Friday, March 04, 2016

Dover, England

Just a few more photos from KLS' and my time living in London last winter.

This trip to Dover started like so many of our adventures. We woke up way too early, hopped the first tube of the morning to hop a train to show up early for a full day of exploring. This was one of my favorite train rides because of Bill Bryson's book about his humorous travels in England.

The white cliffs hover right over parts of town along the water.

 Once we got to Dover, we ambled down to the water. On our way over to the white cliffs, KLS found this formula. She did not solve it.

Dover is a major commerce link to Calais, France and mainland Europe. In addition to moving goods for sale, they run up to 48 ferries per day across the 20.6 mile wide English Channel. If you zoom in on the photo, you can just make out France in the distance.

 The busy port of Dover.

 Our wet, muddy, windy, wonderful walk toward the white cliffs just outside of town.

Dover Castle

I am only including a picture of the NAAFI restaurant because I tried to hold a Pitt Endowment meeting from this location. Technically, I tried to hold it from inside the building because it was so cold out. The portable wireless device was no match for that stone work. I ended up moving to the bench in front of the structure that is cut off on the left side.

 Part of Dover Castle.

These were the last walls we needed to breach while storming the castle to reach the Great Tower.
Dining Room inside the Great Tower of Dover Castle.

 Cooking inside the Great Tower of Dover Castle.

 Unlike most of the castles I have visited, Dover Castle was used in in the past 100 hundred years. During World War II, they used three miles of secret tunnels as a hospital and military command center.

Good food along the water made for a great wind down to a long, active day before catching the train home.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Three Days in Marrakech, Morocco

Europe is small. Hopping between countries is like scooting between medium sized states in the USA (but with 3-4 times the population). On top of that, Morocco is just nine short miles across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain. That makes it an ideal spot for a quick getaway.

 A plaza market in the medina, the old city in Marrakech.

 The central courtyard of our riad (a peaceful escape from the medina chaos). The riads were generally a central courtyard with an open air roof that was surrounded by guest rooms on 2-4 sides.

 The street to to our riad.

Originally, KLS and I were going to go for a ten day jaunt across the entire country, but my ear infection at Christmas disagreed. We could not get refunds from our budget airline so we decided to explore one locate for a few days instead. That stop was Marrakesh, but we did not take the Marrakesh Express.

 There are so many oranges that people just let them fall to the ground.

 Medersa Ben Youssef, an Islamic College from the 14th century.

 The main attraction in Marrakesh is the medina - the old city. It has thick defensive walls that clearly divide it from the rest of the city. The main streets are bustling with shops, motorcycles, bicycles, carts carrying goods, and enough people that you'll never be more than three feet from someone. It will assault all of your senses.

Each night, we were able to escape the chaos by returning to our lodging, a peaceful riad inside the medina. The drastic difference between walking along a shopping street and the atmosphere in our riad cannot be overstated. Chaos to calm. The riads in the medina were a little more expensive. Some of this is due to the proximity to attractions, higher quality of maintenance, and great amenities. However, I think the key piece is that after a day working your way through the crowds, fighting off scam artists, dodging motorbikes, and breathing in enough dust to wish you had a surgical mask, you just want a quiet retreat. The riad provided that in spades. While we loved exploring, we were always very happy to get home.

 A tannery where they turn goats into leather.

 KLS educating the local populace, much to the dismay of the hustler who took us to the shop.

Palais de la Bahia, finished in 1900.

Palais La Bahia

KLS starts eating the local fruit at Palais La Bahia.

After a quiet night, recuperating, we were off to see the sites. Palaces and souks (markets), then more souks and palaces. The palaces were a curious site. The buildings were ornate and fun to explore, but they were also virtually empty of anything (exhibits or even basic furniture) inside. It wasn't quite what I was used to, but neither were the prices. The 'major sites' only cost $1-2 to get in. It gave me a better appreciation of the attractions and costs in other countries to develop an engaging historical attraction.

A small alleyway that I think was in the Jewish quarter. They locals make a big deal about how the Jewish section of the Medina is different, but our untrained eyes only noticed small differences.

El Badi Palace completed in 1593

Just over the wall of the palais there was a huge pile of garbage.

European White Storks make huge nests.

KLS being cute.

Kutubiyya Mosque

Happy cats ate when and where they could.

A souk, an old city market.

Majorelle Gardens

On our second full day, we kept exploring on foot. We headed out to Palais El Badi, Kutubiyya Mosque, Majorelle Garden, the Jewish quarter, souks so KLS could negotiate for argan oil, and to the newer parts of the city.  The Palais El Badi had groves of orange trees inside the walls. KLS went to picking again. The newer parts of Marrkesh were so different than the medina. They were peaceful. While it was definitely a Middle Eastern influenced city, you could see plenty of European elements as well. It was not dedicated to helping tourists offload their dollars and consequently a lot more peaceful. One of the highlights of the new city was the quiet Majorelle Gardens (donated by Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre BergĂ©). Noticing a theme? The medina was really wearing me down.

Fancy french restaurant.

Kutubiyya Mosque at night from the rooftop of the french restaurant.

Random street in the new city.

Downtown Marrakesh, outside of the medina.

More downtown Marrakesh.

A park with its over Dippy.

Our final day was a quiet day. We woke up early, enjoyed how peaceful the medina could be before businesses were open and took in our favorite culinary treats before heading back to the airport. For KLS, this meant visiting a fried spiced bread stand near our riad and then chasing it with some fresh made orange juice. Orange juice is to Marrakesh what gelato is to Italy.

This single photo is the essence of our trip.  Each dirham was 10 cents so that made each amazing fresh made orange juice just 40 cents. We had SO many each day. Think gelato in Italy levels.

Monday, February 29, 2016

King's Cross Station and Lumiere London

King's Crossing/St Pancras train station

First up, happy leap year day!

Each time that I visit Europe, I see too many cathedrals and I start to miss the details when I visit them. However, I have never been able to get enough of the giant train stations. I'm not sure if I love the architecture or the idea that you see these places when you are about to go on an adventure, but I love them. Feel the hustle and bustle at New York's Grand Central station. Soak up the atmosphere at Denver's recently remodeled Union Station or just take a look at London's King's Crossing/St Pancras stations in the photos here.

The actual Harry Potter scene for boarding the Hogwarts Express was filmed somewhere along this King's Cross station wall.

Inside King's Cross station.

Fancy decorations or an architectural feat at King's Cross station.

After leaving Cambridge via King's Cross Station, KLS and I came back for Lumiere London, a 4 night light festival and a crowd control disaster. There were 30-40 light installations across the city for people to explore.  We had planned to walk along a route that would allow us take in at least 75% of them. Due to the volume of people in the streets, I think we only made it to 25% of the exhibits.

An exhibit setup like an old video gaming.

Watch the little men climb the building.

Some of the exhibits took up the entire side of a building while others were only in a single shop window. It was inspiring to see what some of the artists were able to create. It really seemed to get the city excited because SO many people were out in the overcrowded streets - adults, families, teenagers . . . everyone.

A classic British phone booth repurposed as an aquarium (photo stolen from the Internet).

The stereotype goes that the British love to form orderly lines and I saw nothing to dispute this until this night to refute that. Unfortunately, the breakdown of this stereotype led to our one big miss of the evening. In the previous photo, you'll see an aquarium inside a phone booth that was the single exhibit that I wanted to make sure to we saw. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the impatient crowds were partaking in some very not British behavior and they refused to form a proper queue (line). The safety and security personnel were overwhelmed and closed the entire exhibit. They found plywood and covered the phone booth so that not even a single beam of light was shining through, doubled security, and sent anyone looking to make a call on their way. Tear.

The very busy streets of London.

A close up of the exhibit over the intersection.

Changing colors.

Neon cartoon dogs!

The other exhibits we saw throughout the city were a treat and almost made up for the hunger in KLS' belly that needed to be satiated before she tried to eat my face off. The best part about this hunger is that even though KLS was crazy hungry, we still waited 30 minutes to get into Bibimbap for Korean food. It was on a list of best cheap eats that KLS found in London. While I waited in line, she went to get ice cream. When we got inside, it was like so many other of the cheap eat places we had been to that force themselves into smaller, less expensive spaces - maybe 15 feet across and 90 feet long. The kitchen was in full view to enhance the eating experience, but also to maximize seating room. Most of the seating was on bar stools facing the kitchen or the opposite wall without enough room to walk between the two without bumping jackets and purses. Maybe, there'd be a table at the front window or back of the restaurant. It was cheap and delicious.

The Corinthia Hotel in London near one of my favorite lunch parks, the Whitehall Gardens.

The London Eye at night.

Big Ben, the House of Commons, and the Palace of Westminster.