Monthly Archives: April 2011

Istanbul – Sightseeing and Carpets (of course)

Rüstem Pasha Mosque

Everyone clapped when we landed and I felt like joining in – I love Istanbul and it feels good to be back. The immigration officer rattled away to me in Turkish. I think he was commenting on the couple who were in front of me and had been sent off to get their visa but who knows. When I explained that I was Indian and did not understand he seemed truly surprised. So I have now been mistaken as Turkish, Uzbek, Iranian, Moroccan, Israeli, Spanish, Arabian. I’m beginning to feel like a true world citizen.

Giving myself the day off I went to see the fabulous Rüstem Pasha and Süleymaniye mosques. I will let the photographs speak for themselves. It was very cold and I am beginning to wonder why it is that I attract freak (always cold) weather wherever I go.

Carpet heaven! I spent the day with a wholesaler …

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Morocco and Me

The place I was most apprehensive about doing business was Morocco (Iran and Turkmenistan which come next should probably worry me but don’t). Having spent the last couple of weeks here, I feel like Morocco and I can be friends. I have understood and accepted their system of working, which is that everyone gets a piece of the pie – taxi drivers, hotel staff, guides, policemen … and whilst it still registers, it has stopped bothering me as it did initially. That, finding a partner who is nice, has a zillion contacts and lovely helpful staff, and of course the carpets, lamps, sabra, metalwork, silver jewellery etc. has made this trip a huge success. I leave tired and content.

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Marrakech and Tiznit

Touareg style Berber Silver Pendant

My last few days have been in Marrakech with a mad day trip to Tiznit which is the last major town before the Western Sahara. It was so worth the hours of driving. Most women were dressed in what can only be described as saris but shorter with the pallu wrapped around the head and over the face so only the eyes show. Others had on traditional skirts with white embroidered dupattas covering their hair and faces. All very different from the djellaba I had seen elsewhere. I so wanted to take a photograph but thought it too culturally insensitive. The silver was overwhelming in choice and quantity. It’s understandable but sad to see Berber families coming to sell their family silver (gold is considered evil so this is their wealth), presumably to buy the cheap “Made in China” goods being sold on the streets. I couldn’t understand the negotiations …

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Grand Taxis and Clocking Lots of Miles

Medersa Bou Inania

I spent the morning in Fes with a quick detour to the Medersa Bou Inania, built between 1350 and 1357. No longer used as a theological school, the decoration is spectacular. Opposite is the strange and mind-boggling 14th century water clock. Of course, I had to go back to Café Clock and liked it as much this time as I did the last. The food and wi-fi are both winners!

And then had my first taxi negotiation! Within cities and towns you can use both grand and petit taxis with the latter being these banged up red bits on wheels that do surprisingly charge by the metre. For non-local travel you need a grand taxi and these have a fixed price that the ‘Controller’ will tell you. The discount when you ask for one is always the same, 100 dirhams no matter what the total cost is – percentage discounts …

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Silk, Pottery and Metalwork in Fes

Metalwork Craftsman

I had to squeeze through a 5 foot passageway to get to the fondouk that has housed a weaving “factory” for several centuries. Sabra is a silk fabric that is traditionally woven from the threads of a cactus plant (also known as Sabra). Strands of silk are removed from the cactus, dyed with natural dyes and woven into amazing fabric. I bought some very pretty silk bedcovers and chenille from the owner whose father, grandfather and more generations than he can remember, have woven Sabra here.

I also saw some gorgeous Fes pottery and mosaic work being made. Whilst I would love to source some for Arastan I really need to come back and spend several days picking a vendor, selecting and checking. This is the kind of place you see, you buy, you pack and you take with you; if you leave it to be packed and shipped later …

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Bronze Lamps, Berber Silver – and Nougat!

Hanging Lamps

In Fes I went to the lamp store I had in mind from the last time I was here. I passed the Place an-Nejjarine that has one of the many beautifully decorated fountains and a restored fondouk that is now a museum. At the Carpenters’ Souk just next to the fountain I saw some of the extravagant thrones used in weddings; these thrones make our Indian red velvet ones look modest!

I spent the greater part of the day haggling and now have some stunning Moroccan handmade bronze lamps on their way to India. While waiting for the owner’s brother or brother-in-law or partner (I really do need to learn some Arabic or French!) I wandered off to check what the other stores had to offer. Nougat was what I found. The lady spoke no English but after discussion using a calculator (if you don’t speak the local language, don’t leave …

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Travel to Fes

Before leaving Marrakech I saw some gorgeous lamps designed by a Frenchman. Unfortunately there is so much imitation going on that they won’t let you take photos. Prices were outrageous by any standard! Apparently the only people buying are interior designers refurbishing 5 star hotels from the large American hotel chain groups.

Then it was time to take the train to Fes. This was easy enough but the train was hot and crowded and took 7 hours. On the way I got to meet a musician from Fes on his way to perform in Rabat; I was astounded when he said he doesn’t really like Fes. (I suppose you always take what you have for granted!) People are very friendly and especially so when you say you are Indian: Bollywood has done much for our public relations!

Originally I intended to visit Marrakech at the end of my trip but …

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Marrakech Madness

Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech

Today I visited Riad Art Expo (now in its 7th year). I found some very nice decorative tadelakt lamps and other items, plus lovely hand embroidered towels made in the Fes style. Tadelakt is a bright, waterproof lime plaster which is found in the valley between the High and Middle Atlas Mountains; it was traditionally used on the walls of Marrakech and the underground cisterns, and became highly prized in hammams and royal palaces. More recently it has been a contemporary craze as an alternative to tiles in bathrooms in the US and Europe. It seems that every riad and dar in Morocco has tadelakt bathrooms.

Love it or hate it the heart of Marrakech is Djemaa el Fna which is a huge square in the heart of the medina. Whilst I could do without the snake charmers, the fresh orange juice, dry fruit stalls and traditional dancers are great. There are …

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Another Day, Another Country…

After a successful few days in Turkey I’m looking forward to part two where I’ll head to the southeast, but for the next two weeks it’s off to Morocco. The first stop here is Casablanca: what a disappointing city. The idea of Casablanca brings romance to mind but the city itself is far from it: generally uninspiring. Admittedly we didn’t have time to do any sightseeing – not that there is a lot of interest, but the Hassan II Mosque would have been worth seeing, and although tacky I suppose a visit to Rick’s Cafe should have been done! The only saving grace was meeting a young man named Khalid in the Chamber of Commerce, in our search for someone who spoke English, and who proved to be very helpful.

And yes I have to admit to being too tired to think, and subsequently eating pizza (in the land of couscous …

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Day 5: Diversion to Bursa

Original Door Canvas at Great Mosque

I travelled from Kutahya to Bursa and then back to Istanbul. The city was originally called Prusa and named after its founder Prusias who founded the city in the 2nd century BC to honour Hannibal, King of Carthage. Hannibal together with his soldiers sought refuge with Prusias after losing a final battle with Rome.

Bursa is a bustling city where new and old mix quite amicably. We visited the Ulu Cami (Great Mosque) which has the original 14th century door canvas displayed on a wall and has an ablution pool cum fountain within the building.

The antique bazaar is actually about six shops and not worth the effort but the silk caravanserai (Kozahan) is impressive. I found gorgeous silk fabric with traditional Iznik patterns that is now part of the Arastan collection.

This is also home to Turkey’s chestnut production and I managed to meet one of the larger exporters …

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