Sunday, February 27, 2011

Home Again

We are safely back in the United States.  Twenty four days, over
33,000 miles and several trips across the Equator have
passed at incredible speed.  Deb and I are both extremely satisfied
with this trip.  Other than the lack of sleep at times, I have
no criticisms.  Until you have been to all these places in such
a short period, it is difficult if not impossible to fathom the
logistics of moving this group around the world and making sure
they are having a positive experience.  I am sure there are other
outfitters that do this kind of trip but none could be any better
than TCS/Starquest.

For everyone who has read my babblings, thank you for traveling
along with us.  This is my first blog and I thank HEG, III, for
helping me establish it.  It has served a dual purpose as I look at
the blog as my diary of the trip.  We look forward to hearing all
your comments about the trip.

Finally, we consider ourselves fortunate to have made this trip.
It has reinforced our notion that most peoples share common desires
and goals which may come packaged somewhat differently.  And it has
reminded us that even before our nation was settled, there were
advanced cultures around the globe. And the most valuable lesson
that any American can learn from travel is that our way of doing
anything is not necessarily superior to the ways that it is done

Flight Crew

Part of our flight crew posing just before we landed in Florida.  The lady in the middle was the chief pilot for the trek.

Final report from Marrekech

Marrekech has long been discovered by the rich and famous. 
Churchill spent much time here before and after WW II.  It
became a glitzy destination starting in the 1960s and except
for brief periods of political unrest, has remained a destination
of choice.  Part of its allure is its close proximity to Europe.
At the airport, you see rows of European planes.  And you would
certainly not have a hotel like the La Mamounia unless well
heeled travelers were frequenting the place.

Now for the geography.  It would probably be just another
North African city except for the nearby Atlas Mountain range.
The mountains are visible from the entire city and provide
adequate water to what would otherwise be an arid region.  The
early settlers were able to bring water from the mountains via
underground aquaducts.  This water combined with fertile soil to
create a very desirable place to live.

I must give the local government great credit for retaining
the charm of the Berbian and Arabic cultures in the Medina (old
city) and at the same time creating the modern conveniences that
make this a desirable place to visit.  Merrekech is a city of
distinct sections.  There is a "French" section that was built
during the French colonization of the country.  There is also a
"new town" that includes the new hotels, restuarants, and villas.
There have to be strict architectural controls because there are no
high rises and all the buildings are a uniform reddish color.
Foreign investment is high and our guide suggested that real estate
prices have sharply escalated.

The primary language in Morocco is of course Arabic.  But
French is also universally taught in the schools.  This was
only the second place in the world that I have been able to
use my smattering of French.  One of our guides said that
English was becoming more important to learn.

Yesterday, we witnessed a spectacle that has to be common.
There are scooters or motorcycles everywhere.  As we were
walking across the square  headed for the souk, two motorcycles
collided at a high speed not more than fifteen feet from us.
One of the drivers appeared to have head and chest injuries.
Of course, there is no helmet law.  Here I was observing the
aftermath of the collision along with an ER doctor from CA.
And neither one of us had a license to practice in that

Morocco is a monarchy. The king was in residence in Merrekech
while we were there.  Flags were flying throughout the city to
announce his presence.  And we went by his palace and saw guards
in colorful uniforms.

I believe that our 757 has the range to make a non-stop
flight to Orlando.  But we are making a 'technical stop" in the
Azores because the Merreckech airport is not TSA approved.
That means that we will have to disembark in the Azores
complete with our baggage and go through security.  Then, we
will be allowed to land in Orlando. At the beginning of this
trip, I was not sure whether there were strict security rules
for charter flights.  I have seen no difference in our procedures
versus the procedures for regular commercial flights.  There is
one difference in foreign security screening.  You rarely have
to take off your shoes when you go through security.

Our flight to the Azores is almost three hours.  Then we have a
seven hour flight to Orlando.  And there is a five time zone change
from Marrekech (Greenwich Mean Time) to Orlando.  That means we
will be ready for bed when we arrive in Orlando.  We are spending
the night there and will take the flight to RDU on Monday morning
at seven.

As for the 757, it is headed to Seattle where it will start another
around the world trip.  The current crew will fly back to England
and a new crew will be in Orlando to take the plane to Seattle.  The
one exception is the chef who is doing back to back around the world

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Images from Morocco V

 Doormen at La Mamounia.

 Alley in the souk.
 Deb shopping in the souk.

Olive vendor.  Morocco is a large producer of olives.

First Report from Marrakech

We are now in a city which I have wanted to visit for many years,  My image of it was the ultimate exotic north African city.  And it has not disappointed.

I first became of aware of the city when Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young did the song Marrekech Express in the late 60s.  I had no idea where Marrekech was but the whole thing sounded exotic to me.  During this trip,
I googled the song and found out that it was written by Graham Nash while he was still with the Hollies.  They recorded the song but never released it.  He wrote the song after taking a train trip to Marrekech circa 1963.

I have raved about some of the places where we have stayed on this trip but La Mamounia is absolutely the best. It was built in the 1920s and opened again eighteen months ago after a five year restoration.  The restoration took that long because it was difficult to find the needed craftsmen.  But it is magnificent with dark woods and beautiful tile work.  I have posted a couple of photographs but it is very difficult to depict this place and its beautiful gardens.  I encourage everyone to check out the website for this place and see professional photographs.

This morning, we took a guided tour of the medina or the walled old city.  We first walked through twisting alleys where various craftsmen were producing their wares.  The most frequent craftsmen were producing leather and metal items.  Their handiwork is quite handsome and you wish that you have room to buy and take it home.  We also visited a  former school and royal palace.  We finally walked to  an open square where you can let your imagination roam.  There were snake charmers playing their instruments with the snake swaying to and fro.   You should have seen Deb move when one of the snake charmers came toward her with a snake in hand. There were monkey handlers with monkeys who were doing acrobatic feats.  There were fortune tellers, tooth pullers, letter writers, and other useful people.  We did not take pictures because these people expect to be paid when their picture is taken.

We are going to the souk(market) and I think Deb has an eye on some spices she cannot buy at home.  More on that later.

I have had only one disappointment on this trip.  I knew that Churchill brought Roosevelt here in 1943 after the Malta Conference.  Roosevelt stayed in a leased home known as Villa Taylor.  It was owned by an American family named Taylor and was  leased by one of the government during the war.  There was a tower in the villa and there is a famous picture of Roosevelt and Churchill looking at the Atlas Mountains in the distance.  Of course, Roosevelt had to be carried up the steps to the tower.  When Ms. Taylor learned that a Democrat had stayed in her home, she promptly sold it.  I wanted to visit Villa Taylor but learned this morning that it is a private residence and you can not get anywhere near it.

Images from Morocco IV

 Leather shoes in the market.  The Berbers wear the rounded shoes and the Arabs prefer the pointed ones.

 Dried fruit for sale in the market.

Sunning the rugs in the medina or old part of the city.

Images from Morocco III

 The minaret at The Koutoubia Mosque, largest mosque in Marrakech.  Winston Churchill did only one painting during WW II and it showed this mosque.

At the ruins of a former mosque next to The Koutoubia Mosque.  They discovered that the former mosque did not point toward Mecca and they tore it down to build a new one.