The Streets of Hanoi: Old Quarter Immersion

The capital of Vietnam and perhaps one of Asia’s most nostalgic. A sleepy town, Hanoi is not. On our arrival at midnight, the street was still or maybe already bustling with flower vendors unloading flowers for transport. The alley near our hotel, though seemingly winding down, scatters with people. And, of course, during the day, it is chaos.

coming-from-all-directions

Motorbikes, bicycles, cars, peddlers, and pedestrians whiz by in different directions, honking, and pushing.

street-of-hanoi

I anxiously brave through this confusion at first but comfortably got into the groove. “Just walk in a steady pace, do not stop.” We were advised. “Speeding up or stopping confuses the driver and you might end up getting bumped.”

traffic-at-the-plazaWe like watching this organized chaos from the balcony of a coffee shop .

Somewhat similar (but not as crazy) to how we Filipinos cross our streets and highways, actually.

flower-seller

Hanoi is noisy, busy and clogged with motorbikes as it is serene, cultured and delightful.

tranquil-lake

The tranquil lakes, excellent food scene, beautiful architecture, the old quarter and colonial architecture offset the madness.

excellent-food

This wasn’t my first time to Hanoi but coming back was something I knew would happen again and again. Seven years and I notice some changes, more charming boutique hotels for one and the night scene has gotten more packed. But many has remained the same.

We stayed in the Old Quarter, a nice boutique hotel in an alley too narrow for cars.

Le-Beaute-de-Hanoi

This district is the soul of Hanoi where travelers go to immerse in its historical labyrinth of 36 streets, each named after the trade it specializes in.

Lady-peddler

Similar to Morocco’s markets, streets in the Old Quarter are named Silk Street, Herbal Medicine Street, Appliance Street, Blacksmith Street, etc… you get the drift.

Why? The Old Quarter became a crafts area when King Ly Thai built his palace there after Vietnam’s independence. Not long after, craftsmen clustered around the palace according to their skills. These artists who worked and lived close together formed their respective cooperatives and the streets consequently earned its names, according to skills.

lacquer

These rows exist to this day and still buzz with commerce.  You can find about anything from the traditional down to the knock-offs.

Buzzling-commerce

Another quirk that remained unchanged:

extends-out-to-side-walk

The people of Hanoi do a lot of their living and working outside of their small tube houses or stores.

parked-motorcycles

And they make use of the sidewalk, which, of course, is also where they park their motorcycles and bicycles. People tend to walk along moving vehicles… on the street.

traffic-at-night

With its idiosyncrasies and all, Hanoi is easy to love. Stay with me and you’ll see why.

Segovia: An immersion in Architecture and Historic Treasures

SegoviaCredits:  Elements by Haynay Designs, Plum Dumpling Designs, Pri Rocha, Sahlin Studio, Trixie Scarp Designs, Wimpy Chompers; Paper by Wimpy Chompers; Alpha by MissBehaving 2011

A visit to picturesque old city Segovia was an excellent way to cap off this month-long West Mediterranean trip. We spent the day exploring a castle, devouring a roasted suckling pig, taking lots of photographs and people watching.

tourists

This once sleepy Castilian town had a lot to offer and had us in awe at every turn, suffice it to say that we had a fun stroll.

wandering

A UNESCO World Heritage City, visitors fill the twisting alleyways wandering around a multitude of historic buildings, churches, and monuments.

Located just 80 kilometers from Madrid, it is only a 30-minute high-speed train ride away. If you have the time, seize the opportunity and take a trip to the walled old town of Segovia.

town

It is a good way to travel back in time, explore the fascinating UNESCO World Heritage-listed city by foot.

The Aqueduct

aqueduct-2

An impressive aqueduct built sometime in the 1st or 2nd century supplied water to the small town of Segovia, perched on a steep isolated hill and joined by two rivers.

aqueduct

The magnificent aqueduct bridge carried water from the Fuente Frio River traversing about 15km before entering this town.

Aqueduct-4Today its boasts of being one of the most significant and best-preserved works of Roman engineering on the Iberico Peninsula.

Segovia Cathedral

Cathedral

On the highest point in the old town, fronting the historic Plaza Mayor (Segovia’s main square) stands the Cathedral of Segovia, one of the last Gothic Cathedral built in Spain and Europe.

Plaza-Mayor-and-cathedral

The construction began in the early 16th century to replace an earlier cathedral destroyed during the war of the comuneros, a revolt against the King. I am awed by the details of this church.

cathedral-up-close

Alcazar

alcazar-2

Now, this looks like a castle straight out of a Disney fairytale.

alcazar-4

The castle rises out on a rock between the confluence of the Eresma and Clamores Rivers, a testament to its original military status. Being the favorite residence for Kings of Castile, the Alcazar was transformed from a small castle into an extraordinary palace.

alcazar-3

It played a crucial role in Spanish history because it was used in various ways throughout history.

alcazar-interior-2

Originally built as a fortress, it had served as home to royals before it became a state prison, a Royal Artillery College, and a military academy. Currently, it is a museum and home to the Spanish General Military Archive.

Lunch at the Meson de Candido Restaurant

Plaza de Azoguejo 5, 40001  +34 921 425911

Meson-de-Candido

An attraction in itself, the restaurant was declared a national monument in 1941. Set in a delightful 18th-century building next to the aqueduct, it is most famous today for its wood-fire roasted suckling pig, cochinillo.

cochinillo-ritual

Served with a short speech and a ceremonial cutting of the pig with a plate,

cochinillo-ritual-2

this famous dish was a delight—crispy skin and flavorful and fork tender meat is hard to beat. Also, worth noting is their Sepulveda-Style Roasted Lamb.

Rich in architecture treasures, it was a joy to wander through this town. Presenting below a few more photos to delight in.

Segovia-CathedralThe Cathedral from afar.
alcazar-interiorStained Glass wall at the Alcazar
view-from-the-alcazarA view from the Alcazar
Aqueduct-3The Aqueduct up close
plaza-medina-del-campoPlaza Medina del Campo
Azoguejo-Square-2The Azoguejo Square with the Aqueduct as backdrop
Plaza-MayorPlaza Mayor of Segovia
from-the-castleA view from the castle
peddlersPeddlers line the periphery of the aqueduct
Iglesia-de-San-Martin-2Iglesia de San Martin
narrow-roadNarrow winding road of Segovia
Iglesia-de-San-MartinIglesia de San Martin
Juan-BravoA statue of Juan Bravo: a leader of the rebel Comuneros in the Castilian Revolt of the Comuneros.

Romancing with Sintra

Sintra-collageCredits: J Sprague Photo Collage Template version 3; Paper by Wimpychompers Creations

If you have an extra day in Lisbon, I suggest you head out to Sintra. It’s just a 45-minute train ride from the Rossio Station and well worth the trip.

first-glimpse

Walking into Sintra is like treading on fairytale land, more so on a gloomy day as when we were there. Known for its many romantic 19th-century architectures, Sintra is an outstanding reference for Portuguese culture.

fairytale town

Royal castles, mansions, and chalets scatter around the verdant rolling hills and peaks of the Sintra mountain range. The long sections of walls winding around the high peaks of the Serra reminds of century’s past.

stonewalls-of-the-moor-castle

The Moors Castle high above Sintra

Here, at the Central Western Portuguese coast, at the northern-most stretch of the protected Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, history, archeology, architecture and natural beauty meld into a beguiling and magical town.

It’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed center, the Sintra Vile is a 15-minutes walk from the train station.

Palacio-Nacional-de-Sintra

The Palacio Nacional de Sintra dominates the old town. Its iconic twin conical chimneys can be seen from far away. We, however, only had time to visit 2 Castles that day:

Sintra Castelo dos Mouros (The Moor Castle)

Castelo-dos-Mouros

A classic ruined castle set amidst the lush forests of the Serra de Sintra. Established by the Northern African Moors during the 9th century to guard the town but fell into disrepair after the Christian conquered Portugal. The castle was restored and transformed into a romantic ruin in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II.

Pena National Palace

Pena-exterior

On top of a hill stands an eccentric palace built in the 19th century for Dom Fernando II, an artistic king who wanted the palace to resemble that of an opera. Despite the hodgepodge of styles, the castle looks surprisingly harmonious and the use of yellow, pink and purple colors completed the “fairytale” quirkiness of the palace.

Pena-interior

A Protected National Monument, the Palace is considered to be one of the world’s best examples of architectures from the Romantic era.

medieval-streets

The medieval streets of Sintra Vile lead to many treasures – craft shops selling a host of local artisan specialties, a range of cafes and restaurants or even townhouses that exude the air of past glories.

Cantinho-Gourmet

In one of the narrow streets, we found a small café (Cantinho Gourmet) for a pretty good lunch prepared by an old lady. In another part of town is A. Piriquitos.

traveisseros-and-queijadas

Here we had the famed delicacies of the village, Queijadas de Sintra and Travesseiros. Delicious treats not to be missed.

Pena-Palace

In this region north of Lisbon, the center town of Sintra is only half the story. A must-do day trip but if time permits, a few nights stay is ideal to spend time exploring the surrounding beaches and the many seafood restaurants. The other half is a spectacular stretch of Atlantic coast with rugged cliffs, crashing waves and near-empty stretches of sandy beach, which calls for another visit in the future, perhaps.

Useful Info:

A Piriquita: Rua Padarcias 1/7; +351 219 230 026

Pena National Palace: Estrada da Pena; +351 219 237 300

Castelo dos Mouros: Parque de Monserrate, Estrada da Pena; +351 219 237 300     Opening Hours: 9:30AM-8:00PM; shorter hours in low season

Alfama: The Home of Lisbon Blues Music

“Alfama” recommends Hossein. For an authentic fado vadio, our “unofficial” guide guaranteed that this place is it, writes down the name and address of the bar, then points it out on our map.

A-Tasca-do-Chico-signage

On Rua Dos Remedios, we found A Tasca do Chico. It was Fado Vadio (amateur fado singers) night.

A-Tasca-do-Chico

The small joint only had a few tables, perfect for intimate and informal performances.

tapas-and-sangria

Dinner was simple but we were there for Fado anyway. It was an absolutely enjoyable evening of soulful music. A must in Lisbon.  Really.  Don’t leave Lisbon without a live experience of Fado music.

Fado

So what is Fado? I too, have  never heard of it until I read up on Lisbon. It is a music genre traced back to the 1820s and 1830s at best. Although difficult to trace, it seems to have its roots in the merging of Portuguese, Moorish and African culture. Fado songs can be about anything but it is a traditional form of urban folk music. The Portuguese language has a word, saudade, which roughly means nostalgia or homesickness with a bittersweet longing. Fado music is exactly that. It often conveys a yearning for what could have been or what cannot be. Most of its lyrics are about lost or unrequited love, jealousy and passion, death, and the lives of the Fadistas (fatalists).

There is no better place to experience the nostalgia of Fado than in Lisbon’s oldest district, Alfama. But it is not only famous for its Fado music as to visit Alfama is to visit the architecture, sound and smell of old Lisbon.

And so we went back the following day. Alfama is Lisbon’s most symbolic quarter. The oldest district of Lisbon spreads down the southern slope from Castelo de Sâo Jorge to the River Tagus. The Mouraria and Alfama (both old districts) were relatively spared during the Great Earthquake,

narrow-street

thus remains the charm of winding narrow streets and crumbling walls.

castelo-de-sao-jorge

A walk through the old-fashioned residential neighborhood is like stepping back in time.

Alfama

It’s a village still made up of tiny spaces, whitewashed houses with iron balconies adorned with pots of flowers and drying laundry.

The best way to get to know Alfama is to wander around.

view

The outstanding views, the churches, and the breathtaking panorama of the city from the castle were worth another trip back the next day. Some scenes from our wanderings:

from-castelo-de-sao-jorge

Although we didn’t have time to explore, Castelo de Sâo Jorge is a Moorish castle occupying a commanding hilltop overlooking the historic center of Lisbon and Tagus River.

IMG_9367As in from Baixa.

It can be seen from almost everywhere on the city.

Miradouro-de-Santa-Luzia

Miradouro de Santa Luzia is a romantic terrace by the church of Santa Luzia with a view of the river and Alfama. On the outside wall of the church are 2 tiled panels, one of Gomercio Square before the quake and another showing Christians attacking the castle.

Miradouro-das-Portas-do-Sol

A few steps away from Miradouro de Santa Luzia is a balcony that opens to the river offering spectacular views over Alfama.  A statue of St. Vincent holding a boat and 2 ravens also stands proud watching over the district. Miradouro Das Portas Do Sol.

Sao-Vicente-de-Fora

From the balcony, one can spot Sâo Vicente de Fora Monastery, an exceptional 16th-century monument located outside the city walls. “De Fora” means on the outside.

Santa-Engracia-Church

Church of Santa Engracia or Portugal’s National Pantheon. This 17th-century monument was converted in the 20th century into the National Pantheon. It is now the burial-place for a number of Portuguese personalities.

approaching-alfama

entertainment

IMG_9665

Useful Info:

Getting There: 

tram-28

Walk from Rossio or take tram no. 28

A Tasca do Chico (Alfama)
Rua Dos Remedios, 83
+351 965 059 670
 
 
References:
Portuguese Fado Music 101 – About. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://worldmusic.about.com/od/europeanjudaica/p/PortugueseFado.htm

Passing Through Faro

marina-4

It was a beautiful, balmy day. Blue skies, gorgeous clouds, splendid sunshine.

planning-the-route

We sat outdoors, right beside the marina. We ordered our beer and then planned our day. First agenda was deciding on lunch.

Not particularly known as a tourist destination with little to boast in terms of tourist attractions.

quiet-plaza

The gateway to Portugal from Southern Spain is a quiet town in the Algarve region.  Quiet relative to all the places we’ve visited on this trip.  Tourists more like pass through Faro on their way to a beach resort or a fairway nearby. But I love it for the quietness.

graffiti

If you look beyond the graffiti walls, Faro is charming. Small enough to cover by foot and without an agenda, we went with the flow, stopping for beer or sweets when tired or just felt like it.

The journey by bus from Seville took about 2 hours.  We arrived mid-morning and it took about 10 minutes from the bus station to our cozy B&B, comfortable enough for one night (read: tiny room).

azothea

“What can we do for the day?” we asked the young lady in charge. “Here?” she thought for a second. “Nothing much” she replied. We could go to Lagos for the day if we wish. Her advice.

We didn’t.  Into our third week of traveling, we felt like doing nothing.  We needed to recharge so we stayed put.  Never mind that we didn’t get see the fort up in Lagos.  So after a few beers at the marina, we followed the map to Adega Nova along Rua Francisco Barreto.

Adega-Nova

Beautiful lunch and a superb dessert—a place I highly recommend when in the area.

Then we walked towards Cidade Velha (the old town) through shops and cafes along the city’s pedestrianised shopping center.

pedestrian-shopping-street

We entered the old town through Vila Adentro and was magically transported to another world.

old-town

Streets cobbled and lined with whitewashed houses maintaining the Portuguese character,

cobbled-street

a large section of this old walled city is still surrounded by walls built by the Muslim conquerors.

wall

This medieval walled city survived two earthquakes, they say.

Palacio-BelmarcoThe Palacio Belmarco

The hodgepodge of Baroque, Gothic, and Moorish architecture provides a fascinating insight into its past.

Linked by medieval gates or arches, the Arco do Repouso is the most impressive section of the walled city,

arco-do-repouso

 and the Arco do Porta Nova or the Portes do Mar (doors of the sea) near the water, is usually where many would end their walk, us included.

jardim-manuel-bivar

Walking at the water’s edge heading back to Jardim Manuel Bivar near the marina, many offered us a trip to Ria Formosa Natural Park, a marshland supposedly teeming with birdlife.

We declined. Instead, we headed to Clube Naval.

clube-naval

We read that this harbor-side bar offers good views of the park and the city from the top floor,

beer and ice cream

but they were closed for the day so we settled for a cafe nearby, spending the rest of the day admiring the harbor and the city until we were ready for dinner.

boardwalkWhere one take the trip to Ria Formosa.

harbour marina-2 marina-3

Contrary to the lady’s (from the B&B) enlightenment or lack thereof, Faro is a delightful destination in its own right.  The charming old town had impressed and makes for a wonderful, unforgettable break.  I wonder why she thought otherwise? Perhaps we need to start seeing beyond our ordinary. I too am guilty of that in many ways.  We tend to take for granted the (what we think are) ordinary things.

Here are more photos of our wonderfully surprising day well-spent.

Capuchin-conventCapuchin Convent close to the guesthouse

charming-city   estatua-d-afonso-III

At the Largo do Don Afonso III, named after the 13th century king whose statue dominates the square.
governo-civilGoverno Civil
igreja-de-sao-pedroIgreja de Sao Pedro

museu-municipal

The Municipal Museum, Faro’s cultural highlight, is in a former convent built around a Renaissance cloister containing exhibits related to the city’s Roman and Islāmic heritage.

Useful Info:

Adega Nova
Rua Francisco Barreto
+351 289 813 433
www.restauranteadeganova.com
 
Azothea
Rua Baptista Lopes, 40
+351 289 802 536
www.facebook.com/Azotheabnb

Andalusia’s White Town Jaunts

Ruta-de-pueblos-blancos

Between the provinces of Malaga and Cadiz, lodged between the valleys and mountains or clustered high on the hillsides within the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, lies a cornucopia of sleepy white towns and villages.  Traditionally lime-washed but now painted white houses make up these towns.  Known as the Pueblos Blancos, they create a striking contrast amid a backdrop of rugged limestone mountain.

Out of the 6 or 7 noteworthy villages on the Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos, we managed 3 on a rented Opel.

our-route

After breakfast, from Ronda we headed north via the A428 and found our way to the first village on our route, Setenil de los Bodegas.

Senetil-white-houses

This quaint little village has houses built into rock overhangs above the Rio Trejo, many of which have the rock as its natural roofs and walls.

Setenil structures-built-on-caves

Fetching in an unusual kind of way, this Setenil.

Setenil-narrow-hilly-roads-2

Looking for a place to have a few beers and tapas (as it was nearing lunch time), we discovered that the hilly, winding streets in some parts of town are intimidatingly narrow

Setenil-narrow-hilly-roads

especially if one’s stick shift skills are rusty and the car is rented.

Setenil rocks-make-natural-roof

On Plaza de Andalucia, we found Bar Restaurante Dominguez quietly tucked in a corner of Calle Herreria.

Setenil Restaurante-Dominguez

I don’t remember anymore what drew us there (hunger perhaps) but following the recommendation of the owner, lunch was truly satisfying.

Let me first tell you about this stunning natural park, Sierra de Grazalema.  It was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1977 because it has an exceptional variety of flora and fauna.

Grazalema-limestone-mountain-rangesDo you see the eagle perched on the craggy edge of the limestone?

A karstic region set in 51,695 hectares of land that is surrounded by a string of limestone mountain ranges known collectively as… Sierra de Grazalema.  So imagine the spectacular vista of rugged limestone cliffs, and impressive gorges, magnificent forest of rare Spanish firs, and the attractive white towns dotted around the sierra.

Grazalema-from-the-road

The village of Grazalema is located right at the center of its foothills.  A beautiful white town beneath the craggy peak of San Cristobal.

Grazalema-Plaza-Espana

It has its own charm with a simple central square, the Plaza de España, and cobbled streets lined with whitewashed houses with wrought ironed railing covered windows.

Grazalema-Iglesia-de-la-Encarnacion-from-afar

The town has two beautiful churches, Iglesia de la Aurora on Plaza de España and Iglesia de la Encarnacion.  It is an ideal base for those who want to hike the sierra.

The last village we managed was the most picturesque among the three and a real must.

Zahara overlooking the lake

At the northern end of the Grazalema Natural Park, this pueblos blanco overlooks the turquoise water of El Embalse, a huge reservoir that dominates the view from the village perched atop a hill.

Zahara-castle-remains

Zahara de la Sierra, once an important Moorish town has the surviving tower of the 12th century Moorish Castle looming over the valley.

Zahara-town-beneath

Scattered below on the slopes are the red-tiled roof whitewashed houses of the village.

This couldn’t be a more outstanding finale to this excursion.  Although we barely scratched the surface, like Ronda, visiting these pueblos blancos gave us a taste of the real Spain, its laid back way of life.

real-spain

Amid such splendor, how can you not stop and smell the flowers?  Cherish its beauty?  Why would you even want to go anywhere?

Useful Info:

Bar Restaurante Dominguez
Plaza de Anadlucia, 11
Setenil de las Bodegas, Cadiz
Contact: +34 956 13 45 31

Of Hammams, Ports and Fish Markets

In a room, “Careless Whisper” played in the background, hot water ran from a faucet onto a pail, steaming the room.  On a bench in one side of the room, I sat and waited.

Soon after, a lady entered and impassively poured hot water over me; I shivered at first then felt the water soothingly eased the fatigue away. She asked if I could bear the heat. “Oh, no problem there.” I thought. Then she soaped every part of me, my hair included (I worried about how it would turn out sans conditioner).  She left, came back 15 minutes later, started scrubbing, scrubbing until I can feel dead skin rubbing against my body. And when she poured water on me again, the soap and dead skin washed off, I felt the difference.  My skin and hair, they were silky smooth.  “Can I buy some of that soap, please?”

A Berber massage followed after and for an hour, I was in dreamland. This has always been my gauge of a good massage but how am I getting my money’s worth by not feeling every knead and every rub? I ask myself all the time. I love a good scrub every so often and this, I promise, is the bomb. If I had another day to spare, I’d do it again even if I’ll have to listen to George Michael all over again.

And even if a real hammam this is not, I appreciated the experience and wished I had found the time to go to a real one, perhaps in Fes.

essaouira

seaside

cafes-near-the-port

But Essaouira is as good a place, its rugged charm and relaxed atmosphere offers relief from the bustle of the bigger cities. Read: a good place to chill.  Our last leg in exotic Morocco was spent in the coastal town west of Marrakech just a three hour bus ride away.

place-moulay-hassanPlace Moulay, the main town square near the waterfront.

It’s a hidden gem with its windswept beach, open air feel and hip vibe.  A wonderful refresher from the dark, crowded alleyways of Fes and Marrakech.

Behind the 18th century sea walls are artists’ enclaves, Thuya wood workshops, and bright, quiet alleyways.

medina

Ranked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the medina is gorgeous and peaceful.

thuya-wood

art

Although the alleyways around the Kasbah have already quite a few souvenir shops, it is still a market town

tout

where rural Berbers is still seen to hawk their wares.

local-market

The streets are full of people selling things from vegetables to DVDs.  And in one of these stores, we found some great CD of Gnaoua music.

Tall towers bordered with cannons still define the perimeter of the old town and spending

fortified walls

time within its well-preserved ramparts will take you back to when the town was still called Mogador.

The smell of freshly grilled sardines and lobsters will draw you to the town’s famous fish market.

fresh-seafood

Known for its outstanding fresh seafood,

fish-market

it is a great place to enjoy a few bottles of beer, soak up the sun and people watch

grilled-seafood

while your order of the choicest catches grill to perfection.

Essaouira (pronounced: essa weera) has a beautiful port down by the harbor.

blue-and-white

The Skala du Port offers a picturesque view of the fishing port with many shades of blue – blue skies, blue sea, blue and white architecture,

blue-fishing-boats

blue boats huddled against each other, some still unloading their catches for the day, which they will bring ashore to sell in the fish market.

After my visit to the hammam, we spent the rest of the morning on a rooftop café overlooking the fort and the sea—

fort

an excellent place to relish our last days in Morocco, to cap the trip.

An Outing Outside of Fes: Moulay Idriss

Moulay-IdrissCredits: Digital sketch by Jen Caputo (http://jencaputo.typepad.com); Papers from Scrapmatters’ Life’s Little Surprises kit — Happy Scrappy Girl, Graham like the Cracker, Haynay Designs

Seated comfortably in the van, enjoying the company of family and newfound friends,

Lake-ChahandLake Chahand

we marveled at the beauty along the way,

roadside-vendor

even stopping to buy some oranges and dried figs from a roadside vendor.

An hour away from Fes is a picturesque whitewashed town scenically perched in the foothills of the Rif Mountain.

donkeys-and-cars

whitewashed

Moulay Idriss is the first of several destinations planned for the day. Considered the holiest town in Morocco, we paid a visit to the final resting place of the town’s namesake, Morocco’s religious and secular founder and the great-grandson of the prophet Mohamed.

entering-the-mausoleum

His shrine is actually off-limits to non-Muslims, but we were able to go as far as the first courtyard.

first-courtyard

Until 2005, non-Muslims were not permitted to spend the night in town and tourists were advised to be out of town by 3pm. Today, I noticed a few lodgings while walking around.

off-limits-beyond-this-pointThis is where we end the visit to the shrine.  Off limits from here.

The town is considered to be the holiest in Morocco.  They say that, for Moroccans who can’t afford the trip to Mecca, five pilgrimages to Moulay Idriss is equal to one to Mecca.

end-of-town

picturesque-view

Pretty and peaceful with beautiful views across the foothills,

local-market

dried-figs

the village has a charming little souk with stalls selling everything from fruits to live hens.

main-square

And while we were not allowed inside the mosque and shrine, we had fun walking around the main square. It is a great place to people watch while sipping mint tea

kebab

or enjoy a terrific lunch of grilled meats before or after a visit to Volubilis.

Aside from the fact that our driver barely spoke English, Ibrahim confessed to never having explored the town of Moulay Idriss and the nearby city of Volubilis making it the perfect reason to come along.

the-groupNew-found friends flanked: Israeli couple Ronin and wife and Ibrahim

But I think he just really likes us.

Shirakawa-go

ogimachi-gassho-house

Gassho-zukuri.  We’re not done talking about it yet because there are still some that can be found in typical farming villages, some ordinary folks still call it home, this 250-year old special farmhouses.

omigachi-collage

These villages still exist, and one is just 50 minutes away by bus from Takayama.

ogimachi-tourists

The UNESCO declared World Cultural Heritage Site, Shirakawa-go and its neighboring region Gokayama has been slowly attracting visitor since it was inscribed in 1995.

Ogimachi is Shirakawa-go’s largest community.  A charming village, albeit a slightly “touristy” oriented one, lining the Shogowa River valley.

Ogimachi-scenery

Its beauty lies not only in the scenery, resplendent in shades of autumn at the time of visit, but as well as in its community.  Ogimachi has 2 medical clinics, a primary school and a junior high school.

Ogimachi-fixing-roof

Many still live in a Gassho-zukuri, but many of the well-preserved farmhouses have become museums, restaurants and there are 20 or so of it that has been made into Minshuku (bed and breakfast) guesthouses.

lunch-shiraogi

Time permitting; spending a night there would have been glorious.  Instead, we contented ourselves to a nice hot soba meal before heading back to Takayama.

Ogimachi-crossing-the-shogawa-river

Across the bridge, near the bus stop is a well-constructed outdoor heritage museum.

minkaen-collage

The Gassho-zukuri Minkaen features 25 preserved farmhouses.

minkaen-1

Like Hida-No-Sato, it was relocated and rebuilt to emulate a traditional village in the countryside, scenery and landscape of which is simply superb with the mountains lending the perfect backdrop.

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Takayama Morning Markets

It was cold. The warmth of the comforter and the futon was extremely inviting, but I was determined not to give in to the temptation because we are going to the market today.

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Jinya-scenic-walk

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So at exactly 6am, we ambled to the morning market nearer to the ryokan, watching the city wake up along the way.

setting-up

At the Jinya-mae market, we watched it come to life one stall at a time.

Jinya-morning-market

I expected to see a much bigger market than the neighborhood market it really is.

Jinya-produce

More of a farmer’s market, it sells a lot of foodstuff and produce from gigantic, gorgeous but expensive fresh fruits and vegetables to rice cakes and

Jinya-pickles

pickled vegetables all wanting to be purchased, begging to be noticed at the least. We eventually gave in to this corn – the sweetest and crunchiest I’ve ever had, and that is not an exaggeration.

sweet-corn

If we weren’t heading back to the ryokan for breakfast, I would have feasted on a few more.

breakfast

Thank God for good judgement as breakfast was lavish in Hakuun!

There are two morning markets (Asa-ichi) in Takayama that takes place daily from 6am till noon. The Jinya-mae morning market can be found in front of Takayama Jinya, a historical office building from the Edo Period said to be the only remaining building of its kind.

Not far from the Sanmachi district is Miyagawa morning market.

Miyagawa-morning-market

This market situated along the east bank of the Miyagawa River is bigger and I believe geared more towards the tourists.

Miyagawa-street-food

Stalls selling crafts of wood or fabric, souvenirs, street foods are spotted alongside fruits and vegetables stands.

Miyagawa-Sticky-balls

Interesting bites that had us so full but wanting more. So with these bites in tow, we explored the market.

Miyagawa-souvenirs

Here, tourists abound or maybe it was the time of the day – when the city was already fully awake and vibrant with life. Here, the lure to buy is much, much greater. Here, I looked, I tried some, I got a few to take home.