Baskets 4 Life Exhibit

While in Copenhagen, we went to the observation deck of the Rundetaarn. The Round Tower houses one of Europe’s oldest functioning observatories. From the observation deck, we could see the spires of the churches and rooftops of buildings across the city. Rather than stairs, you walk up the winding spiral path to the top. Walking down was much more fun!

Halfway down the tower, there is a large loft space for the museum shop and which serves as a venue for exhibitions. On the day we visited, the loft space was taken over with baskets – large and small baskets woven by hand using many different materials. It was an exhibit of Baskets 4 Life, a collective of ten Danish women who weave the baskets. According to their website, the purpose of the project is to highlight the need for baskets instead of plastic bags and to “break existing norms in relation to the appearance of baskets and the use of materials in making them.” As part of their mission, the group has started producing the baskets in Africa to create a source of employment and income for women. You can read more about the project at

Here is a sampling of some of the beautiful baskets on display. My favorite is the crocheted one.

{Click on any image for a full-screen view.}

So began our visit to Fes

Upon arriving at the train station in Fes, we followed our host’s instructions and sought out a cab. Our host had told us how much the cab ride would cost so when the first cab driver quoted a price that was five times more, we told him no and moved on. He relented, agreed to our price, and drove us.

This should have been our first sign.

Once we arrived at the entrance to the medina, we waited for our guide to the Riad. To this day, we’re not exactly sure what happened. My husband handed over the fare but the driver was preoccupied having a heated conversation with a man who was standing on the street. As we’re making our way out of the cab, the man reaches through the window and punches our cab driver. Just then, our escort arrives and we hastily get our bags and follow him through the maze of the medina.

A few minutes later, a man runs up behind us yelling in Arabic. Our escort tells us that he is saying that we did not pay the cab fare. We assure him we did and the man – who was not even our cab driver – finally walks away hands in the air, muttering. So began our visit to Fes.

The Streets of Fes

One of 9,000 streets in the 1200 year old city.

Dar Attajali

Dar Attajali was beautifully renovated but unbearably hot. So hot, my husband could not get any sleep. We were in a large suite of rooms which had several sitting areas, a small kitchenette and a large bathroom. Unfortunately, the room had low ceilings with large wooden beams that dropped even lower. Every now and then as he was pacing at night from the heat, I would hear a bump followed by a slew of words muttered in Spanish. We left Fes ahead of schedule.

View from the Terrace

Madrasa Bou Inania

The Madrasa Bou Inania was founded in 1350 to serve as both a mosque and Islamic college. The plaque marking its location reads, “The mosque is marked by its fine mihrab, its onyx marble columns, and its elegant minaret overlooking Talaa Kbira Street. Its facades are entirely decorated with mosaics, carved cedar wood and plasterwork.”

Tilework Detail

Dar al-Magana

Across Talaa Kbira is Dar al-Magana, which is Arabic for “clockhouse.” The structure is what remains of a hydraulic clock which was completed sometime in the mid-1300s.

Bab Boujloud

Bab Boujloud is the main entrance to the medina. The gate is decorated with green zellij on the inside, the color of Islam, and blue zellij on the outside, the color of Fes. According to Wikipedia, zellij is “terra-cotta tile work covered with enamel in the form of chips set into plaster.” Note the view of the minarets as you look into the medina.

Memories of Marrakech

Narrow streets. Almost being run over by motorbikes. The calls to prayer.

Beautiful kaftans. Wearing a hijab. The night food market on the main square. Snake charmers.

Throngs of people. Hot mint tea. The mosaics and tile work.

The smell of the tanneries. Our rooms in the Riad. Couscous served in tajines.

Traffic jams consisting of yelling locals, confused tourists, speeding bicycles and donkey-pulled carts.

Freshly squeezed orange juice. The smells of cumin, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Being bathed in a Hammam.

Koutoubia Mosque, the largest mosque in Marrakech, was completed in the 12th century.
Djemaa el-Fna, the main square in the medina (old city).
One of many streets and alleyways inside the old fortified city.
Spice jars from a vendor in the souk, a traditional North African market.
Nut and spice vendor on the main square.
At sunset, the Djemaa el-Fna is transformed into a giant open-air restaurant.
Lantern vendor.
Courtyard of Riad Catalina.
Breakfast at the riad.
Fighting turtles. The first turtle sees the second one and starts walking toward it. The second one gets close enough to start snapping at the first. Must have been a domestic quarrel. After a while, both walk off together in the same direction.
The Saadian Tombs date back to the mid 1500s. Members of the Saadi Dynasty are buried inside the mausoleum.
Intricate carvings adorn the columns and ceiling of the tombs.
Outside in the garden are the graves of soldiers and servants.
Inside the Museum of Marrakech housed in the Dar Menebhi Palace built at the end of the 19th century.
A fountain inside the palace.
Doorway in the main courtyard.
Workers restoring the tile work on the courtyard floor.
This door eventually leads to the Hammam inside the palace.
The Ben Youssef Madrasa was an Islamic college founded in the 14th century.
Intricate detail inside the Ben Youssef Madrasa.
Near the Museum of Marrakech is La Koubba Almoravide which dates back to the 11th century and is an example of Almoravid architecture.
Under the dome of La Koubba Almoravide.

More on Marrakech and Fes coming soon.

Your Husband is a Berber!

We wanted to explore Africa and chose Morocco as our first venture on the continent. We were tempted by Casablanca with romantic images of dapper men in white suits and damsels in distress but decided on a more traditional route. We spent most of our time inside the medina in Marrakech and a couple of days lost in the labyrinth of Fès.

If you go to Morocco, a must buy is a woven rug. And if you are going to buy a rug in Morocco, you must be prepared to haggle.

We meandered from rug seller to rug seller, browsing, looking, until we decided to get serious. At the first sign of actual interest, the proprietor took us upstairs to a room stacked to the ceiling with carpets. One by one, a young boy took them down and displayed them on the floor at our feet while we sipped on sweet mint tea.

We saw a few we liked and started whittling them down to our favorites. Then the negotiations began. My husband took the lead while I listened and occasionally shook my head. The starting price was outrageously high. My husband patiently explained that we knew nothing about rugs or how much work went into making each one but thought they were all quite beautiful, and that we were on a budget. He made a counter-offer. Apparently it was outrageously low because our host threw his hands in the air and described the craftsmanship that went into each one in agonizing detail.

And so the conversation continued. The proprietor gave us another price. I opened my eyes wide with shock. My husband told him we would love to buy a rug from him since he had been so patient with us but it was too far off our budget. Another counter-offer. More detailed explanations. It continued like this for some time. I had another glass of mint tea. Finally, they agreed on a price. The proprietor exclaimed that he would not want to disappoint me by sending us home without a rug. We thanked him effusively.

As my husband handed him the agreed-upon price, the proprietor turns to me and exclaims, “Your husband is a Berber!” I can only deduce that meant that (a) my husband is cheap, or (b) a very good negotiator.

This is our Moroccan rug.