A Travellerspoint blog

Paris

Summer in Paris including a trip to the new Branly Museum

sunny 22 °C

Paris Trip Diary 25 – 28 July 2006

Very early (6:30 am ) Eurostar for the 2 hour 50 minute trip to Paris on a packed train (lots of Japanese and American tourists). I was staying at a new (to me) hotel, the Eldorado near Place de Clichy. At Gare du Nord, I managed to get through the onslaught of gypsies (women and children – no men in sight) -- asking “Do you speak English? – and then presenting a begging note. Something for us to look forward to when Romania and Bulgaria join the EU ; we won’t have to go to Paris to be pestered by gypsies.

Place de Clichy more promising than my previous experience there (when I thought it a bit dodgy), and Hotel Eldorada a hip fun place. I was in the 6 room original hotel in the garden at the rear of the premises … but later I was to learn that the garden was actually packed with people eating at the adjacent bistro .. and they went on talking until nearly 2am. It all got a little weary making when I was trying to sleep. Perhaps it was just so very hot .. maybe with the windows closed (but then, bad weather …).

There was an interesting Irish bar next to the hotel which provided a great view of the street during a dramatic thunderstorm on Tuesday evening. Anyway, the neighbourhood is safe and interesting, but somehow totally out of the way. Two Metro lines go through Place de Clichy, but neither of them seen to go anyplace of interest to me ; that meant I always had to go a long distance and change trains. I won’t be staying there again in spite of the reasonable price (55 Euros) and nice décor.

My main goal for this trip was to ignore my birthday .. ( 67 in case you really must know), and to see the newly reopened Museum Orangerie (of Monet’s Waterlillies fame). Alas, me and several thousand others wanted to see the newly reopened museum and because it did not open until 12:30 (30 minutes after noon!!!), the queue was so long and the heat so intense that I decided I will make another trip in the autumn when I can only hope it will be easier to see the paintings.

Paris always fascinates, so I soon got over my ‘disappointment’ and went on a walking trip through Tuileries Gardens where a small scale fair was gearing up for a day’s delights : ferris wheel, roundabouts, water slides, etc. It was designed for children, so it had charm rather than noise and drama and looked like the type of thing you would see in a small town rather than in central Paris.

Biggest surprise is that the Inter Continental Hotel is gone .. well, not gone .. but now renamed the Westin (part of the USA owned Starwood chain). I hope that they eventually have some proper signs made, because the brushed aluminum ‘Westin Hotel” sign is downmarket, especially next to the very grand entrance. Since $650 a night is not in this year’s budget, it is all academic.

Thanks to an article in the New Yorker about the fashion designer Balenciaga, I went to the Palais Royal to see a most curious exhibition of his fashion wear. Best known to me as the home of Jean Cocteau (and Colette until her death in 1954), the Palais Royal (for students of the French Revolution; this is where Charlotte Corday bought the knife which she used to murder Marat). The arcades around the gardens are very chic and many of them had dresses, shoes and handbags from the great era when Balenciaga took centre stage in world fashon with his petite robe noir ( ‘little black dress’). Strictly speaking this was not an ordinary exhibtion, you view the work by window shopping along the arcades which are selling their usual collection of coins, medals, ceramics. Shoes, etc…. but in many of the shops there are three or four Balenciago items along with the usual goods of the shop.

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Hot weather and crowds in the streets are nothing new to Paris, and the French (well, those who had not fled to the country .. this being the big holiday season when many Parisians go out of the city), deal with it so well compared with the sweating, frowning, and panting which I saw in London just one day before.

Highlight: 3 course meal at Gai Moulin, rue St Merri. 20 Euro set meal (wine extra).
A half bottle of St Nicholas de Bourgueil ….. a fine red Loire wine .. chilled in the French fashion at 9 Euros was excellent value. Interesting menu and fun atmosphere.
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Low point: the new Museum Branly .. a Grand project of Chirac .. it houses ethnology (the collections of the former Museum des Hommes). I saw a review in the New Yorker (27 June 2006) which said ‘you may find it the greatest monument to French popular culture since the Pompidou’. Count me out .. the building is a mess; the collection simply not up to the standards one expects from any world class museum. A long tedious spiral walkway leads up to claustrophobic display areas. I remember acres of red lino and dramatic lighting of artifacts in very dark areas. Very quickly I lost concentration and was simply trying to find my way out. What a wasted opportunity.

Although Paris is much smaller than London, Paris ( 2.1 million versus 8.5 million in London according to Wikipedia) it seems ‘bigger’ because it is easy to walk through several neighbourhoods which are so close and yet so diverse .. the overall impression is one of millions of people out and about. Much of London seems under populated and quiet in comparison .. I guess that Paris is simply more compact.

A delight .. 40 years on (I first visited Paris in 1966) .. and I hope to make many more visits.

Posted by MarshallC 08:16 Archived in France Comments (0)

Mexico 2006

Mexico City, Acapulco to Puerto Vallarta on the west coast

all seasons in one day 12 °C

Travel Notes – Mexico February 2006

Monday + Tuesday (11/12 Feb)

Amsterdam on a Monday night might be more interesting than Peoria – but only just. I went there to pick up my KLM free-ish Air Miles flight to Mexico City. The bars were dead, streets quiet, so I had an early night. I stayed at the Hotel Park Plaza well out of the city centre, but right on a tram line and very comfortable – a bargain in Amsterdam at £42. The area is residential and has impressive large Victorian houses on a lake (what is the Dutch term for Victorian?). In good weather I’d like to explore this neighbourhood.

Long flight but no problem in transfer to Hotel Monte Real. The taxi fare had nearly doubled since last year .. I bought the ticket at the ‘authorized taxi booth – 240 Pesos ($24). The driver was partially colour blind .. he stopped for red lights, then proceeded while they were still red (I assume he was seeing green).

This area south of Alameda Park is even more chaotic than when I stayed at the nearby Metropol Hotel last year. The streets are closed due to construction, no pavements (sidewalks) or when there were pavements, they had huge pits and holes in them .. very hazardous. Next day I was able to pick a route though this mess which took slightly longer in time but less likely to find me falling in a pit.
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The huge new development (Plaza Juarez) by architect Ricardo Legorreta is impressive. The office blocks and carpark are complete and final touches being made to open spaces which border on the park. It has a sculpture park and I watched a huge bronze foot being unloaded – curious because the tips of the toes are cut off .. I dubbed it Bad Manicure. There are huge grilles and reflecting ponds .. almost a modern Moorish type place. It is the size of a whole New York city block and has two huge towers at the back of the site ; interesting walkways and open spaces near the park and a restored church (now some type of cultural centre) at the front of the site. This area was badly damaged by the big earthquake in 1985 and many buildings are derelict or damaged, so this development really is an improvement. I noticed some restoration work in the adjacent streets, so assume that I will soon be priced out of this area.

Big news here is the expulsion of Cuban delegation (fewer than 20 people) from a Sheraton Hotel where they were taking part in an American-Cuban Energy Conference. The Sheraton is American owned and the hotel bowed to pressure from US Government as part of the Cuban embargo. I wonder what sanctions the USA put on the Americans taking part – the Sheraton apparently did not expel them. What is the USA trying to do? It angers/annoys the entire world. Don’t they have enough on their plate with the Middle East? The Mexico City authorities were retaliating by finding licensing and fire regulation infringements at the Sheraton and were threatening to close it down when I left the city.

Dinner at good old Sanborn’s on Alameda Park .. a touch of 1950 and good if not exceptional food. Not a tourist in sight .. this branch seems to cater for Mexican office workers and families.

Wednesday
Spent the whole morning at the Museum of Anthropology and finally managed to see the entire collection (but not the educational part on the upper level which is mostly in Spanish). This is certainly one of the world’s great museums and a reminder that this culture spans millennia. Fantastic objects in stone, wood, bone and ceramics. The huge Olmec heads are still as mysterious as when I first saw one in Chicago. A recurring theme in Mexican art is the mask .. through various eras and often very beautiful and slightly eerie.

Lunch at an old favourite – La Blancha in Col Madero Street. 3 courses and coffee for 57 Pesos ($5.70) Both the guacamole and the pork tacos were spicy – heaven! This is quite an ordinary place, full of locals.

The altitude (7,000 feet – over a mile high) took its toll and I needed a siesta. In the evening I had drinks near Garibaldi Square where the mariachi bands congregate. It was too early for them to be playing in the square, but they were in evidence and they were sounds of trumpet practice. As the Lonely Planet guide says, this would not be a good place to wander around at night. The people seemed nice enough but it is very poor and there seems to be an air of desperation about it all. Possibly it looks better in summer or even on the weekend when crowded with people.

I enjoy the Monte Real Hotel – not as up market as the Metropol but staff warm and helpful and £25 a night included a basic breakfast.

Thursday

I did a recce (reconnaissance) of the Southern Bus Terminal for my trip to Acapulco. Just as well since it is a very confusing place with several bus companies each having its own counter (no central booking point) and some comparison shopping was required. Also, a maze of stairs and confusing paths to reach the place so getting there by public transport (carrying luggage) not an option.
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I switched to a train (Tren Licora) to go further out in the suburbs to the Anahuacilli Museum which contains the ceramics collection of the artist Diego Rivera. The building is a pyramid type structure of dark volcanic rock ; the lower rooms are rough walled and dark ; there is a huge studio on the upper floor with a wall of windows flooding the place with sunlight. Rivera designed the building but died before it was completed. What an amazing place! The collection is on a par with that of the National Museum and especially the West Coast artifacts (Colima – Najrarit)) are lovely. Unfortunately access is by guided tour and it went too quickly ; I could have spent a half day here easily but the tour was just over an hour long.

Back in the city center, I walked around the Zocalo – there seem to be perpetual demonstrations here. The Gran Hotel where I stayed in the 1980s has been fully restored – very up market and I was not even tempted to check it out. Dear, dear .. what has happened to me? I used to adore these grand places and now find them pretentious. Or is it just sour grapes since I can no longer afford them?

Lunch at Gante Café – great chicken salad at an outdoor table in this pedestrian street which has many places to eat and is great for people watching. There was an interesting outdoor exhibition of Rodin sculptures in a nearby plaza – part of the collection owned by a Mexican bank.

Back at my hotel, the area was crawling with riot police (troops?) and then I realized that there is a huge Sheraton on Alameda Plaza (not the one which was the centre of the Cuban debacle), so I guess they were there in case of any problem. These police are extremely tough looking and heavily armed – I do not find their presence reassuring.

Dinner at El Regiomontano in Luis Moya Street, Cabrito (kid goat) which was tasty but not all that tender (downright stringy, in fact). I think that this is one of those places that is better in concept than in the reality.

Friday

The bus to Acapulco climbed mountains up to the southwest of Mexico City. High desert with few people/animals but interesting cacti, flowering trees and great views. The Hotel Mirador in Acapulco is in a breathtaking setting, built into the rock canyon from which the famous divers give their nightly performances. I had a large room with balcony and fantastic view. Alas, I was to find that I was directly above the band which played nightly for the diners at the expensive La Perle restaurant (so posh the menu did not give prices) which is part of the hotel. After two nights of amplified music and the clump clump of folkloric dancing, I was ready to move on.

Acapulco proved far more interesting than I expected. First of all, no matter how corny the divers sound, this is a very impressive feat. They dive into a small bit of water about 20 feet wide when the tide comes in.
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Acapulco is a big city (1.5 million). Hotel Mirador is isolated but about 10 minutes walk to the centre of the city ; most of the tourist hotels are on a strip to the south of the city. The good news is that means the centre is very Mexican and not nearly as touristy as I expected. There are busy markets and shops – a bit shabby and all very Mexican. The central plaza is small and has mature trees which shade the whole place, several fountains and many cafes which are good for people watching. It is directly across a main road from the harbour and there is a working port in addition to tourist boats. In fact there were fishing boats which I thought would probably be condemned in other places – certainly they would be excluded from smart Puerto Vallarta or Ziahuatenejo.

According to the Miami Herald newspaper, there is a battle between the local police and drug cartels. In the week before I arrived, there was a big gun battle in the streets of Acapulco (near the central area) in which 6 people were killed including a police chief. This matches the battles that are going on in the border towns near Arizona and Texas .. two police chefs were killed there during my stay in Mexico. There was no sign of tension in Acapulco ; this appears to be a falling out between crooked police and criminals. Ordinary people are not involved (or possibly not even concerned) but there is another issue for them I saw a poster about the disappearance of a 3 year old girl ; a local newspaper headline said that 22 Acapulco people disappeared in the past 3 months. Mexico is a violent country – no doubt about that.

Sunday

The bus to Ziahuatenejo goes along the coast but because it is such rugged country the sea is often hidden by mountains. One long beach at (….) is beautiful but I saw only one hotel in this 7 hour journey. The guidebook says the waves here are simply too strong for swimming. Zihua (luckily it is shortened) is an old fishing port and a major tourist destination. There is a new development (Ixtapa) of mega hotels to the north of the old town, but Zihua is small scale, low buildings on a lovely bay with fishing and pleasure boats. Getting really picky – it is not possible to see sunsets which are blocked by a nearby mountain, so this is not a place I will hurry back to. There are too many tourists and this is reflected in the cost of my very basic room -- $25 a night for a cold water room with fan and no view and the constant noise of children in the hotel hallways. I met an NorthWest Airlines pilot and his wife who were staying in Ixtapa where they had great sunset views. Sounds good but I don’t think it is worth $200 a night.

Tuesday

Based on the interesting ceramics in the Diego Rivera collection, I decided to change my plans and go into Colima, about 60 miles from the coast on a high plateau near two volcanoes. I had also had enough of the fat Yankees (and Canadians) in the beach towns.
I decided that I needed a treat after the cold water room in Zihau, so booked into the rather swish Ceballos Hotel on the main plaza in Colima. Large high ceilings with all mod cons and grand public areas.

Getting to Colima was a hassle ; the first class bus I’d planned to take was cancelled, so I had to go by local bus to a town to the north (Lazaro Cardenas), then switch to a different terminal for a Colima bus which stopped almost everywhere on the 200 km road which was curving almost all the way. There were a couple of straight bits near the coast with lovely beaches but no people in sight. At around 1600 hours I was about to doze off when 6 soldiers got on the bus. At first I thought it was a roadblock check but they took seats and were hitching a ride. They came for a highly fortified checkpoint and were all armed. The 3 young ones had rifles which looked almost World War I vintage, but the older ones had those nasty snub nosed automatic weapons which are really scary. The one who sat opposite kept dozing (by this time I was wide awake and on full alert). The muzzle to this automatic weapon was pointing upwards (admittedly at his chin and not at me). My paranoia was working overtime, so I was very pleased 45 minutes later when they left the bus.

I left Zihua at 1000 hours and arrived in Colima at 2030 hours, very tired. There was some type of festival in the plaza (traditional Mexican music first, then loud rock and roll until well past midnight). I just cleaned up, found a meal (Los Naranjos – delicious chicken a la orange). and went to bed – so exhausted that I slept in spite of the noise from the plaza.
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The Regional Museum in Colima is small but informative. There was an ancient civilization in this area (2500 BC) which was related to South American and/or Pacific cultures (as evidenced by deep well tombs which are not found in other parts of Mexico). The most striking artifacts are ceramic dogs (including a charming pair of dancing dogs). The story is that dogs were buried with a corpse because they would guide the person to the Other World (a live dog might be sacrificed, but mostly the tombs had these ceramic dogs). Other ceramic dogs (very short and squat) represented those used as food. These ceramics are sophisticated and very artistic.

[Listen up there in the back, there may be a quiz next time I see you]
I learned two facts in the Regional Museum: (1)coconuts where introduced to Mexico by Filipinos who were brought to Mexico by the Spanish in 1569 and (2) the Spanish branded their animals and the museum had a collection of branding irons and an ancient document which listed brands, owners and number of animals. I always assumed that coconuts where native to Mexico and I thought American cowboys invented branding. Travel and learn.

Went to a recommended Oaxacan restaurant (Ah Que Nanishe)), reasonablably priced ($11 for chicken mole and 2 beers) but the treat was an appetizer – which I think is spelled xijoman or hijoman. It is a turnip like vegetable (the owner’s son brought a whole one from the kitchen to show me what to look for), served raw in sticks, it is very moist, almost like a melon, with a pleasant and refreshing taste.

On my way back to the city centre (the restaurant was 6 or 8 blocks outside the plaza) I encountered a parade which was related to fiesta days in a Colima suburb called Alvarez. Earlier that day I saw a sedate procession starting at the cathedral with horses, musicians, children, etc., but this one – mostly in cars and trucks was a wild affair. All drivers appeared equipped with a can of beer, there were large speakers on the back of pickup trucks with music blaring. The oddest thing was that almost all the cars and trucks had men in silly drag (bad wigs, oversized tits, caricatures to be honest). When the vehicle stopped, they would get out in the street and chase young men and humiliate them with crude sexual advances. The crowd loved it and it was odd to see these macho young Mexican men running away. It was all innocent fun and it reminded me how unusual it is to see the whole community taking part in such an event.

Thursday
I walked out to the edge of the city to the Museum of 3 Cultures which had an impressive collection of ceramics .. more dogs, but also a man in some type of trance (possibly psychotropic). Both people (especially warriors) and dogs seemed to be caught ‘in action’ .. there was a tension and reality about their pose which is really captivating (they date from about 300 AD). This is a small but high quality museum. Alas, there were no postcards or museum guide.

Friday
Up early for the trip to Puerto Vallarta. There is only a night bus which goes non-stop, so I had to go to Manzanillo and change. I thought I was in luck because connections were good (10 minutes wait in Colima and only 30 minutes in Manzanillo) but it was still very long day ; I left Colima at 0730 hours and got to PV at 1700 hours. At first the countryside was similar to that which I had seen on my way from Acapulco but this was even more remote .. the bus didn’t stop as often because there were so few towns. But it often stopped in very remote places when someone was standing along the road and flagged it down. No road, no town, no buildings in sight .. where did these people come from? Odd.

About 2 hours south of PV there was a dramatic change in environment. The high dry desert mountains gave way to more greenery which became more lush (and eventually looked like jungle). We were inland and about 45 minutes north of PV turned a corner and there was the Pacific .. what a welcome sight.

Stay in PV about the same as last year .. room at the Rosita Hotel on first floor, so closer to street noise and really not very good. This hotel is a bargain at £24 a night through Expedia (double that if you walk in at this time of year) but I think I will look for a different place on any future visits.

The big event was Michael Natzke’s birthday ; he was there with several friends. We went to a very grand restaurant (Café des Artistes). This is one of the finest restaurants I have been to in ages (think Oxo Tower in London). It is huge and spacious, mostly white which showed off the large oil paintings and sculpture dotted around the place. Set menu was $36 (£20) but alas, wines were also the same price. In this case it did not matter because Simeon, a friend of Michael’s picked up the tab for the entire group. The highlight was the dessert course which was presented on a large mirror on which Happy Birthday Michael was painted in chocolate, and the various desserts we had ordered arranged around the mirror with lots of slabs of dark and white chocolate as a bonus. Great evening!

Practical Details

Hotel Monte Real
Revillagigedo 23
Mexico City
$25 per night

Hotel Miramar
La Quebrada
Acapulco
$70 per night (fantastic ocean view)

Hotel Ceballos
Portal MeMedellin, 12
Colima
$52 per night

Hotel Rosita
Paseo Diaz Ordaz 901
Puerto Vallarta
$47 per night (cheap rooms ar3e3 very noisey!)

Update on Sheraton Hotel drama:

The authorities have ‘closed’ the hotel (which still seems to be operating). This one will play and play.

Posted by MarshallC 08:06 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Mexico 2007

A trip to Mexico - the highlight was a bus trip on the Devil's Spine,

all seasons in one day 14 °C

Travel Notes Mexico 2007

I flew to New York (Newark International .. my new preferred gateway), spent 6 nights in Manhattan, then fly to Guadalajara and spent three weeks in Mexico.

Highlights

Positive

Guadalajara continues to please me .. it is a great city with lovely architecture. The Cow Parade, though small, lived up to the previous one I enjoyed so much with my sister Liz in Chicago back in 1999.

The Devil’s Spine .. the highway which goes up, through and over the Sierra Madre Mountains from Durango in the interior to Mazatlan on the Pacific.

Negative

It was cold in several of the cities (because of the high altitude) ; not freezing, but too cold for me. The whole point of the exercise is to get to warm (or even hot) places.

The destruction of Puerto Vallarta. The Romantic Zone (the old town at the heart of the city) should really be re-named the Concrete Zone. Two old style plazas have been ״improved״ ; condominiums seem to springing up in spots which formerly had lush green riverside areas with birds.

Crime .. not particularly directed at tourists, but the drug gangs are killing police (who are described by most commentators as corrupt). In one spectacular case, 7 police where shot and killed in an Acapulco police station and the killings videoed.

Monday 29 January

An early night for my 4am departure for Newark Airport and Guadalajara (Not my choice .. the airline changed the time after I booked) .. the $70 taxi wiped out all my savings from the trip into Manhattan! The nice part is that I arrived in Guadalajara early afternoon and not 11pm as originally scheduled.

I stayed at my regular place – the San Francisco Plaza. I was not happy about my room at first ; it was on the second floor and very small compared to the grand spacious rooms in the front. Then I discovered the modern heating/AC unit and all was forgiven .. I have been cold here in the past. I don’t seem to tire of Guadalajara even though I have been there several times. The lovely architecture, busy plazas and great museums make it an interesting city.
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There was even a Cow Parade .. (I recall the massive one in Chicago which Liz and I enjoyed so much in Chicago in 1999). Blank life size fiberglass cows are decorated by local artists. The ones in Guadalajara had the usual Mexican preoccupations: Day of the Dead was painted with skulls, one had a cut out section where you could view its heart and the best was Trans Border Cow .. a prosperous United States of American on one side and starving Mexicans on the other. It took me an age to figure out a centrepeice cow with many legs spread in a huge circle .. it was a Da Vinci Cow, based on the famous drawing of human proportions.

Thursday 1 February

The ceramics in the regional museum are truly amazing. Ancient art here was highly developed. There was an impressive Crucifixion in ivory with very Asiatic features ; probably done in the 17th Century by a Filipino who was brought to Mexico as part of Mexico’s colonial migration system. I was really sorry photos were not allowed .. this is a fantastic piece of art.

Finding a good Internet shop is no longer the problem as it was when on my previous visits. I found one which was quick and cheap (60 US cents for 40 minutes). I liked it because it was operated by an elderly lady who was very proficient with the computers and seemed to be giving training as well as hiring out machines. Just proves you don’t have to be a kid to be computer savvy.

I had another look at the Orozco murals in the Governor’s Palace and must say they are in a league of their own … Especially Fiery Hidalgo which portrays the priest (‘Father of Mexican Independence’) encased in flames ; it is painted in a semi dome in a staircase.

Friday

After a cheap (40 US cents) bus trip to the Central Bus Station I caught the bus to Guanajuato via a transfer in Leon. I decided to upgrade to one of the better hotels – the Sante Fe. It is in a terrific location on one of small beautiful squares but imagine my surprise that (1) there was no heat in the rooms and (2) they keep the front doors wide open so the dining room was chilly at breakfast. The elevation here is 6,649 feet (1.25 miles), so it is cold in spite of lots of sunshine.

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Guanajuato is one of the most impressive colonial cities I have seen in Mexico ; it was many churches, public buildings and squares all connected by extensive pedestrian ways. Most of the traffic of the city is carried through tunnels under the city formed from a one time river bed. At first it seems almost too perfect (is this Disneyland?) but then you realise that tourists still make up only a small part of the population –even on a weekend – and there are ordinary Mexican people living and working in this place. I would love to see a 3 D (axiomatic?) drawing of the city .. it is built in a valley between two steep hills and with stairs going up hills and down into the tunnels, it is almost impossible to determine where ‘level ground’ is. It is like a very friendly maze .. at one point I thought I was lost and then there was my ‘corner church’.

Saturday 3 February

Not warm enough (Note to myself .. stop coming to these high elevations in the winter!). A big surprise was the Diego Rivera Museum ; he was born here and there is a museum in his house. Actually he lived with his family for only a short time on the first two floors of the building. It is furnished in a Victorian style (reminded me of a better taste version of the Pancho Villa home in Chihuahua). Upper rooms have many early drawings and paintings during which he went through all of the phases of modern art (Impressionist, Cubist, etc before finding his own style and subject matter (Mexican history and its Indians).

Another museum (Alhóndiga de Granaditas) is most important as the site of one of the bloodiest battles in the War of Mexican Independence. Father Hidalgo headed the group of peons who eventually massacred the Spanish wholesale. The exhibition contains few artifacts and too many words (in Spanish only) but the rather grim windowless building (built as a granary in the 1790s) is impressive and evocative.

Imagine a city of 80,000 people with no traffic lights, no neon signs, no Starbucks or MacDonald’s .. and that is Guanajuato. The well sited Casa Valadez on Jardin Union produced a first class chicken salad and the nearby Bar Potro serves a Guinness type beer which is dark and sweet but tasty.

Sunday 4 February

Oh dear! Bit of a wasted day. I walked up to the Museums of the Mummies (described in the Lonely Planet as ‘absolutely gross’ which should be right up my street). The light rain turned heavy, I got a bit lost and by the time I climbed way up the hill to the museum there was a very long queue of Mexican families (just the thing for kids) so I decided the whole enterprise was a bit silly. I was not about to spend hours waiting to get in and I retreated. I got some stunning views of the city which made it worthwhile and after a great lunch from a basic place on Avenue which spit roasted chicken over wood fires. The rain increased again so I spent the afternoon reading and resting.

Monday 5 February

I am beginning to do lateral thinking with the bus system. There was only one direct bus to Zacatecas later in the day, so I tacked my way there via Leon and Aquacalientes. .Bus stations in Mexico are generally a cut above their Greyhound counterparts in the United States but there is a slight problem There are several competing bus services and no central ticket point, so you have to do a bit of shopping from company to company and they are not always helpful in informing about alternative services.

In arrived in Zacatecas by 2pm and I stayed at the same hotel (Condesa), dropped my laundry off and was feeling quite at home until I found that my favourite bar was closed, apparently forever. Zacatecas is also a colonial city but more open and spacious than Guanajuato. It has a nice Mexican vibe to it and few tourists.

Tuesday
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After the fog cleared it was a warm sunny day and I walked for hours. I went to the edge of the city to the Rafael Coronel Museum, as interesting for its setting as the collection of over 3,000 masks. The building and gardens were founded in 1593 as a Franciscan mission and abandoned when the Franciscans from Mexico were expelled from Mexico in 1857. Currently the buildings are partially in ruins but somehow they have found good exhibition space for this unique collection. 3,000 masks may sound like overkill, but because of the variety of styles, materials and the broad range of time represented, this is a fascinating place. Materials include gems, stone, ceramics, wood, papier mache, even painted corrugated paper. I found those incorporating animal parts – skulls, teeth, horns, hair, bones and skin – the most captivating. Odd that there were few masks of women and fewer skulls than one normally seen in Mexican art. Oner whole area was devoted to a display of Christians and Moors (the Spanish obviously brought these tales of battle with them)

I walked up to the cable car station (a strenuous hike) and took the trip above the city. I then walked back to the city centre through some basic housing .. not quite slums, but a poor neighborhood of shoddily built houses. Most were unfinished with reinforcement bars sticking out the top as if waiting for another floor to be added. (a subsequent conversation with the American owner of the place I stayed in Puerto Vallarta revealed there is method in this madness. As long as a house is not complete, you do not have to pay full tax on it .. regardless of how long it takes to complete).

Odd sighting. At lunch time and then in the early evening I saw a young man in a distinctive orange sweatshirt walking very fast through the crowds with his arms swinging out and back in a strange fashion, staring straight ahead. He did not bother anyone but appeared to be emotionally disturbed. In Thailand such a person would be viewed with a look of sympathy, but here he was the object of ridicule, mostly by teenagers but also by people who looked like they should know better. Whether through ignorance or cruelty, there is a streak in the Mexican behaviour which is not pleasant. (2) this is a positive note .. both here and in Guadalajara, shops which sell fabrics and sewing accessories appear to have sewing classes with lots of ladies sitting around a table and what appeared to be a teacher helping them. They seemed to be having a good time ; I’d liked to have joined this constructive fun.

I treated myself to a massive Argentinean steak at Garufe, a posh restaurant in a lovely old building. $22 with a huge Martini, and a roast pepper starter. It was a bit spoiled by a waiter who seemed bored almost rude – not just to me but to other guests. This is unusual in Mexico.

Clever Mexicans .. I noticed that in New York (like London) many drivers run the red lights. In Zacatecas, the green light blinks to indicate it is turning, then goes yellow, then red, so there is little excuse for going through on red .. and no one seemed to be doing it.

Wednesday 7 February
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The bus trip to Durango was a ‘chicken run’ with lots of local stops. I stayed at the Hotel Roma – only $25 a night and just around the corner from the cathedral. It is being refurbished but my room was newly decorated, clean and with a view of the grand local theatre. Durango is back in the land of the franchises (MacDonald’s, Wal-Mart) and it was hard to find a real place for dinner. At least it has a good bar .. the Belmont on Bruno Martinez Street alongside the theatre.

Thursday 8 February

Scrumptious breakfast at La Tostada opposite the Florida Plaza Hotel. Lots of locals eating there. I am developing a passion for scrambled eggs with chorizo – not the firm salami type I get in Spain but a soft spicy sausage.

I walked to the park .. which was hardly worth the trip .. scrubby grounds, pine trees. Then a longer walk to the Museum of Culture at Santa Ana Plaza …. Folk art, local crafts but not really much that you could not see if a good craft shop. Dinner at an Italian place – Corleone Pizza at Constitucion 110 North. Limited menu (pizza/pasta) but good and reasonably priced.

Friday 9 February

Bad start to the day .. I went to the Central Bus Station for a 0905 hours bus for Durango and was told it would be an hour late .. but it never appeared and I was transferred to a 1200 hours bus instead. I did not realize the significance of the term ‘de paso’ on my ticket .. it means that a bus going on a longer journey might stop .. but then again it might not. I will need to watch for that in future and it helps explain the hesitancy of the ticketing agent to sell me the ticket.

The late bus was not First Class (scruffy in general and with no seat belts). The upside to it was that it had no blaring video, no freezing air conditioning and the frequent stops meant I got to see a lot of local colour.

Even the dreadful brat in the seat in front of me (he keep bouncing around and flipping the arm rest back on to my knee cap) could not spoil this journey. This is one of the most fantastic bus journeys I have taken .. anywhere. First a description from an objective source:

  • *****************

Source: AAA Tour Book on Mexico

The 320 (200 mile) journey west from Durango to Mazatlan via Mexican Route 40 passes through some of |Mexico’s most spectacular scenery. The views of the Sierra Madre Mountains are truly impressive. The Devil’s Backbone (El Espinazo del Diablo) is a narrow mountain ridge with steep cliffs slanting down from the edges of the highway. The road climbs to over 8,000 feet in the vicinity of geological formations, forests and waterfall.

This highway goes up, over and through the Sierra Madre Mountains (8,100 feet ; 1.5 miles high) and then right down to sea level at Mazatlan. Mountains ranges stretch off to the north and south as far as I could see and there were often sheer rock walls rising up above the highway, then suddenly dropping off on the other side. The road is rarely straight .. miles and miles of tight curves, hairpin turns, up and then down. We came to a sign announcing that we were crossing the Tropic of Cancer and it seemed that suddenly the whole flora changed from high desert with pines to much greener landscape with a mixture of trees, flowers and ferns.

The towns were a disappointment .. very grim. They seemed to centred on logging and mining and although small (2,000 to 4,000 population) they seemed to be near slums with corrugated steel roofs, trash everywhere and downtrodden people. One place had a potentially beautiful river cutting through rock right in the centre of town but it was overflowing with rubbish.

I am getting to be an Old Hand in Mazatlan and got a nice balcony room with sea view in La Siesta Hotel ($44 a night) and was soon out enjoying the walks along the Pacific Ocean. The Ladies Bar at the Hotel Belmar (the hotel is still a dump but they seem to be trying to refurbish it) is still as interesting as ever and with beer at $1 a bottle (50 pence UK), I undid any tension from my 7 hour bus journey through the mountains.

Mazatlan is not spectacular like Puerto Vallarta but it is a pleasing place and the small bay and beach at Olas Altos very attractive. Most of the big hotels are up to the north of the city in the Hotel Zone, but Olas Altos is just a few blocks from the old city centre with its lively plaza, market and shops. There is a lot of rehabilitation of buildings going on here but luckily no ugly new developments (the damage has already been done ; my award for the ugliest building is the seven storey monstrosity next to La Siesta Hotel .. a 1960’s building which now houses a federal agency .. truly ugly and out of place).
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Mostly I like Mazatlan for its Oceanside walk .. a broad promenade which goes on for miles of traffic free walking and great views. I also walked up the hill at the south end of Olas Altos beach to a viewpoint which overlooks the lighthouse and the ferry landing (this is where my cruise ship docked in 2002). There are some lovely homes up there but I fail to see the attraction of the new developments south of there because they are totally cut off from Mazatlan by water .. it must to a long journey to get into the city.

The restaurant below my hotel is called the Shrimp Bucket and I have always ignored it because it is part of a chain (said to be the first) mostly known as Senor Frog. Usually it is filled with large groups of loud tourists. Because I was having an early start and the place was quiet on a Monday night, I gave it a try and was very pleased (and a bit sheepish for being such a snob). 10 huge coconut shrimp (shrimp coated with toasted coconut) was excellent. With cocktail and 2 beers, the bill was $20 .. not cheap by Mexican standards but good value for the quality of the meal.
http://www.mazatlaninteractivo.com.mx/new/en/2006/edition-7/to-the-letter-(shrimp-bucket)/

Tuesday 13 February

There was no good direct connection to Puerto Vallarta , so I took a bus to Tepic and caught a First Class bus to Puerto Vallarta from there. I like this journey through the foothills with glimpses of real cowboys at work.

The Adagio Inn in Puerto Vallarta proved to be a good home for the next week. I have a spacious apartment with full kitchen (alas, I used it only for breakfast), well decorated and very clean .. for $70 a night including tax (Not cheap for Mexico, but cheap by Puerto Vallarta standards). It is located about 10 blocks from the beach in a real Mexican neighborhood, not at all fashionable but interesting. Views from the rooftop terrace include the nearby mountains and the city roofs. Michael and Armando who own this small place (there are 4 apartments) are extremely hospitable and fellow guests were friendly.

Most of my time was spent with my friend Michael Natzke (from San Francisco) and his friends Jack and Simeon. We were there for Michael’s birthday which we celebrated in style at Café des Artistes (Guadalupe Sanchez 740 – Downtown) .. a real 5 star place ; we ate in the garden under the stars. Excellent food and wine and great company.
http://www.cafedesartistes.com/the-restaurant/index.htm

I think Puerto Vallarta is being ruined by overdevelopment. Last year it was Plaza Hidalgo near Hotel Rosita which was ‘improved’ by removing the local street traders and covering the whole space in concrete. This year it was the plaza at the end of Olas Altos which was being converted to an underground car park with a sea of concrete above it. The area near the river which once had Hotel El Molino de Aqua (Lonely Planet description: Fully in keeping with Puerto Vallarta’s tropical village image with cabins dotted around a tranquil garden) is now raw land on which a huge condominium development is under construction. All the trees and greenery have been swept away. The former arts and crafts market near the central plaza is now a multi storey car park (why cars need an ocean view is beyond me). In addition to ‘uglifying’ the city, these developments are pushing out ordinary Mexicans in favour of franchise units, posh shops and foreigners. How do you say THE GOOSE THAT LAID THE GOLDEN EGG in Spanish?

Tuesday 20 February

Very posh bus (ETN) to Guadalajara with the bonus that the sound to movies is delivered through headphones and does not blare out all over the bus. I had a good meal at Sanborns 16 de Septiembre and Juarez); the Happy Hour menu included two beers for 23 pesos ($2.20) A nice finish to my Mexican journey

Much disparaged by the backpacking set, Sanborns is a chain of upscale cafes and restaurants seems to have no British or American equivalent (the long departed Lyons Corner House in London or New York’s Schraft’s were similar). Good food in pleasant surroundings (often buildings of historic significance). Especially the Mexico City House of Tiles branch:
http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/North_America/Mexico/Distrito_Federal/Mexico_City-957620/Restaurants-Mexico_City-Sanborns-BR-1.html

Wednesday 21 February

Ash Wednesday and the Mexicans were flocking to the churches. They do not get that grey smudge that I sometimes see on Catholics in England .. they had clearly defined crosses on their foreheads (black chalk or real ash?). An easy journey through Atlanta to La Guardia in New York where I caught the last shuttle into Manhattan. I stayed at the New Yorker at 34th Street and 8th Avenue .. overpriced at $169 but it meant I could walk to Penn Station next day for the trip to Newark Airport. Did some chores in the morning, checked out Amtrak rail pass for a trip next autumn and had a extended lunch (drinks) at Julius’s in the Village …. always fun and with excellent hamburgers (something I really get in London). No joy with my list of books (on Thailand and Burma) .. too specialised. Even though train to Newark Airport was close to rush hour (4:30 pm), it was not crowded, so easy journey to airport (to think of how I used to struggle to JFK Airport).

Thursday 22 February

The flight was delayed by an hour and totally packed, so I was happy to get to Gatwick and be home by 11am Friday morning. Altogether an interesting trip but I must reconsider going anywhere in Mexico with high elevations at this time of year .. too cold for my taste.

  • **********************

The Practical Details

Hotel San Francisco Plaza
Degollado No 267
Guadajalara
$44 per night

Hotel Sante Fe
Jardin de la Union No 12
Guanajuato
$100 per night

Hotel Condesa
Ave Juarez , 102
Zacatecas
$40 per night

Hotel Roma
Ave 20 de Noviembre, 705
Durango
$25 per night

Hotel La Siesta
Olas Altas 11
Mazatlan
$46 per night

Adagio Inn
Rivera del Rio, 172
Puerto Vallarta
$70 per night (for an apartment)

Morgan Library In New York City

http://www.themorgan.org/expansion/default.asp

Drug related violence in Mexico
Mexico: Acapulco Gunmen Attack Police, Killing 7 [i][u]
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
Published: February 7, 2007 New York Times
Commandos armed with machine guns and dressed in khaki with red berets invaded two police stations in Acapulco, leaving seven officers dead. The invaders were believed to be the hired guns of drug smugglers. The attacks took place on the same day that a police commander in Sinoloa State, Jorge Valdez Fierro, was killed in his car by gunmen. President Felipe Calderón has sent thousands of troops and federal agents into both areas to rein in drug-gang violence.

Posted by MarshallC 07:57 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Marrakech

Magic in the desert

overcast -17 °C

Trip Diary – Marrakech March 2007

Founded in the 11th century by the Almoravid Sultan, Youssef Ibn Tachfine, Marrakech became the capital of the Kingdom, giving its name to Morocco as a whole and was embellished by many fine buildings before taking on a rather more secondary role under the Alaouites.
Known as "the Red City," or again, "Pearl of the South," Marrakesh is a fascinating city, bewitching visitors with its contrasting colours - the ochre sandstone of its buildings, the green of its countless palm trees and the white of the snow-capped Atlas mountains - as well as its remarkable monuments and immense gardens. Berbers and Arabs mingle there, nomads and mountain folk converge there and a wealth of products and handicrafts is on offer there – to say nothing of the palaces, casinos, hotels and golf courses, which all go to make any visit an unforgettable experience. Marrakech is indeed true capital of the Moroccan South!

Summary

Positive

Delightful climate and far greener than I expected with several beautiful gardens. It is a great city for walking .. a whole week without a fall or tumble.

Food is food and cheap.

Delightful contrast between the exotic crowded souks of the Medina and the open boulevards of the new French part of the city.

Negative

No beer. Although you can buy beer in supermarkets, there are no bars and beer or wine is not available in most cafes. The only places selling alcohol are expensive hotels and I don’t find them appealing places.

Noise from mosques in early morning is an annoyance but I was getting used to it by the end of my stay.

…………….

My Easyjet flight was at 7:25 am so I spent the night at Gatwick Travel Lodge. I was able to check my bag the night before the flight and get an extra hour's sleep. Well, I didn't sleep, but got the extra hour and no hassle. The hassle started with the taxi drivers in Marrakech. True to form the 'good price' offered turned out to be three the going rate of 60 dirhams. I objected and another driver offered to take me for 100 rather than 180 and when I accepted, the first driver grabbed my bags and said he would settle for 100 (I suspect they are in collusion). Once on the road he demanded another 20 dirhams for the baggage and I started getting really angry. I was furious but then decided that this was a bad way to start my holiday and decided it was no good getting so upset over 1 Pound.

Things did not look good when the Hotel Islane denied all knowledge of my week long booking ( I had booked through Expedia ). There was a room available except for Sunday when I would have to move to another hotel a night (the receptionist said he would arrange this).

I dumped my bags and set off into the streets, without benefit of a map. Sticking at first to the broad streets I found them fascinating and interesting enough but I finally took the plunge into the souks and was soon wandering through twisting and turning lanes filled with small workshops, crowded with people, donkey carts, motorcycles and cyclists. Although it was similar to souks I had visited in Egypt and Iran, that was over 20 years ago and I was really getting a dose of culture shock.

These narrow lanes are so colourful and exotic that it is hard to believe that they are authentic ; it felt like a stage set. At one point I expected someone to shout 'Where the hell do you think you are going? Can't you see that we are filming here?'

The cast of characters is almost indescribable - old men wearing cloaks with peak hoods looking all the world like KKK members; youngsters in denim who would not look out of place on Chicago's South Side ; some women wearing face coverings; others looking very smart with uncovered hair, stylish clothes and high heels. And the skin colours .. everything from black to a very faint tan.

I was constantly having to make decisions as to which turning to take. What appeared to be the main route with lots of people would suddenly turn into a cul de sac or at best, a narrow passage into yet another small square. Finally the shops were more tourist oriented and I wandered into the main (and fascinating) Big Square (Jemaa El Fna). After a rest and Coke in a café I got my bearings. My hotel was opposite the tall Koutoubia Mosque which dominates the city; it was in a much more convenient location than I expected when I booked the place.

Back to the hotel which proved to be OK .. hot water, clean, newly refurbished, telly with one channel in French. The only drawback was that there was only one small window, about 5 feet up the wall, so the place was a bit claustrophobic. This seems to be common in buildings here except the luxury places designed with foreigners in mind.

After a stop at the hotel I set off in the other direction toward the new city built by the French in 1912 ; whether the French did this through enlightenment or simply because the Medina was too decayed and complicated, it had a positive outcome. The Medina stayed intact within the city walls and is now a huge place unmarred (for the most part) by modern buildings. The new city has broad boulevards and modern buildings, cafes and restaurants and some very smart people.
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The 4:30 am call to prayers from the nearby Koutoubia Mosque is loud - - very loud. I was annoyed when I went past there later (and on subsequent visits) to find that the place is all locked up. I suspect that the imam is asleep in the suburbs when this tape goes off at 5:30. It is odd that there are so few signs of life at this mosque, said to be one of the largest in Africa, holding 20,000 people. I only saw activity there once ... on Friday and there were no more than a few hundred people. The mosque in Whitechapel (at the bottom of my road in London) does more business than that any day of the week and is packed on Fridays.

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The garden adjacent to the mosque is more impressive than I thought at first glance. There is also an adjacent section called Cyber Parc which is sponsored by the telecoms industry (Siemens, Sony, Philips, etc); It has been there a long time because it has well established trees, but the walkways and flower plantings are new and the whole place very pleasing:

My walk took me past the Court of Appeal ; here was an almost universal scene : small groups of smug lawyers and worried clients in conference. The lawyers stride around like lions .. just as they do in London or Chicago ; the clients look fraught – they are paying the bill.

Dinner was good and cheap at a cafe overlooking the Big Square. Tagine is a local speciality (and also the name of the pot in which it is served) .. this was chicken flavoured with lemon and olives topped with vegetables and stewed (sometimes described as a casserole).Salad, Tagine, small pastry and mint tea for 45 dirhams ($5.40 or £2.75).

Thursday

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To Jardin Majorelle jardinmajorelle.com/)

Jacques Majorelle was born in 1886 in Nancy (France). In 1919 he settled in Marrakech to continue his career of painter, where he acquired a ground which was going to become the Majorelle garden. In 1947 he opened his garden's doors to the public. Following a car accident, he returns to France, where he died in 1962. in 1980 Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent purchase the garden and restore it.
Plants of the five continents are exposed in an enchanting framework. This that was the workshop of Jacques Majorelle, inspiration place and of contemplation. The originality of these places lies in the combination of a luxurious végétation and architectural elements allying sobriété and traditional aesthetic Moroccan. The power of the blue Majorelle participates in the freshness impression and of quiétude.

Lunch at a cafe in the French area of the city. Still no beer or wine on offer but an excellent Salad Nicoise. The whole style of the place and its clientele would not be out of place in France. Smart waiters, chic clientele and with the chairs all facing the street so you can see and be seen.

The main Post Office had a queue system, which meant you had to have a ticket, but as the ticket machine was not working I was stymied. I later used the post office near the Big Square and the clerk was extremely helpful. I mortified him when I started licking the stamps for my postcards ; he insisted that I use the wet sponge meant for that purpose. No doubt he thinks Europeans are barbarians.

The main mosque is really a poor advertisement for Islam. The place is shut up tight and the area around it is being used for kids to play football. The grounds are populated by lay abouts, con artists and beggars who prey on tourists: There is a major archaeological site which had glass conservatory coverings over ancient ruins but the glass is broken (not clear if by accident or vandalism) and the whole area has a forlorn look to it.

A real treat here is birdsong .. in spite of city noise, I hear a lot of bird song, even from the small window in my hotel room .. and the closest tree is a long way off.

Dinner at my hotel proved to be very good. The restaurant is on a terrace (3 floors up) with a great view of the mosque. Grilled chicken and a salad of tomato, cucumber, peppers, and half bottle of water for 85 dirhams. ($10 or £5.20).

Friday

I had (very rare for me) a panic attack about the lack of fire precautions in the hotel ; I was at the back on the 3rd floor ; there was only one exit and I could see no emergency lighting. The main staircase from Reception was often without lights. I am certain that I have stayed in worse places and put it all down to a report of arson in London in the newspaper on the day I left. In any case, I really had to exert self control to keep from running out of the place. Perhaps that is why I did not sleep well. I was awake reading when an 0350 call to prayers came from the Medina in the distance: The chanting sounded live rather than canned (volume + pitch varied) and the phrase Allah u Akbar was clear ... reminded me of the chill that phrase sent through me when I first heard it over 25 years ago in Iran. I think I am quoting my friend Richard when I say this is an alien culture ... holding public prayers in the middle of the night seems odd to me.

Another example of the culture seeming odd is the whole question of haggling. I went to the Menara Gardens on the edge of town (I was underwhelmed .. a grove of olive trees in a grid pattern). A man selling doughnuts approached me and when I asked how much, he answered 15 dirhams (that is $1.60 or nearly £1). Since I paid 3 dirhams for a similar pastry in a smart café, I told him no. A French couple said no when he quoted them 10 dirhams ; he then followed me around for 20 minutes trying to get me to buy one for 5 dirhams. By that time I was angry and the flies swarming over the doughnuts had put me right off, so I finally snapped at him. I am certain that if he just sat there with a small sign announcing 5 dirhams (and had some cover for the doughnuts) he would have sold out. They think they are so clever and we are so stupid.

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I took a detour to the ancient City Wall where some repairs are taking place so I could get photographs of the scaffolding which used logs jammed into holes in the wall to which scaffolding was then attached ... very insecure looking. The workers were bemused at my picture taking. It is for my forthcoming book on Scaffolding in the Developing World, to be followed by Building Demolition as art. So far no publisher seems to have found this a good business opportunity

I still have not seen the Atlas Mountains. I’m beginning to think those famous shots of Marrakech with mountains in the distance are a photo montage.. or taken with a telephoto lens which is much more powerful than my eyesight.

There seems to be a lot of aggression here (among men) .. I have seen several fights and there always seems to be someone shouting and making threatening motions. The contrast with Thailand and Laos could not be greater. There it is considered bad form to show your temper - the most common public display of emotion seems to be laughter, often at what seems to Westerners like an inappropriate time:

A couple of kids (say 7 or 8 years old) were tousling in a pedestrian street and when one of them was finally thrown to the ground; a group of 3 or 4 others began to kick him. A French lady (my age) and I objected and the biggest (possibly 14 years old and as tall as the French lady) turned on us and started shouting and threatening. Only then did adult bystanders and shopkeepers intervene and send the whole lot of kids packing: The French lady was upset and one shopkeeper was sympathetic. I didn’t have the feeling that the people did not stop the fight because of fear ( which could be the case in my London neighbourhood) but through indifference:

Karma and going with the flow.

I'd finally found a restaurant (Costa Esmeralda) which serves beer (that is, one which did not charge the earth for food). You never dine alone in a Marrakech restaurant ; I was joined lunch by two cats who keep a respectful distance but had eyes out for all falling crusts. I got back to the hotel around 3 o'clock to a huge uproar. The receptionist said this was the day I had to move out .. not Sunday as I understood it. Panic and annoyance, but they had found a room for me at the nearby Hotel Foucauld. Oddly enough, I had a slip of paper in my guidebook saying 'check out Hotel Foucauld'. I took just a small bag and the family jewels, thinking that I would be coming back to Hotel Islane for the last two nights. The reception area at Hotel Foucauld did not look too promising but the room had a window which opened fully in French style - overlooking the square by the main mosque. My fire phobia about the other hotel was dealt with ; here I could jump to the ground if need be and there was a fire escape to the roof terrace just outside my room. Add the bonus that this room was just a bit more than half the price of the other (210 dirhams $25 or £12.80). I gave the other place notice and moved here. A bit noisier but no worse than at home ..

And it has a plug in the wash basin .. just as well because in my haste to vacate my room I left my portable bath/basin plug and shampoo. Had my late afternoon Pernod up on the terrace viewing the sights ; I like the vibe in this hotel.

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Getting down to the wire so I took myself off early to see the Saadian Tombs
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saadian_Tombs

The Saadian tombs in Marrakech date back from the time of the great sultan Ahmad I al-Mansur (1578-1603). The tombs were only recently discovered (in 1917) and were restored by the Beaux-arts service. The tombs have, because of the beauty of their decoration, been a major attraction for visitors of Marrakech.
The mausoleum comprises the corpses of about sixty members of the Saadi Dynasty. The building is composed of three rooms. The most famous is the room with the twelve columns. This room contains the tomb of the son of the sultan's son Ahmed El Mansour. The stele is in finely worked ceder wood and stucco work. The graves are made of marble of Carrara in Italy.
Very impressive restrained architecture but far too many people there for the size of the space and the garden was disappointing. Then tried to visit the gardens of the Royal Palace but it is closed (perhaps he is in residence?) so I had to settle for a long walk through the Kasbah instead. Just as I noticed yesterday, as you get further away from the tourist centre, you get slightly more hassle .. kids and teenagers trying to be your guide and occasionally being bumped into by someone who then appears to take offence. I have lived in cities too long and they got no where with me;, but I did become a bit more alert. On my meandering yesterday I got a bit lost in a development of tenements with some sullen looking people. An older man stopped me and pointed the way out of the area and said 'there is nothing for tourists here' .. a polite way of saying Bugger Off.

I was awakened early this morning by men talking in parking lot below my hotel room .. Not shouting but too loud for 4am. Then the 5am call to prayers .. finally got one more hour of sleep. I must get ear plugs if I plan to stay here again.

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Went to Dar Si Said Museum, http://www.marrakeshguide.com/files/dar_si_said_museum.htm
mansion of rich man now housing some collectibles. The building is impressive, not huge but the main reception room on first floor is grand and the decoration of plaster and timber throughout is restrained. I was most interested in the small antique chairs which were once part of a children' small Ferris Wheel, (manually driven from the accompanying drawing). The central garden is very relaxing and has a centrepiece gazebo and fountain.

I then plunged into the Medina in search of the tanneries which Gurnos described from their visit here many years ago. I walked for over 2 hours, got hopelessly lost (twice) and never found them. I was in a very non-touristy area with vegetable markets, butchers, bicycle repair shops, and those mysterious unmarked shops where who knows what is going on.

Even after I came to a landmark which was on my map (tombs of the Almovarids) I walked another 30 minutes not knowing where I was until I came into the Big Square. The Medina here is huge ; I really would hate getting lost in there at night. Somehow during the day I felt that eventually I would reach a city gate. The walls are 8 km in circumference, so I make that an area of 4 square kilometres (that is 1.5 square miles …. or 988 acres if you are from the Midwest).

My last evening was not a happy one ; I learned of the death in London of my good friend Peter Hogget, so my thoughts were about him and his friend Gurnos. I was happy to get on the flight home but shocked when I found cold weather and even sleet and snow on the bus home late that afternoon. Back to reality!

The Fine Detail

Cafe Esmeralda
rue Sabour and Ibn Atiya Gueliz

Shuttle bus from airport to main square (Jemaa el Fna) hourly until midnight

Hotel and Restuarant Foucauld
Av El Mouhaidine (opposite park at Jemaa el Fna)

For all photos from this trip, go to:

http://www.kodakgallery.com/Slideshow.jsp?&mode=fromsite&collid=250759628107.503716351207.1187085803306&conn_speed=1

Posted by MarshallC 07:51 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Corpus a Palma

The spring religious and music festival in Palma, Majorca

sunny 28 °C

Palma June 2007 Corpus Christi Festival

Luton Airport
This really should be called Luton Shopping Centre where airplanes take off and land. The This airport is was used by charter flights and. It was scruffy and was the butt of many jokes for being down-market. The airport was modernized and opened in July 2005. Initial impressions are fine … unless you want to sit down. On the Sunday that I traveled, I got there early (allowing for possible Sunday travel disruption) and found that the limited seating areas were fully occupied and because of that, all of the seating connected to the eating and drinking facilities were also packed. The screens with departure information are poorly sited which meant there was a large group of people standing while they waited for their flight information.

The impression on return is even worse. OK- Easyjet is a no frills airline so I had to walk from the airplane to the terminal but to have to go up a flight of stairs, through drab corridors and down another flight to the Immigration area is not acceptable . The whole thing looked like something out of Old Eastern Europe .. but of course there are no ‘shopping opportunities’ on arrival .. that shows where the airport planners’ priorities lie. Enough!! Don’t use Luton if
you have an alternative.

Corpus Festival

Late May and early June is a good time to visit Palma. It is not too hot and although there are always lots of tourists it does not yet have the school kids. More importantly, there are fascinating events associated with Corpus Christi, an important feast in the Spanish religious calendar. In Palma, there are three aspects to what is known as the Corpus a Palma Spring Festival (1) Tours of patios in Palma’s Old City (2) a series of free evening concerts and (3) a religious programme at the Cathedral which includes a procession around the area of the Cathedral. Each of these in their own right are interesting, but in combination they create a very special occasion.

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The Patios of Palma
For the Corpus Festival, over 50 patios are opened (not full time) for either viewing or for concerts. Many of these are private and only accessible during the festival. Walking tours of just over 2 hours are organized each day. You don't have to be an architecture fanatic to enjoy this tour because the guide provides information about the uses of the patios over the years as well as the various differences in them due to refurbishment or extension of the houses.

Music
Free classical music concerts are given in the fortnight leading up to Corpus Christi. I attended three of them: an all Bach programme at the Cloisters of Mount Sion, an organ recital at the Cathedral and a string quartet at Can Catlar. Each of them were good in their own way, but the Quartet Ise (young musicians from the Paris Conservatory) was outstanding ; they played Borodin’s Quartet No 2 and Debussy’s Quartet Op 10.

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The Religious Procession

I went to this with my friend Gurnos who came to Palma for three days. We were surprised that there were so few tourists watching the procession which started at 7pm ; this remains first and foremost, a festival by and for the religious. The procession was headed by groups of men in costume, doing ritualistic dances and reenactments (which did not appear to me to be religious in tone), then the artifacts from the Cathedral were paraded, including a giant Monstrance of gold and silver. The carpet of flowers on the street at Plaza Cort was not disturbed during the procession, but as soon as it finished, people gathered up the greenery and flowers until the whole display was nearly gone.
The Barcelo chapel
The Mallorcan cathedral, most well known as La Seu, contains a great work of art by the contemporary painter and sculptor, Miquel Barceló Artigues (Felanitx, 1957). This is the reformation of the Saint Peter's chapel (known as the "Santísimo"), situated in the right hand side apse at the head of the Gothic temple.

Photos of the chapel:

http://www.mallorcaquality.com/fotos/fotos_catedral_barcelo_palma_mallorca_00.htm

Banys Arabs (Arab Baths)DSCF0704.jpg
These 10th century baths are virtually all that remain of the Arab city of Medina Mayurqa. They were probably part of a nobleman's house and are similar to those found in other Islamic cities. The tepidarium has a dome in the shape of a half orange, with 25 round shafts for sun light, supported by a dozen columns. Notice how each of the columns is different - they were probably salvaged from the ruins of various Roman buildings, an early example of recycling. Hammams were meeting-places as well as wash-houses, and the courtyard with its cactus, palm and orange trees would have made a pleasant place to cool off after a hot bath.
Carrer Can Serra 7 * Tel: 971721549 * Tel: 9.30AM - 6.00PM. Entry fee 1.50 Euro

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_baths_in_Palma_de_Mallorca

Trees in PalmaDSCF0617.jpg

Although it essentially a hot and dry city, Palma has some exceptional trees. one of my favourites is the huge banyan trees near the Ramblas .. construction work is being down around it so I have not been able to hug it, but hope to do so on my next visit.

The Fine Print:[i]

This section contains information on costs, locations and has links to Websites which provide more information>

For more information on the feast day:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corpus_Christi_%28feast%29

For more information on Corpus a Palma :
http://www.palmademallorca.es/portalPalma2/fnot_d4_v1.jsp?contenido=11621&tipo=8&nivel=1400&language=en&agrupacion=01#

The Patios of Palma
For the Corpus Festival, over 50 patios are opened (not full time) for either viewing or for concerts. Many of these are private and only accessible during the festival. Walking tours of just over 2 hours are organized each day at a cost of 3 Euros (walking tours are normally 10 Euros)
http://www.palmademallorca.es/portalPalma2/fnot_d4_v1.jsp?contenido=11621&tipo=8&nivel=1400&language=en&agrupacion=01#
contains more information on the patios and the tours.

Posted by MarshallC 06:52 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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