Oh my word...!
I have just had the best week away! For the first time ever, I think, I had a holiday where I didn't have to make sure anyone else was fed, watered, entertained etc etc and where there was no access to phone, internet, news (other than the little that filtered through the people we met)... Much as I love my family, this bit of me time was bliss and seriously restorative. Family holidays always have a degree of negotiation and it is always me trying to keep everyone happy so it was a real treat not to have to do that.
A friend and I joined a group trip run by Exodus, a couple of days in Marrakech and 4 days walking in the Atlas Mountains. Sooo beautiful and completely away from it all.
I could bore you senseless with endless holiday photos but thought for today I'd just try to give you a flavour of the place. Marrakech itself is a noisy, bustling city with local people, street traders, entertainers and tourists crowded into the central square and surrounding streets. The air is full of the smells of spices and leather and the sounds of shouted arabic, french and other languages above the constant hum of traffic, car horns and music. It was not a relaxing place as such but it is certainly a completely different culture and a stimulating assault on the senses.
The buildings are all in shades of pinky terracotta to match the red mud and rocks of the landscape and are dominated by the tall towers of the mosques, particularly the central Koutoubia mosque which acts as a helpful landmark for the city centre.
Window frames echo the azure blue of the sky and, even on the humblest buildings, are decorated with intricate metalwork frames.
The narrow streets are crammed with tiny shops with colourful rugs, spices, clothes and jewellry displayed on the street walls.
In a complicated network of streets off the main square, Jamaa El Fna, the souks sell everything from pottery and furniture, to textiles and leather, dried fruits and nuts, herbs, eggs, olives and spices. You name it, it is here and it is where the Marrakech people come to shop as well of the hourdes of tourists passing through. It has to be said that tourists are like a magnet to the traders, who know that they can sell at a significantly higher price to foreigners who come with dirham (the local currency) in their pockets and a different sense of what expensive means. It is actually very cheap to be in Morocco - there are about 13dh to £1 and you can easily get a good meal for no more than 60dh - but I did find the constant hassling exhausting! It is impossible to even stand still to look at a map or take a photo without being approached with an outstretched hand or an offer of being escorted (for a fee of course!) through the streets.
But the colours are fabulous and for a colour freak like me even the cafe cushions and throws and the food were a source of excitement never mind the displays in the shops!
It was a full on experience, which I loved, but was glad to have a few days in the peace of the mountains too - I'll share with you another day.
It has to be said, the whole thing was helped by sunshine and blue skies for the most part - lifts the soul I think. It wasn't hot, particularly in the mountains where the temperatures were around 4-10 C (and colder at night!) but in a sheltered spot it felt much warmer and it was such a pleasure to be away from grey skies.
Having said that, the sun is shining here today too (although it does feel cold!) and a surprising amount has grown in the garden while I've been away - I've got daffodils just about in flower and real splashes of colour from crocuses and primroses.
For now, I need to get back to my usual routine before I go back to work tomorrow! There's shopping and baking to be done, washing and ironing to sort, post to get on top of...oh! and loads of blogs to catch up on!!
Til next time, then