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We arrived in Essaouira at night. No cars are allowed in the medina, so the car stayed behind in the large parking lot, and we walked our way through the big gates of the old city, pulling our trolleys behind us. At this point, it was very helpful to have the cellphone GPS with us, as we navigated through the narrow alleys. Also- check out the map at the end of the post.

Finally- our beautiful Riad, that’s actually part of the old wall that surrounds the Medina. Our beautiful room had the most fabulous view. Through the window, part of the ancient wall, we had an amazing vista of the ocean. Waking up to THAT… Oh mine! Riad Perle d’Eau.  Breakfast was great- served on the rooftop, with (what would be a staple in Morocco for breakfast) M’semen (local crepe), eggs, fruit, and coffee/tea. The Riad owners were very friendly and helpful.

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This is what we saw from our room window, every morning

We stayed in Essaouira 2 nights. The small Medina is easy to navigate and is vibrant and much fun. SInce there’s so much to see, let yourself to be absorbed with this town, and here’s what NOT TO MISS:

Synagogue Slat Lkahal

A somewhat restored synagogue that served the Jewish community in Mogador- old Portuguese name for Essaouira, that was built in 1850. The synagogue was a center for many social and religious aspects of Jewish life, as witnessed by the photos on the walls. Morocco is known for its good Jewish-Muslim relationship and as we travelled we have witnessed respect, love and compassion to the Jewish minority in Morocco. Slat Lkahal is located in the northern end of the Medina, in the heart of the Mellah (the original jewish area), and is just one of other synagogues in Essaouira. Synagogue Slat Lkahal.

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Visit the old port

A mosaic of little fishing boats, fish stalls, ropes, nets, ships, seagulls, fishermen, and Moroccan mamas going out to purchase their fresh fish dinner. The sun is shining on it all, the sounds are taking over, as well as the smell, the wind, and sometimes the light spray of the sea, if you’re standing close to the water. Breath and feel alive. Charming.

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Fresh fish anyone?

Salut Maroc- Riad and restaurant

You absolutely have to visit this place, and especially before sunset. Grab a table on the rooftop, order some light food and mint tea, and get ready for the most stunning sunset. They usually have live music as well. Get there an hour before that, and just tour around the Riad, all the way up to the rooftop, to discover the gems of dazzlingly intricate tilework and splashes of color (stairways, ceilings, floors, walls, tables, heck- even the restroom). I couldn’t stop taking photos. It’s definitely psychedelic. Salut Maroc.

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lobby from above

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Salut Maroc rooftop

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psychedelic corner on the rooftop

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Even the toilet are mind boggling

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Epic sunset

Climb up to see the city line from above

Climb the old Portuguese ramparts, enter hotels and climb up to their rooftops (I recommend the views from Riad Mimouna, Skip the rest of the hotel, go straight to the roof).

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Old cannons, cobbled stone and the ocean

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From the rooftop of Riad Mimouna- 360° views

Wonder the local quarter (both morning and night market)

Lose yourself by strolling around the non touristic areas of Essaouira within the Medina, and out. Observe the bustling life of the locals, buy and eat authentic food at the night market. Try the Harira soup from the vendor, or local moroccan crepes served with honey, nutella, or Amlou (almond spread mixed with honey and argan oil). Go for the spicy olives!

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Local

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Local night market. Of course we filled our bellies with these goodies.

What else do I recommend?

-Chill with tea at African Roots cafe. Great vibes, great music, friendly staff.

-Share a lamb tagine, Moroccan tomato salad, or Pastilla (traditional chicken filo pastry pie). With so many eateries, it’s hard to decide where to eat, and you’d wish you had more time to try them all. I advocate for the ones that look the most humble, and unassuming.

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The son of the owner is watching the tagines. Can’t get more authentic than that.

-Adore the doors and entryways. I’ll have a whole post just for that. I’m obsessive.

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Winter break is the perfect time to leave the East Coast chill and visit warm, golden Morocco. We landed in Casablanca airport, peeled off our layers, and set out to the sun, where Loutfi, our driver, waited for us.

We were off to Essaouira, and though according to Google maps the ride would take about 4.5 hours, in reality, like driving elsewhere in Morocco, it takes more time, especially if you like to stop enroute.

So stop we did. We first freshened up in the old portuguese town of El Jadida where we found a cool rooftop with ocean view and good mint tea and pastries. Le Lokal

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Le Lokal, cute rooftop

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At Le Lokal, mint tea, small pastries, and well… coffee, to handle the jet lag

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Colors of El Jadida

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We stumbled upon the community bakery where  women deliver bread to be cooked in the wood-fired oven

When it was time for lunch, and after some more driving, we arrived in the city of Oualidia, located beside a natural lagoon. There, we had the freshest seafood with a tranquil seaview backdrop. Ostrea 2.

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This small town boasts the freshest mussels

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Serenity at Ostrea 2

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Ostrea 2, Oualidia

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Leaving Oualidia, to Essaouira

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Yeah, I should have posted a long time ago about Cartagena, Colombia, but life happens… So better (a little) late than much later, plus- its nice to revisit Cartagena and sift through the many photos I have.

Cartagena was a last minute plan, and for a family of parents, teens and grandparents, I was worried that it’ll get boring after a few days, but connecting my imagination along with my good friends: Tripadvisor, Lonely Planet Guide, and some googling, I built a blueprint that would work for us all.

As a general rule, I always seek to find activities that involve the local community and encourages sustainable tourism, while trying to leave a minimal environmental and social footprint.

Without further ado, here are my recommendations for Cartagena, especially during Christmas.

Getting Around and what to do in Cartagena

The best would be… by foot. Not only is it free, but losing yourself by walking in the smallest alleys, allow you to discover the old beauty of Spanish colonial old city, the crumbling walls, the wide variety of door knockers, the colorful graffitis in Getsemani, the vibrant dresses of the fruit basket ladies- Las Palenqueras, and that’s just the feast for your eyes, not to mention sounds and real tastes that you may find. Going further to other neighborhoods, use a local taxi- they are cheap and convenient. Also- read about the tours we took to really go out the beaten track.

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Beautiful ladies of Cartagena, Las Palenqueras. Don’t take a photo without buying a fruit. Fruits are yummy, cheap, and you’ll be helping by paying.

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Deteriorating buildings are so beautiful. Be sure to look up.

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Door knockers are Cartagena’s thing

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Look where you step- you’ll be rewarded

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Walk on the walls that encircle the Old City, and be sure to gaze out into the sunset

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Enjoy the many vendors

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I had to add the hat guy

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Ahhh… the colors all around make it so hard to return home to our “regular” (non) hues

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Xmas in Cartagena means dances, and lots of them, in the main square

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Stroll outside the walled city, in the vibrant neighborhood of Getsemani. Observe graffiti

Responsible Tourism in Cartagena

Responsible Tourism is, among other things, to be aware and have meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.  That’s the kind of travel we usually try to conduct. That is why we chose to experience a few tours with these companies, which allowed us to be exposed to local traditions, away from the beaten path, while supporting locals by spending our $$. This was a win-win.

We toured with Alex Rocha of ​Experience the Real Cartagena in the further neighborhoods of Cartagena, learning of the zones system, that reflects the different poverty stages. Alex explained about life in Cartagena, and it’s historical aspect dating back to the afro-Colombians, brought in as slaves. We got to talk and dance with the locals (remember, it’s Christmas time, and locals are eating and dancing in the streets). We visited the colorful Bazurto Market and tasted different fruits and juices, and bought a local hat (this IS the place for cheap buys). .  We ended up in Alex’s neighborhood, and were invited to his home, where we met his beautiful family, and his wife made us an amazing lunch. We enjoyed so much, that we took Alex again to the Aviary (the wonderful relaxing bird reserve) and Playa Blanca, while visiting a small fishermen village on the way.

Be aware, Playa Blanca is full of vendors trying to sell, sell, sell. I suggest you walk all the way to the far right, as you enter the beach, to get away, as much as possible from the crowds.

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Outside the touristic city- into the hoods. Notice the recycled Xmas decorations. Also- visited Convent of Santa Cruz de la Popa- the highest point in Cartagena

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Bazurto – Cartagena’s bustling food market

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A beautiful day at the Aviary, and Playa Blanca

Two more tours were exceptionally joyful, and those were led by Lorena Salgado of Insider, who’s an ethical travel company, that gives back to the community. We took their Africa in America tour. We visited the village of San Basilio de Palenque, where we met and learned about the Palenqueros, who were the first free Africans in America. In this village, they are the only ones in the world speaking ​Spanish-Bantú, and they have maintained their musical traditions, mainly the Champeta. We met with music legend Rafael Cassiani, who was born in the Palanque, and started his Champeta musical career there. Of course we feasted on a traditional Palenque lunch served on banana leaves. Later that day,  we visited ​San Jacinto​, which is the small village of knitting crafters.

The other tour we took with Lorena of Insider, was the evening Salsa tour, where we hopped from one salsa club to the other. It was amazing, as we didn’t only get to watch and dance to the Salsa beats, but learn of how the Salsa came to be, it’s historical and cultural connections to present times and to the people of Cartagena. It was one of the highlights of our Cartagena visit. Highly recommended!!

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Top left: statue of a man breaking free from his chains and reaching out for his motherland, West Africa. This is the statue of Benkos Bioho, San Basilio de Palenque founder. Bottom left: hair braiding goes far beyond a hairstyle- it was used by Palenque’s slaves to braide intricate maps and codes. Today it’s a social gathering- kind of a street spa.

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Beautiful people of Basilio de Palenque

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With Champeta legend Rafael Cassiani. Watch a short clip

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Weavers of San Jacinto

Where to eat and sleep 

Allow yourself to eat from street vendors some of the fresh fruits or local pastries. Some really good restaurants, though, are these:

Cafe Stepping Stones. We loved their breakfast and coffee. Also love the idea that they are partners of not-for-profit foundation, FEM, who focus on sustainable local projects.

Moshi. Though in local terms, this would be an expensive restaurant, relatively to NY it is so reasonably priced, and yet, the service, food, tastes and look of the dishes, are so attentive and delicious. They even surprised us with little dish samples that they shared with us. It is so good, we went there twice! Highly recommended.

Ganesha. Loved this little place in Getsemani, quiet with good, tasty small plates of Indian food, when you had enough of plantains and arepa 🙂 Loved having chai, or cold lassi, as well as some Indian delights.

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Refreshed in Ganesha

Caffe Lunatico. Ate here twice, great ambiance, food, and selections of wines. Tasty, unique food, good professional service, in Getsemani.

For kids- Choco Museum. We left our 3 teens for the chocolate workshop, for a little over 2 hours. They had so much fun, learning and creating with chocolate. They took samples back, and we all enjoyed tasting.

For adults- El Rincon De Getsemani. As we lazily strolled in Getsemani during the evening, we heard live music emerging behind a door. We hesitantly opened the door, and peeked inside, just to warmly be invited inside. Oh wow- a band of at least 8 musicians played the salsa, and folks were dancing enthusiastically. We joined. We came back another evening (without kids), and had so much fun learning some basic salsa steps by nice locals. This is a local salsa club, didn’t see any tourists there. Get a glass of beer and enjoy trumpets and salsa.

Hotel Capellan. Beautiful rooftop, nice little chilling pools, and some nice views from the roof. Grab a beer and ceviche, and relax. Everyday they had an afternoon tea time served with cakes- complimentary. Conveniently located in Getsemani, in walkable distance from the walled city.

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Hotel Capellan, chillin’

more photos (as well as in my Instagram):

 

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We have a mulberry tree not far from our home. We’re lucky that way. Sent my boys to get all red-dirty, and they got that sweet juicy stuff, hands, mouth and all..

Mulberries

So with so many of them, I quickly baked 2 mulberry cobblers, inspired by Bakerita’s recipe. My recipe is different as it’s not vegan, and I played with some other flours that I had.

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Yes, One regular cobbler, and one chocolate one.

You’ll need:

for the fruit:

  • 3 cups of mulberries
  • 3 TBS dates nectar or pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp arrowroot flour
  • pinch of cardamom or cinnamon- to your liking

for the cobbler topping:

  • 1/2 cup almond flour (for chocolate version: 1/2 cup pure cacao powder)
  • 1/2 cup arrowroot flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of fine sea salt
  • 3 TBS water or date nectar (for chocolate version: add 3 TBS date nectar/maple syrup)
  • 3 TBS coconut oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • for chocolate version add 1/3-1/2 cup of chocolate chips or cacao nibs

how-to:

  1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a round pie baking dish.
  2. Gently mix all fruit ingredients in a bowl. Toss to coat until evenly distributed.
  3. Spread the mulberries into the baking dish.
  4. For the cobbler topping – In a medium mixing bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients: flours/powders and salt.
  5. Add all the wet ingredients (the remaining ingredients) and mix until combined.
  6. Drop topping by tablespoonfuls onto filling (create mounds).
  7. Bake for 30 minutes or until cobbler is brown and cooked through.
  8. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

notes:

  • If the batter is too thick or dry- add more water and mix, but slowly, tsp by tsp, not too much.
  • I like to use the D’vash date nectar– it’s a 100% dates. We like it not too sweet. Feel free to add more nectar, maple, or sugar.
  • Play around with different fruits, have fun!

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Autumn season is here, and along with the other great root vegetables, kohlrabi is an excellent choice. Both bulb and green stem and leaves can be used in different ways. The texture feels like a crisp apple, the taste- like a broccoli stem, but a bit sweeter. Many people I’ve met are not familiar with kohlrabi, and are missing out, and that’s a shame!

fresh kolhrabi thins

fresh kohlrabi thins

Here’s a very easy way to prepare the bulb, and enjoy a healthy, tasty snack, or salad. I give you: raw, thin slices of kohlrabi, or kohlrabi carpaccio if you will.

First, you’ll need to peel it. I use my knife to cut the stems off, then cut the woody base, and peel the outer layer. You can use a vegetable peeler for that, but I really prefer my knife, as its quicker.  See demo here (used with a peeler).

Cut the kohlrabi bulb in half, and each half into thin slices. Prepare the slices on a plate, one layer first. Drizzle olive oil on top, sprinkle sea salt, and squeeze fresh lemon. Prepare the next layer, and again: drizzle olive oil, sea salt and lemon. Continue layer upon layer. Finally, leave for about 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

*nice additions (all together or just some): sprinkle thyme or mint, small chunks of goat cheese or parmesan cheese, some balsamic vinegar, or- toss with lime juice and lime zest with some cilantro.

Enjoy !

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Call it ice-cream, call it pudding, as long as it’s chocolaty, soft, and cool in my mouth, it’s one of the ultimate heat breakers for summer. The fact that it’s gluten, and dairy free, both paleo and vegan, elevates it to ideal. And, to top it all, it’s easy to make. Oh, it will be somewhat grainy, as I like to feel some chunks (dates, pecans). Now that’s pure awesomeness.

chilled chocolate banana date mousse

chilled chocolate banana date ice-cream

you’ll need:

How to:

  1. Pulse the coconut flakes in a food processor, for about 1-2 minutes. At first it will be powdered, and then it will start to stick to the container walls.
  2. Peel bananas and cut roughly into slices, and add to the coconut mixture in the food processor. Add cacao powder, medjool dates (make sure no pits), and pecans. Add any optional flavors*.
  3. Blend in food processor until thick and creamy. If you like it smoother (and not feel the date, or coconut chunks), keep blending even more.
  4. Transfer to a freezer-safe dish, and tuck in the freezer 30-60 minutes, yet not too long so it doesn’t harden too much. If you do leave it too long, that’s fine, just thaw it outside for a while, before serving. Alternatively, you can save in the fridge, covered, to have it as a soft mousse/pudding treat. All of the above, if you don’t finish it right away.

optional flavors to add:

  • 1/4 tsp cardamom powder + 1/8 tsp chili powder. YES, it’ll add pizzazz to your mouth;
  • 1/3 tsp cinnamon powder;
  • 1/3 tsp coffee powder + 1/8 tsp chili powder + 1 Tbs vanilla extract;
  • throw in some of your favorite nuts and berries (goji, mulberries, etc’);
  • throw in some mini chocolate nibs or chocolate chips.

What’s your favorite addition?

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Curried-Cumined Zucchini Soup

Curried-Cumined Zucchini Soup

Our winter is too long and too white. There, I said it! To break all this whiteness, I made a warm green soup.

you’ll need:

  • 2 Tbs fat (butter, ghee, coconut oil, tallow);
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds;
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped;
  • 3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped;
  • 1 tsp curry powder (if you like less spicy, use 1/2 tsp curry and 1/2 tsp turmeric);
  • 3-4 zucchini, coarsely sliced (I also used one Dudhi, an Indian type of long zucchini);
  • 3-4 cups liquids (bone broth, chicken broth, vegetable broth, water). Use less liquid (3 cups) for a thicker consistency;
  • salt and pepper;
  • lemon;

* optional: garnish (cilantro, parsley, sour cream)

ingredients assembly. not in the photo: lemon, broth, parsley, salt n' pepper

ingredients assembly. not in the photo: lemon, broth, parsley, salt n’ pepper

how-to:

  1. Melt fat in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and allow them to heat just until they let out their wonderful aroma. They will start to splutter. Don’t allow them to burn or blacken.

    sizzling cumin opening it's fragrance

    sizzling cumin opening it’s fragrance

  2. Add the onion and garlic and saute for about 4 minutes until they start to soften.

    zuc·chi·ni. noun, plural zuc·chi·nis

    zuc·chi·ni. noun, plural zuc·chi·nis

  3. Add liquid, zucchini, curry powder and salt (add more salt if using only water as your liquid). Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook gently for 30 minutes, until veggies are tender.
  4. Allow soup to cool, and blend (I use an immersion stick) until just smooth.
  5. Before serving, reheat soup. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. Ladle into bowls, squeeze some lemon, and add some garnish.

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