Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Free Tuesday #4: MNAC

My Tourist Tuesday took me to Montjuic via metro to Placa Espanya.  Side note: it was funny how easy it was to get there this time, as opposed to my 50 minute bus ride and somewhat getting lost when I went to the Miro Museum.  Anyway, my main goal was to visit the MNAC, or Museum of National Catalan Art.  I've been hitting a lot of museums lately, so I wanted to give myself an easy day today with only one big thing on my to-do list.

As it happened, I got to see another - the reconstructed Mies van der Rohe Pavilion.  Ironically we were just talking about him in Philosophy yesterday, so I was excited to see it in person. I didn't actually go inside because we might be taking a field trip there. But really this is the entire thing anyway!
Then I headed to the MNAC! Let me tell you that the scarf + coat were way too much after the climb to get up there!
The museum is good. It's not really fair to compare it to the museums I have seen recently, and I also admit I am not very informed about Catalan artists.  But it was still good.  I started to take pictures of a few of my favorites.  The two immediately below are "saved" murals from different churches in Spain. I love how they had to reconstruct parts of the churches in order to showcase the murals.
There were a few school groups there, and I actually stayed to listen to the guide for a bit. I can understand it when people speak Spanish to kindergartners... kinda!
When I got to the second floor, I was rewarded with a beautiful view of the interior of the museum.
And lots of modern art! (With the exception of some El Greco's and some Baroque paintings, I was ready to not look at any more religious paintings!) Here were some of my favorites... I included the wall placards if you want more info.

And then I found myself in the giant auditorium. So cool for a museum!!
After that I wandered around Montjuic for a bit, admiring the views.  (The view below is the telecommunications tower - mean to look like an Olympian receiving his medal! So cool.)

And the views! For reference I was exactly opposite here last week.
Overall it was a good Tuesday. I'm heading to Berlin & Prague on Thursday, and I admit I am a little tired.  But there is still so much to do.... :)

Exchange Adventures: Marrakesh, Morocco

For this past weekend's exchange adventure, I headed to Marrakesh, Morocco. Armed with this NY Times article, my TripAdvisor Marrakesh City Guide, and some ESADE friends, I honestly still had no idea what to expect from a new country in a new continent!

Getting to Marrakesh was easy enough, but getting to our hotel and trying to negotiate our taxi was interesting. It's difficult when you don't know the currency, the language, and if you are getting completely ripped off! Turns out we were okay but the bartering culture can make you feel otherwise.  After checking into the hotel (the Dellarosa - highly recommend it!), five of us set off to find Jemaa el Fna - the heart of Marrakesh.  The square doesn't really come to life until evening, but it looked plenty alive to me!
The majority of the stands inside the square sold nuts, dried fruits, and orange juice.  The other main players were the performers - snake charmers, storytellers, acrobats, henna artists, and people wanting to take pictures with us. I never did end up buying anything - I admit that the number of flies around everything turned my appetite.
But we did find a great place for lunch.  After wandering down a random street, we saw a rooftop terrace and decided to try it.  We ordered tajines and couscous, and all of it was delicious!
This was our view back down to the streets.  had it not been cloudy, the picture would have captured the Atlas Mountains in the background.
 This was the view to the cafe across from us. Just to give a sense of fine dining in the middle of Marrakesh's old city!
It started to rain during lunch, so we opted to find a place to overlook the square and drink traditional mint tea. We found the perfect spot and perched for an hour or so while I guzzled about 15 glasses of tea.  I am not kidding - that stuff is nectar of the gods!! So very delicious.
Once it got dark, we went back to the hotel and called it an early night.  The other option was partying Miami-style in the new city, but we all know how likely it is to find me at a place like that... So I am happy to say I got a great amount of sleep on Friday and woke up rested and ready on Saturday.


Four of us headed out Saturday morning armed with a map (which is pretty worthless unless you understand Arabic, and even then was near impossible to figure out) and a "plan" to see some sights. This lasted about 15 minutes until we realized that hiring a guide would be a much better way to see the city.  For 150 dirham (about 20 euros) we got a guide for half of the day - and I must say it was the best 4 euros I've spent yet! Our guide - Aziz- was fantastic. We instantly felt safer and more relaxed with him, and of course we learned a ton. (A note - there aren't signs of explanation anywhere, so you basically must have a guide to figure things out.)

Here is the Kasbah Mosque, the most prominent one in the city.  Obviously 4 non-Muslim females were not allowed inside.   
Aziz took us the Kasbah (oldest part of the city) and explained why the primary color of the city is pink (the adobe helps deflect the sun and keep the city cooler), what the gates meant, who occupied various parts of the city, and the differences between the religions.  
Then he took us to the Saadian Tombs, which housed the Sultan's family and advisers.  The entire place was stunning, with such intricate carvings, woodwork, ceramics, and architecture.  The pictures do not do it justice it all, but I can't help posting a few attempts. 

This picture is interesting for two reasons.  One - the cat, to which some guides joke is possessed. In reality, Marrakesh is full of stray cats.  Two - the grave is marked differently than the others because it is for one of the Sultan's Jewish advisers who was not buried in the traditional Muslim tradition.  The positive Muslim/Jewish relations was a theme for the city, and I found it to be fascinating and inspiring.
Building upon that theme, here is a section of the wall that was turn down to connect the Muslim and Jewish quarters.  (Aziz is deep in explanation here.)
He pointed out interesting aspects of the homes, such as the hamsa, or Hand of Fatima, serving as a good luck charm and door knocker.
... and obvious signs of the Jewish quarter. Notice the Stars of David?
Next stop was the Bahia Palace, built in 19th century for the Prime Minister and primarily serving as a house for his concubine of 4 wives.  Guidebooks say it is "uninspired" but I disagree - I thought it was beautiful and wished I could have seen it when it was fully furnished and occupied.  Upon entry, we admired the landscaping and got a mini-botany lesson from Aziz! Inside Aziz explained the significance of each of the rooms and pointed out features of the buildings design.

The most interesting part of the palace was that the Prime Minister had a favorite wife, an an entire area of the palace was built for his relations with her.  Meanwhile, the other 3 wives could look in through the windows near the ceilings.

After the palace, Aziz took us back to Jemaa el Fna and guided us through different parts of the souks.  We saw all types of foods, clothing, jewelry, spices, bread, carpets, and... well just about everything you could think of.

After spending the day with Aziz, we were ready to sit for a while! You have to leave the Medina (Old City) or not be anywhere with a line of sight to a mosque in order to drink. Luckily we happened upon a great bar (Bert's Bar) and I enjoyed some authentic Moroccan beer.  I love this picture - it looks like I'm sticking the bottle up Jen's nose.  (My selfie photography is just awesome, huh?)
That evening, the entire 8 person group headed to Le Tobsil - based both on a classmates's recommendation and the NY Times article - and it was a feast!! The whole experience was great, from walking through deserted streets with a guide to find the restaurant  to the multitude of delicious dishes that kept coming and coming.  After weeks of smaller tapas style dining, I couldn't believe how much food there was. Not that I was complaining... all of it was delicious and a great experience.
The last day in Marrakesh was spent doing quieter things at a much slower pace.  After a nice breakfast at the hotel with unlimited coffee (oh how I miss American coffee drinking style!), four of us headed to Jardin Majorelle, which was a little oasis in the new city. It was also the former vacation home of Yves Saint Laurent, and we were treated to a little viewing of some of his artwork.  I loved this place, and most of all the pond in the center filled with the most entertaining turtles I've ever seen.  I watched them for a good half hour and could have stayed all day!

After the Jardin, we tried to find another place from the NY Times article but instead got incredibly lost and found ourselves in clearly the non-touristy parts of the city.  However, the people of Marrakesh are so friendly, and they managed to point us back in the direction we wanted so that we arrived safely back to the hotel.  From there, we indulged in some of the spa services during the afternoon, found a nice Lebanese restaurant to spend our evening, and at last headed to the airport for our 11:55pm flights back to Barcelona. 

Some general thoughts on Marrakesh:
  • The best part of this city for me was the people. I never felt threatened or unsafe even in some of the seedier parts of the city.  Instead everyone I came across was wonderful and helpful and so proud of their city. 
  • Morocco is not at all "African." I felt more like I was in Arabia, or even very southern Europe.  Or India, actually - it was very similar to parts of India.
  • I want a tajine so I can replicate the meals I had! Or, more likely, I want to find some good Moroccan restaurants soon. 
  • I think 2.5 days was plenty for this city.  If I were to do it again, I would have spend an additional day in Fez and/or Casablanca and a day or two in the desert.  But considering I have already done that same type of thing in Israel, I don't feel like I missed out at all. 
  • I'm happy to add another continent to my list of travels! However I definitely need to go someplace different to get a more African experience.