Kasbah ait Benhaddou
List of films recorded in this kasbah
Kasbah ait Benhaddou
Posing with props from Gladiator
View from the top of Kasbah ait Benhaddou
View from the bottom of Kasbah ait Benhaddou
We had lunch nearby, then started our journey into the High Atlas mountains.

After lunch we got back on the road and headed up in to the High Atlas.  Gorgeous!  Oh my gosh.  It was so beautiful.  Silly, but it made me think of hot cocoa with marshmallows, such a rich brown ground with white snow.

High Atlas
Crossing through the High Atlas
Sheep traveling a few feet away, their shepherd out of the frame

During our drive through the mountains, we stopped at a place that sold Argan oil, and walked in to see women grinding the seeds into oil for cosmetics or cooking.  We learned that goats climb into Argan trees and eat the fruit, then leave the hard shells.  The shells are collected and the exterior removed by cracking it between rocks.  The pulp of the seed is then crushed into a paste and ground until it reaches a certain texture by using a stone mill.  After that it's mixed, pressed, and filtered multiple times.. no wonder it's so expensive!  I bought some oil for my sister and myself, and then we got back on the road.

By the afternoon, we reached Marrakesh and our home for the last few days of my visit, Club Palmeraie El Dorador.  We had Moroccan mint tea and some pastries with Hassan, paid him and then said our farewells.  It was 3000 dh (about $300) each for three days of driving across the country, room and meals at the hotels.. not bad!  We had dinner then wandered around for the hotel a bit before going to sleep.

Itinerary from Hasan's email:
Day 3: Dades Gorges-Rose Valley-Skoura-Ouarzazate-Kasbah ait Benhaddou-Marrakech.  After breakfast, we will tkae a short walk in the gorges before departure for Marrakech.  We will follow the Dades Valley through El Kelaa Magona, the Valley of the Roses and the road of a thousand Kasbahs.  We visit of Ouarzazate and stop for lunch in Ait Benhadou village.  We will have time to explore the famous protected UNESCO site which is the nest of many films like the Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia and much more.  We will drive via Tichka Pass to arrive in Marrakech.