Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Little Tour of Asheville

Friday we went on the LaZoom comedy holiday tour of Asheville.  

Okay, so we board a painted-purple-on-the-outside, pimped-out-on-the-inside school bus to tour around the city.

Windy Gale (I think that was her name) was our tour guide.

She was hilarious, interacting with the ‘tourists’ by planting kisses on the lucky bald guys (one of them was my SIL)

teasing passengers and ‘interviewing’ several drop-in, like the poor lost forest tree looking for a good time in the city

Santa, who was a bit worse-for-the wear after Christmas, and a giant cookie, Ginger Dreadlocks Man.

Along the way, we actually learned some interesting facts about the city, including that she has six degrees of separation from the owner of the only one of Elvis Presley’s guitars that isn’t in Graceland, that Asheville has been Beer City USA four years in a row, only losing this year to some city in Michigan (Grand Rapids, she reluctantly admitted).

We made a quick stop at the Grove Arcade, the concept for the first indoor shopping mall.  During World War II, it was used by the federal government for war purposes and later housed the National Climatic Data Center.  In 2002 it reopened as a public marketplace, with restaurants, boutique shops, offices, and luxury apartments on the top floor.  There’s a great coffee shop there, True Confections.  Tasty treats, too.

Last night we attended the 80th birthday of one of Lisa & Tony’s friends.  In between and after I watched more basketball than I have since I was a cheerleader in high school.

Just restin’ and relaxin’ today.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas at the Biltmore Estate

Last night we had dinner in the Stable Café, a dining room located in the original stable at the Biltmore Estate.  Seriously, I bet those horses lived better than I do.  I forgot to take pictures while we were eating—too busy enjoying the delicious food—but here’s a link if you want to check it out.  Scroll dow to the bottom to see the pictures.

After dinner, we toured the house or castle or chateau—not sure exactly what to call it—built by George Vanderbilt.  Construction began in 1889 and was completed in 1895 of the 250-room summer estate.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to visit all the rooms.

It is an impressive sight, especially decorated for Christmas.

As we walked inside, live Christmas music was playing in the entry hall, decorated with greenery and poinsettias.

There is a ginormous decorated tree in the banquet hall.  They decorate a 35-foot tree that doesn’t begin to reach the nearly 70-ceiling.  I couldn’t begin to get a picture of the whole thing.

I will have to reassure my small fiberoptic Christmas tree not to be intimidated.  I truly prefer her.

There are 50 additional decorated trees throughout the house.  Here's a couple of them.

It is a spectacular house, but I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to live there.  It wasn’t exactly a cozy vaca cottage.

If you want to see more pictures click on the link below.

An if you're ever in the Asheville area, the Biltmore Estate is truly worth visiting.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Merry Christmas

I’m spending Christmas with my daughter and her family in Asheville this year.

Everyone was nice ‘cause there was no coal in anyone’s stocking.

But we did have some unexpected visitors.

An alien arrive with stylin’ glasses

Then Mr. America stopped by for a snack.

And Wonder Woman ran in to see if we needed any help.

After all the excitement, these two settled down for an afternoon nap.

and the kittens curled up and quit attacking the tree.

I hope everyone had a wonderful day!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Out and About in Rabat

Today is my last day here.  "Leavin' on a jet plane" early tomorrow morning, so I thought I'd post some pictures from my doings her in Rabat.

Early on in my visit, I went to a horseback riding class.  Not to ride, but to watch Kensa.  She's quite the accomplished rider.

Riding Conteisse, her horse for the class

Walking back and forth to the dentist's office for several appointments (I now have a gorgeous new smile)

Gotta love the cars parking on the sidewalk

I discovered that the gate to the Jardin Botanique d'Essais was open, so I walked in.  Now, this garden has been closed at least three years to my knowledge, maybe longer, while they restored it.  In other years, when I took French classes at Amideast, I walked by it every day and wished I could go in.  Voilà.  This year I could explore it.

View from the gate looking the length of the garden
I mostly don't take artsey photos (usually don't have the eye for them) but I really like this one of an arbor.

Here's a bougainvilla hedge still in bloom

And, of course, no visit to Rabat is complete without visiting Chellah.  Off in the distance.

Taken from just across the road from the palace

It was first settled by the Phoenicians

Probable Phoenician site
and then build over by the Romans.

Broken columns and big rocks

Looking down from the Roman remains with mosque in background

In the 14th century, the Morenid sultan built a necropolis and other structures including a mosque.

Looking into the courtyard

Standing wall of the mosque

And here's some of a wall with mosaics still on it.

At the house, I've gone on a daily hunt for one or both of the tortoises living in the garden.  Found this dude today.

I've had a wonderful time here.  Enough time so that, although I'll be sad to leave, I'm looking forward to being home with my crazy dogs and enough ideas to write a zillion books.  Good thing winter's almost here--in Maine that is.

See you on the other side of the pond.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Seville -- Old and New

We spent part of a day visiting Italica, a small suburb not far outside of Seville. Two Roman emperors were born here, Trajan and Hadrian (of Hadrian Wall fame).  The site is well preserved because it was just an immense field and no city was built over it.

Much of the walls of the coliseum are still standing.  Can't you just imagine the gladiators striding through the below-ground tunnel

Anyone remember Russel Crow as Maximus battling on the arena floor.  

There are also some spectacular mosaics nearly intact.  How about a bathroom do-over?

After exploring the site, we had lunch in a nearby cafe where they served awesome cheese among other things.

In Seville, there are also three Roman columns hidden away on a small street, constructed at the end of the first century during the reign of Hadrian, probably for a pantheon.  Although it's difficult to tell from the photo, the base of the columns is nearly 15 feet below street level.  That's how much the city has been built up over the centuries.

We rode a four-seater bike in Maria Luisa Park.  Lots of fun.  We toured the Cathedral.

The cathedral organ

and even visited the tomb of Christopher Columbus.  His travels were financed by King Ferdinand after expelling the Moors from Spain.  October seemed a particularly appropriate month to view the tomb.

I was amazed seeing a whole treasure room filled with gold and silver articles, made from gold and silver taken from South America.  Thanks Chris.

An interesting little fact.  The University of Seville is situated in an old tobacco factory.  Here's the plaque.

One of the things I'll remember most about Seville are the sounds.  The clip clop of horses hooves pulling carriages over cobbled streets and the cathedral bells pealing out over the city, especially easy to hear since we were staying within a block or two.

I've decided the hardest thing about writing these blogs is limiting the number of pictures I share.

Until next time.

Monday, October 28, 2013

On to Sevilla

I bet you figured from the "final day" title of my previous post I meant I wouldn't torture with more blogs.  Wrong!

Three days after returning from the Sahara, we left for Spain, driving to Tangier where we spent the night.  The next morning we boarded the ferry to Tarifa, credited with;the origin of the word tariff, since it was the first port to charge ships to dock.

Ancient fort wall in Tarifa

The ferry takes approximately half an hour to cross from one continent to the other.  It was misty that morning, but here's a short video spanning the Straits of Gibraltar. 

A side note.  Counting starting in the US, I've visited three continents this trip.

Sevilla is an amazing city.  You can walk everywhere.  The streets are quaint and very narrow, many barely wide enough for one car.

Yes, cars do drive down this street!

There are uncounted small plazas, always with one or more outdoor cafes.

I tried to take pictures of them, but frequently failed since there are so many.  Here's another one.

And lots of churches.

The pink church

The Cathedral of Sevilla

The Cathedral has a long history.  Probably it was the site originally of a Roman temple.  Then a mosque. The architect who designed the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech designed the mosque in Sevilla.  

A bell tower was added to the minaret when the cathedral was built

He also designed the uncompleted mosque near the mausoleum of King Hassan II. Much of the mosque was destroyed by an earthquake in 1755.

The Hassan Tower still remains

And let's not forget flamenco.  We didn't go every night, not that we couldn't, but walking all day, we didn't always have energy left to go out at 9:00.  

At least Grammy didn't ;-)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Final Day

Up early in time to watch the sunrise the next morning.  I walked some distance out of the camp.

Sands in the early morning light

Sunlight rising

Mornings are incredibly quiet here.  Sitting, taking it all in, experiencing the peace, for a moment I felt deep in my heart I could be happy and content living in a Bedouin tent.  Like this small one I saw outside our camp.

Bedouin tent with only the basics

The feeling slowly passed, and I realized I could be happy and content if power and WiFi were included.  Of course, that would distract from the peace.

For fun, I took a pic of my footsteps in the sand.  No telling who last walked there or who will walk next.  Or how long before the wind fills them in.

After a breakfast of omelet and fruit, we packed up and were back on the road.

At lunchtime, we stopped in N'aat Ben Haddou.

Aït Benhaddou is a Berber Kasbah or castle along the old caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech.  No longer occupied, it is still impressive.
Kasbah from a distance showing the lookout post

A closer look

I was disappointed we didn't walk through and up to the lookout point.  It was midday and the Brit ladies thought it would be too hot to walk.  I did find a link to a video that helped give an idea of what it looks like inside.  I would say it's more like a pueblo in the American Southwest than what we think of as a building tiled and decorated with elaborate mosaics.  

We had lunch on a restaurant terrace with a view of the kasbah.

I chose kefta--almost as delicious as Joe made for my birthday.

Then the drive back to Marrakech, a stay in the hotel and the trip to Rabat.  For no apparent reason, the train was delayed leaving Marrakech and very slow for most of the way back.  Joe and I decided the reason was a state secret 'cause we'll never know why.

Back in Rabat, things are back to normal.  Zorro is checking out one of the resident tortoises (at the far left of the picture), trying to be brave.

An awesome trip I won't forget!!!