Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Barolo: the Wine of Kings (and also a beautiful town!)

Last weekend (after returning from Marrakech), we decided to take a last minute day trip to Piedmont, more specifically the city of Barolo. Barolo is known for its wine that is named after the city, and the wine is considered the "Wine of Kings". This was a fun town that offered a beautiful palace with a wine museum inside, a wine tasting, and beautiful vistas with mountains in the background and vineyards as far as the eye can see! The wine museum was very modern, but extremely interesting. They showed that not only are the elements and location important when making wine, but the input of the wine maker is more important. The wine makers ingredients and style change the wine. The main point of the museum was that when you have the same grape, same conditions, and even the same ingredients, the wine will always taste differently between wine makers.

Josh took some fun pictures with his fancy camera, he hasn't uploaded them yet so those will be posted later. In the meantime, I wanted to at least post some information about the trip. Barolo (the wine) is made from the Nebbiolo grape- Nebbiolo wine is considered the "Queen" to the "King", Barolo. When the wine is not aged long enough to be considered Barolo, it is called Nebbiolo. The reason Barolo is called the "Wine of Kings" is because in 1843 the wine production was changed for the grape- it was previously a sweet red wine. The marquise Falletti of Barolo changed the process to more of a French style, and the newer style of Barolo (rusty and tannic) was born. The ruler of the house of Savoy in Turin, Count Camillo Benso of Cavour, was so interested in this new blend that he ordered enough barrels of the wine to last a year! It apparently was quite the caravan traveling to Turin. The king Vittorio Emanuelle II also showed interest in this great wine, and the name "Wine of Kings" was born!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Marrakech Top 5

My favorite parts of Marrakech:
The beverages! Mint tea and freshly squeezed orange juice
The food! Lamb Tajines in particular…
Shopping in the Souks
Entertainment in the main square (especially the men with the Monkeys- find a cafe overlooking the square, sit back, and be entertained!)
Cabbies pushing their cabs forward in the queue to save on gas

It’s easy to see that the food/drinks were my favorite part of MarrakechJ

Some things to be aware of in Marrakech- the guys working the souks are great salesman! Watch out… before you know it you may end up at a rug shop drinking tea and purchasing a rug that needs to be shipped home! Also, this goes for the main square… the people will want you to pay for pictures or anything else they do for your entertainment. This is fine if you are ready, but just be aware that if you sit with the snake charmers, watch a boy get chased by a rooster, or ask for a monkey to sit on your shoulder... they expect you to pay. They may snipe you too, just like the henna lady did to me. She grabbed my hand and started doing henna. Before I knew it I had a few small flowers and she was asking for 20 euro! Yikes. It was a blast, but just be vigilant when you are in the main square!

Third time is a charm!

Some interesting facts about Marrakech: about 1 million people live there, and it is one of four imperial cities of Morocco. It is called the “red city” because all of the buildings are painted red to reflect the red earth of Marrakech. The word “Morocco” is derived from the name Marrakech, so the country is named after the city. The main religion is Muslim and there are many conservative people, although Marrakech is considered to be a liberal city. While we were there, the king was in town which meant increased security on the streets. There were policemen on every corner and in between near the royal palace. The cab drivers that line up along the street keep their cars in neutral. Instead of turning it on and moving the car forward, they just push it. Talk about saving gas! I asked about the scarves that the Muslim women wear over their head and one of our hostesses at the Riad informed me that the profit Muhammad said that women should be covered, and this is why they wear the scarves. I’d like to learn more about this tradition and plan to look into it more…

Day 3:  We decided to go back into the souks after a morning of going to the Jardin Majorelle (the garden that was saved by Yves Saint Laurent), and the saadian tombs. If Yves Saint Laurent didn’t save this garden, it would have most likely been bull dozed and buildings would have replaced it. This place was so amazing! The buildings were painted with indigo blue, and there was a beautiful little courtyard where we found some fun artwork on the walls that looked like painted on windows. Everywhere you turn it seems that there is something beautiful in the gardens- a fountain, windows, interesting cactus, beautiful flowers, gold fish ponds (although some of them weren’t so clean and left something to be desired). But this was a nice reprieve from the pavement and red buildings of the city, not to mention the craziness of the main square and the souks. We had a nice time walking around and enjoying to natural beauty there. This is one place that is a must see!

After a nice relaxing morning we went back to the main square and re-entered the souks with the intent of purchasing a few small items that we had been eying up the past couple of days. After some shopping, we found an amazing shop with all wood products and found a table that we just had to have. Its made of rosewood and inlaid with brass. It was a show stopper for us! With this in mind, we asked how much the table would go for and then went on our merry way to check out another shop with tables we saw the day before. We looked at those tables and decided they just couldn’t compete with the beauty of the rosewood table. So… we went back to the wood shop and tried to negotiate with the gentleman. He sat us down in a little shop across the way that had fabrics (scarves, table clothes, blankets, etc) and gave us some mint tea. Josh and the gentleman haggled over the price of the table, and we determined that we really wanted one of the blankets as well. We planned on using this as curtains in our living room/dining room.
Josh gave a price and the gentleman turned it down. Josh was not about to give in, so we walked away from this guy for a second time. After walking around for about a half hour and realizing that there were no other shops with tables that were comparable, we went back and tried to negotiate again. This time, we made it work! The third time was the charm! The table was shined up and wrapped for us and we were on our way with the blanket and table in tow. This table is so beautiful and I can’t wait to set it up in our guest room!

Now comes the hard part… getting the table home. It’s small enough that we can fit it into our luggage, but the problem was that we didn’t want to check it and risk it breaking when the baggage handlers toss it around. So, we ended up back in the souks on our last day to buy a basket to carry it on the plane with. Luckily it fit, and there were no problems getting in on the plane. Phew! We now have an amazing table to display some of our finds from Marrakech.

The third day of our vacation, the third trip back to that shop… I guess three was our lucky number on this trip!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Day 2: Where are we again?

Day 2: First thing in the morning, we had a great breakfast at the riad. The oranges are sooo tasty, the yogurt was really good (the taste was somewhere between plain and vanilla- it was mild, but excellent). There was also something like apple flat bread, pancakes, orange juice, sweet cakes, and potato flat bread. It was a good thing the breakfast was hardy- we needed all the energy we could get since we were going back out into the craziness of the city again! We shopped some more in the souks, but before getting there we stopped by the palais di bahlia (getting lost on the way- we meant to stop by another place with tombs, but missed the turn off completely). The city is a complete maze! The maps can’t even depict all of the streets in this city. It actually worked out well that we got lost; we stumbled across a local “farmers market” with all sorts of things. There were a few fishermen that were cleaning fish right on the street, butchers cutting/grinding up fresh meat, someone selling tons of boiled eggs, fruits, vegetables, etc. It was an interesting find. We also walked by the royal palace which had a crane’s nest on one of the towers. I’ve never seen a nest so big!


We got so lost that we ended up just walking aimlessly. Before we knew it, we were back in the main square again and back in familiar territory. By this time my feet were sore and we were getting hungry, so we decided to stop and take a lunch break. I had an amazing couscous tajine with vegetables, and Josh had a tajine with fish and Moroccan spices. So good! The food here is great- a lot of spices involved, but not a “hot” spicy. It has more of a cumin, cinnamon, and allspice kind of flavor. After lunch and feeling refreshed, we entered the crazy back streets again to find the master artisan museum (one of the places we couldn’t find earlier). Since we had already walked by all the shops and weren’t as enamored with them, we found the turn off easily and found the place without issue. There was some amazing work in the museum including robes worn by kings in the 1500’s. There was some interesting pottery, and crazy jewelry that the women of the Atlas Mountains wore- their earrings were so big that they had to be held up by their hats! With all of that, the mosaics, and the woodwork were beautiful! I've never seen anything like it. It makes me think that we've entered a fantasy with all of the fun architecture here.

After that we walked through the souks and had a drink at an amazing roof top terrace called CafĂ© Arribe. While the souks are a feast for the senses, it can also be overwhelming! Its complete sensory overload! There is something to look at every step of the way, while at the same time avoiding other shoppers, and telling the souk owners that you are not interested. “Maybe later” is a popular saying here.

We had an amazing dinner at Villa Flore where Josh had pigeon wrapped and fried, covered with cinnamon, powdered sugar and honey. Sounds strange, but it was really good! It almost should have been a desert instead of an appetizer. For our main course I had duck (amazing!) with some sweet potato puree and vegetables. Hands down the best duck I’ve ever had! Josh had the lamb couscous with vegetables. They are known here for their couscous which is much different than any couscous I’ve had in the states. The actual grain is really fine here, where back home it is almost as big as a piece of rice. Here you can hardly see each grain they are so fine. It’s really good!

Another shopping spree today sent us home with a fun lotion bottle for our guest room, a pillow cover (which we intend to use as a small table cloth on a coffee table), some sandals for my feet because my shoes were killing me! And we also decided that we are going to go back and purchase an end table from one of the vendors, but that would wait until tomorrow. We also hope to get to the gardens that Yves Saint Laurent purchased so they didn’t become a thing of the past. They are indigo blue (the buildings) and apparently it is a sanctuary of flowers and plants. I’m looking forward to more of a low key day tomorrow going through the gardens and a short time in the souks. But so far, it’s amazing!

My favorite thing so far- getting roped in by the snake charmers and the henna lady. If you ever get to Marrakech, let these things happen once just for the experience!  GB- we did see the monkeys... but they weren't chasing anyone in a suit! I'll keep looking though :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Marrakech, a fiest for the senses!

Marrakech day 1: 

Welcome to the oasis! Marrakech, Morocco is by the Atlas Mountains (on the west side) and on the other side of the Atlas Mountains is the Sahara desert. Arriving, it was a beautiful 75 degrees and sunny. Believe it or not, the area has amazing fresh fruits and vegetables with a lot of vegetation. It really is an oasis in a desert climate!

Getting to our riad (The Moroccan version of a Bed and Breakfast) was interesting… the cars barely fit down the alley ways of the Medina (the old part of the city). The guides that picked us up at the airport weren’t even sure where our riad was, so we had to stop many times to get directions. Once we finally arrived, we had to stop about a block away because the car would not fit on the street with the riad (and it was a small vehicle). Everyone here has motor bikes for this reason… literally a bike with a motor- not what you would think of as a mopead. Although, you do see a few of those around. After dropping our luggage, we were offered mint tea- some of the best tea I’ve ever had! Amazing. It’s made with black tea, sugar and mint leaves- something we will definitely take home with us!!
We then left the riad and decided to make our way to the famous souks where all of the craziness happens. You literally get lost in there! It seems like something straight out of Indiana Jones. Walking through the souks we were bombarded with people trying to sell us things, "For you my friend, I give good price!". We ended up purchasing a beautiful jewelry box made of juniper roots with inlaid mother of pearl from the little shop shown here. This was after many stops at wood shops and learning about the boxes. We also talked to a “chemist” that told us that the people here are very suspicious and are worried about their eyes. His shop was by the old slaves market (now a wool market)- they used to buy and sell slaves at that location. He told us that the people of Morocco have many things that protect against bad vision. They also keep things such as scorpions to ward off black magic. They do “white magic” here, only for good. They are into natural products like lavender, patchouli, and sandalwood for perfumes. He kept a small little chameleon as a pet, they let me hold it and take pictures with it. He also said that they use crystals for after shave (what looked like quartz). They make a lot of wood products here, as well as scarves, sandals, lanterns, spices and anything you can possibly imagine. There is fresh squeezed orange juice in the main square (Djimaa El Fna) that is amazing! It helped me to kick the nasty cold that I caught after arriving to Milan. The Souks really are a feist for the senses! There are people everywhere, shops as far as the eye can see, and smells (some good... some bad!). It's so much fun!! The first day it was energizing... After that it was exhausting!

After some shopping, we went back to the main square shortly before dusk and got sniped by some snake charmers. They roped Josh in and put a snake on his shoulders, before we knew it the guy had our camera and was taking pictures of Josh and me with snakes and a king cobra on the ground in front of us ready to strike!! After that, a henna lady came up and asked if I wanted henna. I said no, but then she promised a good baby out of the deal, a free picture… and before I knew it I had henna all over my wrist! Again, we got sniped! Of course every time this happens they want money, so we learned very quickly to ignore those people and keep walking! Run- the henna ladies are coming!!

By day it is an open square with snake charmers and ladies doing henna, and what looks like a large open parking lot, but at night it turns into a festival of craziness where there are many food vendors wanting you to eat their food, and people spinning lighted things high into the air. There is music, thousands of people, and just a general energy about the square at night. There are men driving their motor bikes with girls on the back, and it seems that all of the locals descend on the square for story time and socializing. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced! So far, I’m in love with Marrakech and am looking forward to spending more time in the city and soaking up with craziness!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

hello furniture! Goodbye organized apartment...

Last Thursday our furniture arrived! Yay!! No more air mattress:)

My first week in Milan was a crazy one... Between getting used to the neighborhood, the metro, and a job interview (which I start on March 7th!) and our furniture arriving, there is no stopping the craziness- but I love it! Josh took some language classes at Languarama and they mentioned they needed English teachers, so he put my name in. Next thing I knew, I sent my resume to them on Monday, and I had a job interview on Wednesday! It went well and he would like me to start after we get home from Marrakech. Its perfect because it won't be more than a few hours a week, I'll be able to work on my Italian (hopefully with a tutor from the language school), and make some new friends. That and a little spending money is perfect :)

On Thursday our furniture arrived! The two guys that moved everything in were great, but didn't speak English. Unfortunately, my Italian is still awful... so it was interesting. What little I did know came in handy though (in soggiorno, in la camera de letto, in il bagno...). They helped get everything in and start unpacking the kitchen... we soon realized that we have about five of everything in the kitchen! It has made me realize how much "crap" we have back home and how we really need to simplify. I had the strongest urge to start tossing things as we went, but Josh didn't really like that idea. Hopefully over the next couple of weeks we can simplify our kitchen and get rid of the excess stuff that we don't need.

It was a long day and our apartment is now the home of many boxes, clothes and kitchen stuff thrown about. It looks like a tornado hit! After a long day we grabbed a pizza and tried to relax a bit, but it was difficult because we had to pack for Marrakech. Our flight was scheduled to leave the next morning, so after all of that unpacking, we had to pack our suitcases and get ready for a week in northern Africa!

Its hard to leave the apartment when its so unorganized... you can barely get in our front door!! Oh well. That must wait until we get back from Morocco...

(I'll post pictures of the crazy apartment when we get back home...)