Süleymaniye Mosque – Istanbul

Suleymaniye Mosque - Dome
Süleymaniye Mosque – Dome
October 16, 2011 was our last day in Istanbul.  On the evening of October 13 at the tour Welcome Meeting our Istanbul guide had casually announced that we were not going to the iconic Süleymaniye Mosque even though it was on our itinerary. No reason was offered when I asked “Why?”
Determined (I, at least) to see it, Anita and I set off early on the 16th to take bus or subway across the Golden Horn from Taksim Square near our hotel. Our ship, the Louis Cristal, was scheduled to depart that afternoon and sail overnight through the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles Strait for the Greek island of Mykonos. We were to be picked up by bus at our hotel at 2 PM and taken to the Port.
This was the day of the 33rd Asia to Europe marathon – the only marathon spanning two continents. We expected limited services due to this important event, but not a total absence of any public transport or automobiles going near the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn. Confusion for about 40 minutes.  Mixed opinions from locals – perhaps because the route has had three different versions during the contest’s history. Anita decided to go back to the hotel. I decided to walk – in the rain – the third rainy day.
Asia-Europe Marathoners Head for the Galata Bridge
Asia-Europe Marathoners Head for the Galata Bridge
 I had chosen several things to see at or near the Mosque. The walk was about 4 km – an easy 50 minutes one way.  Four hours to get there, tour and return seemed plenty of time…

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A Berber Home

This mum's on maternity leave
This mum’s on maternity leave

We traveled from Marrakech towards the Atlas Mountains, stopping in a Berber home in a village near Marrakech. The lady of the house made tea for us with a dramatic tea pouring technique that is used to aerate the tea and improve its flavour. The family lived on the upper floor of the home that appeared to be built from adobe.

We walked by small stalls in which they kept livestock and then up the stairs to the living area. Outside the living area was a Berber hamam – similarto, but simpler than a four-room Turkish bath. Both involve water and scented hamam soap. Here’s a website if you are curious about it. Their large sitting room easily housed our group of about 20 thirsty tourists. I took some photos from their patio. The money the family made from visits like ours was probably helping to put a daughter through university.

This event was followed by the standard two minute camel ride, which we declined on. Camels do make photogenic subjects, however.

Fes

Tannery workers stir the leather in the dye pots with their hands - and feet
Tannery workers stir the leather in the dye pots with their hands – and feet

We opted against Insight’s included tour of the Fes medina, opting to hire a personal guide for a full day. This gave us more time there and much freer movement. We decided this before leaving Canada. I found a superb young man, named Younes, through a very helpful woman on Lonely Planet’s forum, who visits Fes annually. I communicated with Younes initially by phone and then we worked together on what we wanted to see, arranging this by email.

I made it clear that we did not simply want to be brought around to places where we would be expected to spend so that Younes could get a commission. This must be clear from the start. When we got to Fes I phoned him from the hotel on his cell. We had connection problems so just quickly said, “We will meet you at 10:15 at the hotel as agreed by email,” and hung up.

As our group was about to board the bus for supper, Younes showed up and somehow found us. He went out of his way to assure us that he would come for us in the morning. Our up-tight Insight tour director flipped out when we told him our plans. He threatened to call the police until we explained how we had pre-arranged the whole thing.

Below are three photos taken at Al Karouine University founded in the ninth century, which claims to be the oldest continuing university in the world. While we walked, Younes talked of having guided Nicholas Cage, Leonardo DiCaprio and Julia Roberts during his time as a guide. He was very impressed with Julia Roberts, who had some very specific things she wanted to see. Apparently she is involved in charitable and educational projects to do with young people in Fes. Since he humbly admitted, even though a student in university, that he couldn’t read the 9th century calligraphy I’m inclined to believe him about the celebrities.

A colourful highlight was a major leather tannery in Fes, where we specifically asked Younes to take us. They gave us a sprig of mint to hold near our noses, but the smell wasn’t that bad. The leather goods were amazing, but, even after touching the wonderful softness of the vividly coloured jackets, handbags and other beautiful items, we somehow resisted. Right: We passed by a shop in the metal working area. This was a noisy highlight. There you go; if I include our delicious lunch, there’s something for all five senses in the medina.

Miscellany: An early photo of a square before entering the narrow streets with Younes, patiently waiting for me, on the right. A prayer niche in the restaurant where we lunched; it must have been a very luxurious home at one time. On the right a patient and colourful donkey.

Last Fes group: Left: Carpenters at a factory where wedding seats are made.
Centre: The sacred shrine of Fes’ patron saint, Moulay Idriss, who re-founded the city and ruled Morocco between 807 and 828. Moulay means saint. Idriss means Idriss. Non-Muslims cannot enter the shrine. As the young woman in this frame stolen from video exited with her mother and sisters I respectfully put my camcorder down. After they were out of sight I resumed my video, only to have her pop her smiling face into my camcorder’s view. We laughed and chatted with them outside the door in French. She went in and lit a candle for Anita. A magic moment that would have been missed if we had taken the free medina tour operated by Insight.
Right: This photo proves we had a good time. I should have asked someone to take a photo of the three of us. Silly me.
Next post, perhaps: Marrakech and the capital, Rabat.