The medina and the market: colours of Tangiers street life

Women selling fruit and vegetables in a square in the medina of Tangiers.

Women selling fruit and vegetables in a square in the medina of Tangiers.

Tangiers, Morocco

A woman shells peas to sell in the street.

Tangiers, market, Morocco

A mix of dried spices, leaves and flowers. Moroccan cuisine is highly aromatic.

The classic colours of Morocco at a spice stall.

The classic colours of Morocco at a spice stall.

market, Tangiers, Morocco, Medina

Stalls have an amazing variety of goods, including garlic, ginger and volcanic pumice stone.

Tangiers, medina, Morocco

A turquoise street in the Medina with yellow and red houses.

For me, the most memorable part of my all-too-short visit to Tangiers was wandering through the Medina – the old city, just below the Kasbah. In my last post, I talked about our guide, Aziz. If I had been trying to find my way through alone, I would certainly have got horrendously lost – normally a fun part of exploring a new city, but when you’ve only got a day, with lots to see and learn, not ideal. But as it was, Aziz knows these labyrinthine streets and took us up steps, around corners, and under archways. We saw the real Tangiers, which is a third-world city without running water in some homes, with refuse on the streets, and with a vital sense of life. As I said in a previous post, this is my first time in a developing country in over a decade, so I was looking through newly naive eyes.

Morocco, Tangiers

Coloured, patterned leather slippers are reminiscent of tiles and plasterwork, with their intricate patterns.

House in the medina, in a shade close the famous albero of Seville.

House in the medina, in a shade to close the famous albero of Seville.

Tangiers, Morocco, market, olives

Fat, juicy olives in all colours, in the market of Tangiers.

When I  mentioned to a very well-travelled, highly-experienced photographer friend that I was going to Tangiers, and asked what advice would she give me – especially in case of not-ideal climatic conditions (it rained) – she just said “colour”. Only showers, as it happened, but those zingy colours can’t be suppressed by a light downpour – houses, spices, clothes (not the djellaba, the long hooded kaftan, which we only saw in earth tones – white, grey, brown or black).

Berber, market, Berber market, Tangiers, Morocco

Berber women selling fresh fruit and vegetables.

market, Berber, Berber market, Tangiers, Morocco

Produce from the countryside in hand-woven baskets.

oranges, Tangiers, Morocco, market

A moped trailer piled high with oranges, fresh from the farm.

We were lucky enough to be in Tangiers on a Sunday, when the Berber market takes place. Berbers are the native people of Morocco, before the Arabs arrived; they’re nomadic, tribal people. They come into the city – mostly women, but men too – bringing their fruit, vegetables, milk, cheese and eggs (and even live chickens, too) to sell on the pavement next to St Andrew’s Church, by the Grand Socco, on Sunday mornings.

Some handy tips for visiting Tangiers

One euro = around 11 dhirams. Most places accept euros, but give change in dhirams.

Some Moroccan women don’t like being photographed; I tried to avoid capturing their faces.

Alcohol is served, but discreetly, as Morocco is a liberal Islamic country – mostly in tourist hotels, and smarter bars and restaurants.

Kif (marijuana) smoking is tolerated for Moroccans, and very popular among the young, but illegal (if also popular) for tourists. Beware.

In future posts, I’ll be looking at Tangiers in artistic, musical, cinematic and literary terms, as well as telling you about the trip I took out of the city to the coast.

Up close and personal with the birds

goose, Cañada de los Pajaros, Sevilla

A greylag goose guards its nest.

Cañada de los Pajaros, Sevilla

Flamingoes are exotic, storytale birds – the pink legs, the long, bendy necks – they just don’t look real.

Spring is here in Seville – which means warm days, mild evenings, the smell of orange blossom, and a succession of large-scale events revolving around passion, death and debauchery.

Many people will be watching the Semana Santa processions over the next week, as statues of Jesus Christ and Mary are carried on floats, preceded by hooded, robed figures, weaving their way through the packed, narrow streets of the city.

But if the dolorosas (Virgins) don’t float your boat, never fear; there are plenty of other activities near the city, especially if you have children who would rather be running about in an open space, than standing in a crowded alley for hours without being able to see much action.

The huge amount of rainfall we’ve had here in Andalucia over the past weeks and months has meant that any lakes, rivers, streams and other watercourses are full to bursting. While this isn’t much fun if you live next to a river, like people in towns such as Ecija and those near Jerez who’ve been flooded, it is very welcome for some residents of Andalucia, whether permanent or seasonal: namely, the feathered ones.

Some of the bird species you can see at Cañada de los Pajaros.

Some of the bird species you can see at Cañada de los Pajaros.

We first visited Cañada de los Pajaros, a small bird sanctuary south of Seville, back in September 2010 (the name means ravine, or gully, of the birds). When we came it was very dry, with the levels on the lake low, and one large pond had no water at all. Now, however, is a perfect time to go, as there is ample water, and lots of birds to see. The storks are nesting in the pine trees, and watching them fly to and from their tree-top nests, soaring above your head with their broad, jagged-edged wings, collecting twigs to complete the building process, is enough to keep a curious grounded human interested for hours. The Cañada’s location is near the northern edge of Doñana Park, a UNESCO-recognised bioreserve, and one of Europe’s most important wetlands for migrating species, famous for its ample birdwatching opportunities. Many of the birds which live in Doñana can also be found in the Cañada.

pratincole,<div class="mceTemp mceIEcenter"><dl id="attachment_6596" class="wp-caption aligncenter" style="width: 480px"><dt class="wp-caption-dt"><a href=""><img src="" alt="crane, Cañada de los Pajaros, Sevilla" width="470" height="352" class="size-large wp-image-6596" /></a></dt><dd class="wp-caption-dd">Crested crane - this one loved posing for photos.

This collared pratincole is exquisitely pretty.

Cañada de los Pajaros

The spoonbill is another fantastical-looking bird – here they have them both in captivity and flying free. Isn’t the red ibis amazing?

The reserve (described as a “servant reserve” on their leaflet; they mean subsidised, I think) consists of a large lake, which you walk around, with a bird hide right on the water, and benches for some peaceful contemplation. At the far end are various enclosures with a huge variety of birds, from tiny, exquisite pratincoles, to bright-red ibises, and some wonderfully-named species: smew and whimbrel. An island in the lake is home to a flock of flamingoes. The sanctuary runs its own breeding programme for crested coots in captivity, the world’s first such, and also has other endangered birds such as the black stork and the marbled teal. You can see up to 200 species in total.

swan, lake, Cañada de los Pajaros

Meeting the swans on the lake (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Cañada de los Pajaros

Lola wasn’t too sure about the swans, which were quite forward when seeking food.

Cañada de los Pajaros

My son checks out some of the lake’s wildfowl.

But our favourite part was feeding the birds. All children love being able to feed animals – mine always remember their experience with the goats and even a giraffe at Colchester Zoo in the UK. We bought two bags of bird food – like a finer version of pienso, dry dog food – and the kids watched as swans, geese, ducks and coots waddled over, with varying degrees of confidence, and gobbled up the little coloured nuggets, fighting and flouncing when one got too much, or another wanted to show his mettle. The young geese (as-yet untagged) were soon in trouble if they overstepped the mark, being chased by furious adults.

crane, Cañada de los Pajaros, Sevilla

Crested crane – this one loved posing for photos.

Cañada de los Pajaros

I’ve never seen a white peacock before! It looked so regal – wouldn’t be out of place in the grounds of a Maharajah’s palace.

Cañada de los Pajaros

The cranes enjoyed the food we gave them.

We got up close and personal with cranes, not your everyday experience, who were amazingly tame. We saw snowy peacocks, strutting cockerels and imperious herons. And the noise was extraordinary: the hoo-hoo of the cranes, the tapping of the storks, the hissing and honking of the geese, the quacking of the ducks, the farting of the coots (at least that’s what it sounded like).

Cañada de los Pajaros

A stork flies back to its nest on top of a pine tree.

Cañada de los Pajaros

The community of storks in the canopy.

Cañada de los Pajaros, spoonbill

This spoonbill looks rather dignified.

Cañada de los Pajaros

A breeding pair of storks in their treetop nest.

March is nesting season for the storks, who come here to breed from late February until the end of August; their chicks will be born next month. Storks like to nest somewhere high up, safe from predators – you often seen them on top of chimneys; here, they love the pine trees. We also saw spoonbills nesting up in the branches.

We spent a very enjoyable few hours at the Cañada, luckily with sun, then cloud, and the heavens opened when we got in the car to go home (and ate our sandwiches). This is a place where kids can run around without causing too much havoc, it’s a beautiful natural environment, and they’re intrigued by all the various birds – their favourite was one we could barely see, as it was in an enclosure away from the path. It was a mynah bird, which imitated them as they said “Hola!”, right down to the tone of voice. They found it hilarious, and spend many happy minutes chatting to it and then bursting into hysterics of laughter. Helpful, friendly staff, spotlessly clean grounds and easy parking make this an ideal family outing.

Cañada de los Pajaros is near Puebla del Rio, 25km south of Seville on the Aznalcazar road (SE659). Entrance is 10 euros for adults and 6 euros for children over 5 years old. There is a restaurant next to the reserve, as well as casas rurales to rent.

Here are some bird names in Spanish and English:

focha – coot

ciguena – stork

grulla – crane

garza – heron

garcilla – heron/egret

gaviota – gull

malvasia – white-headed duck

espatula – spoonbill

canastera – pratincole

Weekly Photo Challenge: Weather

vejer de la frontera, weather, a word a week, weekly photo challenge, cadiz, costa de la luz, sunrise, misty, mist, morning,

vejer de la frontera, weather, a word a week, weekly photo challenge, cadiz, costa de la luz, sunrise, mist, misty morningOn this blog, as followers and regular readers (you lovely people, you) will know, I write about a range of subjects – living in Spain, speaking Spanish, travelling around Andalucia and Portugal. Sometimes I also do these photo posts, which are part of a series of themed offerings from a wonderful blogger who goes by the name of Skinny Wench.

Her photo theme this week is Weather. I’ve done Round and Glitter so far, which were fun, but this one opens up a whole spread of meteorological possibilities.  Here in Seville, it’s mostly sun, with a bit of morning mist, some rain, and the occasional hail shower or thunderstorm – there was a humdinger last Saturday, which knocked down palm trees and left huge metal-framed ad hoardings bent double by the wind.

For unusual weather in a spectacular setting, we have to venture further afield. These photos were taken on the Dia de Andalucia puente (Andalucia Day bank holiday, 28 February) a couple of years ago, in Vejer de la Frontera – a town just inland from the the Costa de la Luz here in Andalucia. One morning I woke up before the children, who were out cold from all the fresh air and exercise the previous day, and looked out of the window.

The valley below Vejer, which is a beautiful Moorish pueblo blanco wrapped around a green hill, was filled with milky white mist. The sky was the most incredible pinky-orange artfully streaked with clouds. The street lights were still on, and the town was silent. I tiptoed past the kids, slipped out onto the balcony, and started taking photos.

As the sun came up, the scene – light, shapes, colours – was constantly changing and I kept snapping. At one point, the mist glowed orange, illuminated like some religious painting. But the best, most thrilling aspect of those precious minutes was being above the fluffy white stuff – it felt like being up in the clouds.

vejer de la frontera, weather, a word a week, weekly photo challenge, cadiz, costa de la luz, sunrise, misty, mist, morning,


vejer de la frontera, weather, a word a week, weekly photo challenge, cadiz, costa de la luz, sunrise, misty, mist, morning,

Weekly Photo Challenge: Round


Like many bloggers out there, I am thoroughly enjoying Skinny Wench’s A Word A Week - both reading others’ posts, and putting together my own – and I hope you’re liking them too! This is only my second AWAW, but I love these sorts of posts which are quick (my photos aren’t indexed, so it would be even quicker if I got my act together and could locate them using keywords – dream on), easy and fun. Many of my chosen images are Instagram snaps – I am mildly obsessed (@fififlores, if you want to follow me).

The idea of round, for me, denotes smooth, tactile, geometrically balanced; a baby’s soft bottom, a downy peach, a child’s ball. Circular and spherical shapes abound in nature – fruit, flowers, sun, moon… There is something profoundly satisfying about such a complete object, especially when it’s three-dimensional.

Here in Seville, the most ubiquitous incarnation of round are the spots on feria dresses – a key part of one of the city’s most important celebrations.

These round photos are a mix of natural and man (or woman)-made, and are as colourful as I could find:

water wheel at Sanlucar la Barrameda Feria

balloons in a friend’s garden (oval, so a slight cheat there)

supremely stylish football hat worn triumphantly at Euro 12

son with Olympic rings at Stratford this summer

home-baked (and decorated, don’t laugh) Hallowe’en cupcakes

trippy gold mushrooms

friend’s arroz (not paella, strictly speaking)

beer bottle tops

Christmas lights

mad flamenco-painted bread in a sadly now-closed shop

spotty farolillo (paper light) at the Feria de Sevilla

lemon from our tree

brandy barrels in Jerez de la Frontera

window of Seville cathedral, seen from roof

sunflower – a popular crop around these parts








round, a word a week, weekly photo challenge, lights, tree, Christmas

pan flamenco

round, spotty, feria

IMG_0742 los apostoles

round, window, cathedral, Seville, Sevilla


Word a Week Photo Challenge: Glitter

Glittery skies in Seville for Christmas.

Glittery skies in Seville for Christmas.

Virgin, Mary, romeria, Andalucia, Spain, glitter

The Virgin Mary glints in the autumn sun, on our local romeria (pilgrimage).

fireworks, jubilee, UK, royal, glitter

This firework is from the UK’s Jubilee celebrations in June 2012.

glitter, pool, Algarve, Portugal, Fazenda Nova

Light refracted off the pool at Fazenda Nova in Portugal is glittery.


Every week, Sue over at A Word in Your Ear posts a photo theme – colour, texture, or whatever. They always look like fun, and I often think of photos I’ve taken which would be ideal for a post, but guess what – I never get around to doing it.

This morning I saw the glitter-themed post by the wonderful Fieldnotes from Fatherhood, which inspired me to get off my Reyes Magos-knackered arse (today is the second Spanish Christmas, celebrating the arrival of the Three Kings, with more presents, processions and general over-indulgence) and dig out some suitable snaps. After all, what woman can say no to shiny, sparkly stuff? (Not me!)

A couple are a half-inched from a recent post on Seville’s Christmas lights, since these beautiful illuminations are still making the city look so magical, with others from adventures last year in Portugal and the UK, as well as closer to home. The last two are from our Reyes procession which took place yesterday afternoon.

If you’re Spanish, or you live here in Spain, Felices Reyes! And to everyone, Happy New Year. I’ll be doing one of those year-in-review posts everyone’s been popping off soon – I promise to keep it short, though perhaps not quite as short as this one.

Yes, we do get frost here in southern Spain.

Yes, we do get frost here in southern Spain.

Sparkly Ayuntamiento building.

Sparkly Ayuntamiento (town hall) building in Seville, like diamonds.

Cinderella, Reyes Magos 2013, cabalgata 2013, Seville, Sevilla, glitter

Cinderella in her gleaming carriage in the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings’ procession).

Reyes Magos 2013, Seville, Sevilla, glitter

The first carroza (float) in the Cabalgata for Reyes 2013; La Estrella (the Star).