Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The winding streets of Fes

Unlike Marrakesh, the medina in Fes didn't seem to have distinct areas for tourists and locals. While some streets were certainly more touristy than others, for the most part everyone was all lumped in together in a fantastic melange. The café where we had breakfast every morning was chock-full of locals hashing out the affairs of the day over a glass of mint tea, while tunic-wearing school children mixed seamlessly with tourists on the street. Vendors hawking souvenirs and leather goods squeezed happily in between stalls stacked with oranges and live chickens. In some ways I think this meant the city felt more alive than Marrakesh - you never felt like you were separated from everyday life. 


It was one of my favourite places in Morocco. We had breakfast in the same café every morning (I still dream of the freshly squeezed OJ) and then, after a quick glance at our map to choose a vague direction, we started walking. We walked miles and miles up, down and around the alleys of the medina, passing beautiful mosques, tiny hidden gardens, and gorgeous riads. The wonderful thing about Fes was how easy it was to spend a whole day walking in seeming circles, and yet never pass the same thing twice. (As far as we knew!) 


In between plates of couscous, we checked out the dye pits at the tanneries - they were dying red leather the day we were there, can you tell what the day before was? - as well as the amazing local pottery, which is blue and white and completely beautiful. (Sadly after much coveting I left without a single bowl, as I knew there was no way I could get it home in one piece. But all the more reason to go back, right?)


After a long days walking we were pretty exhausted, so the only sensible thing to do was to head straight to one of the rooftop restaurants near the main gate and soak up the last of the sun's rays over a mint tea.

Just thinking about it makes me long for Morocco so much it almost hurts. 

Alice x 

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pretty Parisian Peonies (or: "things I like about Paris")

{originally uploaded by maralina}

One thing I love about living in Paris is the flower markets. Having lived in a perpetually drought-stricken country town for much of my life, fresh flowers have always seemed to me like the most beautiful of luxuries. How wonderful, then, to be able to buy (cheap!) fresh flowers at a moment's notice! Every quartier in Paris has at least one florist - and then there are the flower markets, brimming over with colourful blooms at all times of the year.

{originally uploaded by victoria}

After my rather disastrous day yesterday, I decided that heading out to find some flowers today would be a sure-fire way of rekindling my passion for parisian living. And I wasn't disappointed - after much indecision, I settled on these beautiful peonies. (I'd been secretly coveting fresh peonies ever since Jo blogged about their significance in feng shui - not that I would ever admit to believing in that kind of thing. But hey, can't hurt, right?)


Ce sont trés jolies, n'est-ce pas? 

Happy weekend-ing.

Alice x

Saturday, March 28, 2009

It hailed today...

{originally uploaded by Julie Smith David}

...and I almost cried. Not so much because of the hail, as because I was hoping that I would wake up to blue skies and sunshine so that I could go and sit in the park and everything would be happy and sunny and bright. But instead I woke up and it was raining, and grey. I moped around the apartment all morning till I finally decided to go out with a friend for hot chocolate, so that the day wasn't totally wasted, and I got food poisoning and barely made it home, I felt so sick! I've spent the rest of the day in bed.

So I'm not in love with Paris today. I've been browsing feverishly on flickr looking at images of Melbourne, which is not making me feel any better. I found this picture - see second building, the furthest away, on the left? That's the Potter café, where I worked right up until I moved to Paris last year. I miss it so - the coffee and the customers and the brunetti's cakes.

I think maybe I'm a bit homesick, too.

Tomorrow is another day,
Alice x

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Gently down the stream

Last weekend (on what turned out to be our last sunny day for awhile) we headed out to the Bois de Vincennes on the outskirts of Paris for a picnic. After cycling all the way around the park (which is apparently 3x larger than Central Park in NYC) to make room for lunch, we lay down on the bank eating strawberries & drinking cheap champagne, and wondering if we could convince any of the little french children playing around us to teach us to speak french. (I struggle so much with the french language, so whenever I hear french kids talking I get crazily jealous: "look! she's using the imperative, and I bet she doesn't even know what the imperative is! why can't I do that?") 


The sunshine and champagne had obviously gone straight to our heads, because after lunch someone suggested hiring rowboats and rowing around the lake - and we all agreed! 


I assure you, it's not as easy as it looks! 

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily merrily merrily merrily 
Life is but a dream! 

Alice x 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hyacinths for the soul

One of nature's little miracles has been taking place on my kitchen table this week. 

If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft
And of thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

(Sadi, Persian poet, 1184 - 1291)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Little lost flower

I was walking around my quartier enjoying the sunshine yesterday when I stumbled across a little garden in a square just off the Boulevard Saint-Germain. The garden had obviously just been replanted (probably for spring - hurrah!) and most of the flowers hadn't begun to bloom, so the one spot of colour caught my eye, and I moved in for a closer look.

Then I did a double take. Isn't that... a bottlebrush? In Paris? I was sure that they were unique to Australia (and wikipedia agrees with me). Intrigued, I walked all the way around the square trying to find some indication as to whether the garden was particularly related to les antipodes in some way, but there were no signs. Whatever the reason, I'm happy to have found this little piece of home tucked away in the heart of Paris - I can't wait until the rest of the plants start to come into bloom!

Alice x

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An Open Letter to Paris


Dear Paris, 

I'm sorry I've been neglecting you recently. It's just that I've been so excited about reliving my Moroccan adventures that I haven't really had time to post about you as well.  I know that's unfair, especially since you've been pulling out all your stops just to get me to notice you - that's what the past week of perfect spring weather has been about, right? 

I guess you were frustrated on the weekend, when I spent a completely blissful Sunday in Montmartre - sitting in tiny cafés, eating amazing chocolate & almond pastries and generally soaking up the bohemian parisienne atmosphere - and I didn't take a single photo, let alone write about it. That was wrong of me. 

You were probably pretty annoyed on Tuesday, too, when I went to the hairdresser (for the first time ever in Paris!) and got a proper parisienne haircut, and bantered with the coiffeuse - all in french - and it didn't rate a mention either. 

Most of all I can see why you'd be upset that I haven't talked about the amazing change in the weather that's been happening over the past week - that I've been woken every morning by the sunshine, that the cafés have all moved their tables out onto the terraces, that I haven't had to wear my winter coat once. I apologise. You've been beautiful.

I promise I'll do better from now on. Just keep the clouds away, ok? 

Alice x 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What goes down must come up (or something like that)

I had originally only planned to do one post of Sahara photos, because really, seen one sand dune seen 'em all, right?

Wrong! I've decided I love these sunrise photos so much that I couldn't bear for you not to see them (despite their obvious similarities to the previous sunset!) besides which, I don't want to miss out on telling you about our saharan sunrise. So...

If it's possible, sunrise was even more magical than the sunset. After spending the night wrapped in blankets smelling suspiciously like camel, we were woken at 6am by the sound of our Berber guides clapping their hands outside the tent. In the pitch dark, we rolled out of bed and grabbed our stuff, which was pretty simple since we hadn't unpacked at all (by the time I'd gone to bed the night before it had been much to cold to consider changing my clothes, so I'd ended up sleeping dressed just as I was, including coat, scarf and beanie - which had the unfortunate side effect of ensuring that my coat smelt like camels for the rest of the trip!) The first rays of sunlight were just beginning to peek over the dunes as we made it onto the camels and set out across the sand. 


As we rode it grew lighter and lighter, the colours on the dunes cycling through a rainbow of purple, pink and orange as the sun climbed above the horizon and settled into a beautiful blue sky. 


I could have stayed there forever, but eventually the time came to get back onto the camels and head away from the dunes - there were many more things to see and besides, breakfast awaited! 

Alice x 

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Sandy Sahara at Sunset (and other rhyming fun)

The road out to the dunes was the bumpiest yet, and our heads were continually battered against the roof of the van as we headed out to find ourselves a little piece of Sahara. Concerningly, at some seemingly random point our driver turned off-road completely, so that we were driving along the edge of the desert, dodging pot-holes, puddles, and the occasional wild camel, with no destination in sight. Finally, however, we spotted our 'camel-train' waiting for us in the distance. Hurrying thankfully out of the van and transferring somewhat awkwardly to our next (slightly smellier) mode of transportation, we set off into the dunes...


The van and any other traces of civilization were soon completely out of sight, and the only other signs of life were the hoof marks of camel-trains gone before us. After an hour or so (which was quite enough camel-riding for us!) we reached the berber tents where we were to spend the night. 


As the sun was setting rapidly, we quickly climbed the nearest dune, and then sat and watched the colours play out over the sands. 


This is the Africa I was looking for. 

Alice x 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The many faces of the Atlas

Adventures in Morocco continued... 

We bid farewell to Marrakesh early one morning, and jumped in a minibus full of the usual suspects to drive across the Atlas mountains, destination: the Dades Gorge. I don't know what I'd been expecting from the drive, but the amazing variety of landscapes we saw took me completely by surprise. 

After driving through the farmlands and plains surrounding Marrakesh, we began to ascend into the Atlas mountains. At first the hills were lush and rolling... 


But the landscape gradually became more and more barren, and the temperature dropped... 


Till at last we reached the highest point of our trip and were surrounded, astonishingly, by snowy peaks! 


We left the snow behind (thankfully - I wasn't dressed for it after the warmth of Marrakesh) and descended quickly into the Dades valley, where the landscape was much less lush than on the other sides of the mountain, which excited us a little - we were reaching desert country!


After stopping for a break at the kasbah of Ait Benhaddou (a 'kasbah' is like a castle), which was apparently featured in several hollywood films including Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator (no sign of Russell Crowe, sadly), we hopped back in the bus for the last leg... 


Finally arriving at the Dades Gorge just as the sun was setting and the changing colours were playing over the valley walls... 


Stay tuned - next up : camels, couscous and the Sahara! 

Alice x 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Magic in Marrakesh: Part 2

We left off at the end of a rainy day in Marrakesh, with the sky clearing, the clouds receeding, and the sound of the snake charmers in the square.

Thankfully the next day dawned clear and bright, with nary a cloud in the sky. We set off immediately after breakfast and to get lost in the wonders of the souks, buying beautiful embroidered slippers, lanterns, silver-teapots and many many other completely unnecessary but wonderful things. Our aimless wandering through the medina continued till we left the souks and became so utterly lost that we began to get strange looks from passers by as we walked through the empty streets. 


It got to the point where we hadn't seen a single other tourist for over an hour, so, after unsuccessfully trying to navigate our way out of the medina using the sun as a compass (all that training in brownies was obviously lost on me), we admitted defeat and gave a young Moroccan boy who'd been trailing us a few coins to lead us back to the main square (which he did with ease). 

Undaunted, we had yet another orange juice from one of the many vendors in the square (our professed aim being to try the juice from every one of the twenty-something carts), then headed off in the opposite direction to find a mythical park that some travellers we'd met the night before had given us directions to. 

So we walked... 
and walked... 
and walked... 

Till we finally found this: 

Marrakesh park

An orange grove, a lake, and beyond, a view of snow capped mountains. 


(Which while undoubtedly amazing, was diminished in some ways by the fact that we knew we had 5km or so to walk back to the medina.)

In summary - a completely beautiful day, though we definitely felt we'd earned our couscous when we finally made it back into town! 

Alice x 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A cure for a rainy day

It was back to rain again in Paris today, which I actually didn't mind. For one, I had resolved to get up this morning and go for a run so as not to waste the sunshine, so when my alarm rang at 7:30am and I heard the rain on the roof, I smiled and went back to sleep without feeling the least bit guilty about it. Secondly, the rain and general gloominess gave me an excuse to try out one of my favourite rainy day cures - hot chocolate at the lovely Lilli's Brownies. 


While visiting an american patisserie in Paris might seem a bit passé (how's that for some unintentional alliteration!), Lilli's has the most amazing hot chocolate, in takeaway cups, for only 2 euros! If you've spent much time in Paris, you'll know that's nothing short of a miracle. On top of that, they also do lovely cakes, muffins and other sorts of general 'anglo' baked goods that are often hard to find in this pastry-obsessed city. Plus its warm, cozy, and has some cute seats in the window where you can watch the parade of trendy young parisians from the nearby universities. 


I met up with a friend, and we sat in the window with our cups of steaming chocolate and watched the raindrops fall and the world go by. I can think of worse ways to spend a rainy morning. 

Alice x 

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Is that spring I see peeping out from behind that cloud?

"Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower." 
(Hans Christian Anderson) 

The past few days have seemed as though someone has flicked a switch in Paris - the sun is shining, the clouds have disappeared, and I've almost forgotten how devastatingly cold it was only a few short weeks ago

The beautiful, blissful sunshine is making me see everything in a different light, and I've been pulling out my camera to take photos of everything and anything, even buildings I've walked past every day for the past 6 months: 

St Germain de Pres

The newfound warmth has also brought the Parisians out from their winter hibernations - the Jardin du Luxembourg was crammed on Sunday morning with people just like me gasping wonderingly at the weather, and smiling a little. 

Jardin du Luxembourg 1

It's funny how sunshine can make you smile. 

Keep it up, weatherman. 

Alice x