Dissolutioned in Thetford

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Thetford Priory

Thetford, Norfolk has the remains of two monastic complexes and a nunnery.  These include the Cluniac Priory, a Benedictine Nunnery, and the Holy Sepulchre Church if the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Priory which is cared for by English Heritage.  The Priory was founded in 1103 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  It was one of the last monastic housed closed by Henry VIII in 1540.

The site is open to the public during daylight hours, and it seems favoured by dog walkers.  For those with an interest in ecclesiastical history, or architecture the site has a number of signs to describe the various buildings and a little of their purpose.

It was a little drizzly on the day I visited, but I found it an interesting experience all the same, and is often the case in such places, I found it spiritually moving.

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Rushton Lodge

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Rushton Hall

Architecture isn’t normally seen as a form of protest, but Rushton Lodge is exactly that.  In particular it is a spiritual protest against anti-Catholic ordinances in Early Modern England, and expression of Catholic orthodoxy.

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Trinity Window

The building is triangular in its design. It was built by Sir Thomas Tresham, the father of one of the Gunpowder Plotters.  He had it built from 1593 to 1597. It is a symbolic expression of a belief of the Holy Trinity.  The number three is therefore represented throughout.  It has three floors, and three triangular gables on each side. The entire structure is three sided as well with each wall measuring 33 feet, with three triangular and trefoil windows on each wall. The front entrance bears the slogan “Tres Testimonium Dant” [“There are three that give witness”] which is drawn from I John 5:7.

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Cross Window

While Wikipedia notes the Lodge as a folly, it is far from it.  It is, in fact, a great statement of the faith of its builder.

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Triangle Detail

It is a truly fascinating place to visit, and the more you explore, the more symbols you can discover. There is a small English Heritage reception and shop on site, and there are some snacks available in the shop, and space for picnics on the grounds. Parking is a bit of an issue, and there is no car park, but only a narrow lay by on the street opposite the site.

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English Heritage Link

 

 

Wimpole Hall

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Hall

It was a pretty early Autumn afternoon, and we had errands to run near Stansted, so decided to make a visit to National Trust’s Wimpole Estate. We have visited before (back in 2013) and while some of what we took in this weekend was “re-visited” much of what we saw this time were portions we had missed before.

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Entrance to Stable Block

The Hall is the largest house in Cambridgeshire and is the former residence of the Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and later of Elise, the daughter of Rudyard Kipling.

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Clock Tower Detail

There are hundreds of acres to the estate and paths, fields, and follies are all part of the experience.  Parking is near the old stable block where the national Trust has its ticket office, a small takeaway cafe, and shop.  A restaurant is a short distance away towards the formal gardens.

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Garden Shop

On the recent visit there was a vendor selling locally produced honey and bees’ wax products in the stable block area.  There was also a small garden centre, and a woman using a spinning wheel and selling woolen knit products.

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Spinning

The gardens include areas by Capability Brown and other noted landscape artists and gardeners. I found the formal beds absolutely beautiful.imageedit_33_2660688225 (1).jpg

 

The house itself is huge, and extremely grand. At first glance I assumed it was Georgian, but it is cited as being 17th Century in its construction.

It has libraries, a lovely chapel, and many other “must see” features inside.

As is our custom we had a couple cups of tea and a scone at the cafe. In this case it was takeaway in paper cups, and a cheese scone which we had in the stables courtyard.  Later we went to the restaurant where we had a Stilton soup  which was thick and tasty and some very nice granary bread with butter.

This is a splendid place to visit, and well worth making a day of.

 

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National Trust Site

Lavenham: Olde England

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Lavenham

I have done several posts on period villages and towns (Kersey, Stratford, Castle Comb) and many have wonderful timber frame buildings which give a sense of the nation’s past. Constable Country (Suffolk, and Essex border area) have a large number of these settlements, but one of the best preserved is Lavenham.

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Guildhall

The Guildhall at the centre of the town is a national Trust property.  It is large for the type of building and is really impressive as it commands the market square.  The Guildhall is well worth seeing, and like most National Trust houses has a nice tea room and is great to just chill and take in the history.

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Tea Room

 

The market is (apart from the paved road and auto traffic) really easy to picture the past at. There are several buildings which cry out character, and the owners so a superb job in their upkeep and presentation.

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House on Market Square

The town (unlike many of its type) is not limited to just the central preservation area. The Swan Hotel is an excellent example of a late Medieval inn and well worth exploring in its own right.

Swan - Lavenham (15th Century)

The Swan

It is easy to imagine the Mother Goose rhyme, “There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile, He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile; He bought a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse, And they all lived together in a little crooked house,” as you explore the streets and lanes of Lavenham as well.

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Crooked House

Such fabulous architecture has not been overlooked by popular culture.  The Godrick’s Hollow of the Harry Potter films found some of its location shots in Lavenham.  In fact Harry’s home in infancy was filmed using the town’s de Vere House.

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“The Hallow”

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de Vere House

There is much to take-in in this picturesque town. There are tea rooms, cafes, and at least two large period inns. The parish church is also well in keeping with this time capsule of England’s past.

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The Little Hall

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North Wales Adventure: Anglesey

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The Britannia or Menai Bridge links Anglesey and the mainland, and was the necessary starting point for our of our visit. This imposing and impressive Victorian structure is something to see! It has really strong lines, and the massive stone work give a sense of security that more modern structures sometime fail provide. This really is a wonderful piece of engineering.

Once in the island we headed to Holyhead and the Holy Island. We found the Holyhead docks are much like ports everywhere, with the ferry port doing steady business, and the marina area rather disappointing.  So we headed down the West Coast towards South Stack.  The South Stack area more than made up for the everyday views of Holyhead.

We started with the circle huts. The ancient stone circle remains of the huts are impressive. They overlook the sea, and really give a feel of the past.  This is a fairly big complex, but the lower huts are easy to access. There is parking at a small car park directly opposite them, and after crossing the small road, the closest hut circle is only about 50 paces from a farm gate. The next is a similar distance further up the path.  I found the stone rings, and what I assume to be hearth stones great reminders of our heritage.

The RSPB (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) Reserve is a short distance further up the mountain from the huts. The reserve offers some wonderful views of the sea and surrounding natural beauty. There is parking in three places that we could find. One low on the mountain across from the circle hut ruins (this also gives access to a Ellin’s Tower path. The second is at the visitor centre/cafe. The third is at the top of the rise where the road comes to an end. Hikers and watchers also climbed the rocky areas above. The visitor centre views are excellent and the RSPB has done a good job of making the area as accessible as possible, without spoiling the nature.

The Reserve has a visitor centre and cafe as well, so finding the cafe was a bonus. The cafe is medium sized, and it being a chilly day rather full, but the staff were really helpful and the service good (one server carried tray to table for us owing to disability).

There is outdoor seating as well, which we braved for a few minutes, and great views of the sea, Ellin’s Tower, and the light house.  The cafe/visitor centre also has a disabled toilet. The tea was well brewed, and we had chocolate and lemon cakes which were rich, moist, and satisfying. Really glad we found this place, to chill and take in the views.

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The South Stack Lighthouse is a wonderful part of the overall scenery. Owing to mobility issues we knew the hike itself was too much, but there are several places above the complex, and along the trails to view this sight. It was well worth seeing, even if for a few minutes just for the glory of the surroundings, and the majesty of the building itself.

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Lighthouse

Similarly, Ellin’s Tower was difficult for us to access. Therefore, we only looked at the building from the outside, but it makes a a wonderful photo op when used as a backdrop to the surrounding nature. Its while walls also make a striking contrast to the sea below. It is well worth seeing, and I have been told for those able to make the short hike to it, even more impressive up close.

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Ellin’s Tower

Leaving South Stack we followed the coastal road Lon Isallt to the Trearddur Bay taking in the views and visiting a couple of beaches. Then it was off to Aberffraw and St Cwyfan’s Church which I have previously posted on. The rugged coastline, and defiant little church (against nature;s power) are inspirational to see.

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Church in the Sea

On our way off Anglesey we followed more coastal road until we had to head inland to make our way back to the Menai Bridge.  Our island adventure had been a real treat, and the views alone made it worth taking, but yummy cake, and a glimpses of history made it a truly outstanding day.

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Trearddur Bay

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North Wales Adventure: Portmeirion Revisited

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Village

It had been some time since we visited the village (though my post on it is relatively more recent).  As my wife’s cancer diagnosis has given us a sense of time constraint, we have set out to revisit places which are significant to us.   Portmeirion Village is one of these.

We bought a day ticket, and for those with disability there is a concession of a free entry for a carer.  This made the visit really economical as well as meaningful. While using a wheelchair or mobility scooter in the village has its drawbacks (hills, cobbles, and some areas only accessible by stairs) it is still a wonderful place to explore, with most of the best sights still within reach.

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Views

We visited the main street where there was a progression of weddings going on it being a Saturday.  It was wonderful to see the beautiful dresses, and people enjoying their “happiest days.”

We were able to see some areas we had missed on the previous visit as well, especially in the village hall area.

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Garden Feel

We stopped at Caffi’r Sgwâr (Cafe Sugar) and had Welsh cakes and tea.  The cakes were very nice with powdered sugar and butter. The service was good, though the shop is a bit small, we didn’t feel cramped, and the window seat allowed a nice view of the village.

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Welsh Cakes

We also stopped at the Prisoner Shop (I’m not a number) and bought a couple of souvenirs and a “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered” t-shirt.

I also had a Caffi’r Angel mint ice cream.  While it was not the best mint cone I have ever had it was still enjoyable, and I am able the say now that I have had the Village’s own ice cream.

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Time to just chill

The Italianate architecture was just as wonderful as before, not that it has changed, but that its ability to inspire is just as good on a second visit.

We really enjoyed this “blast from our past,” and I am glad to have revisited.

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A Visit to St Andrew’s Street, Cambridge

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St Andrew’s Street Baptist

St Andrew’s Street runs from the end of Regent’s Street into the city centre with Christ’s College on one end, and Emmanuel on the other.  It has a mall (shopping arcade) entrance along its route, and several nice eateries.

I recently had the opportunity to use St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church as a venue to teach my students about church architecture, and the symbolism of church decoration and furnishings.  I really like this meeting place as it has a fair share of quirks as well as being a great model of a evangelical Protestant church building.

 

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Sunday School

 

The Baptist Church’s lay out is interesting as it has incorporated old passage and alley ways into the present complex.  The church provides a wing in what was a Victorian Sunday School and it has a cafe and meeting area in a converted passage way.

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Cornerstone

The Baptist congregation dates to the end of the 17th Century, and the building has expanded from the conversion of secular buildings, to the present structure which has had periodic expansions, and remodeling over the centuries. The present interior space of the chapel is Edwardian, and has some really wonderful features, especially in the Alpine style of its ceiling and upper gallery.

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Ceiling Detail

Christian iconography is evident but not in typical ways. The only initially evident cross is on the right hand gallery as one faces the pulpit. Yet is you examine the 21st century two-tone seating, you will find that the colour pattern of the chair upholstery forms a second cross as seen from the pulpit.  Examining the windows and carving of the older woodwork reveals a large number of triangles and other Trinity symbols, however.

The stained glass at the front of the chapel area is interesting as it does not depict scenes from the scriptures or of saints.  It instead shows characters and scenes from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. The Celestial City adorns the top of the window, and Christian, Faithful, and Valiant for Truth feature in the panels.

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Pilgrim’s Progress

The older wooden pews have interesting bracket and tray fixtures which are often misunderstood.  They are simply umbrella stands for the worshipers and are practical considerations not ecclesiastical ones. In a similar vein, there are a number of ornate metal boxes along the walls.  These too a thought by many to be “suggestion” or prayer request boxes, but they are actually remnants of the Victorian heating system.

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Interior

The Livingstone’s Cafe in the church. I had a coffee and later a meal here while visiting the venue. The cafe which is built alongside the church building is in a covered area in what seems to have once been an alley leading to the Victorian Sunday School annex. The area is modern and clean, and the history is clearly visible as you can see not only the flint cobbled walls of the church, but also the red stone entry of the 1880s Sunday School.  The staff are largely volunteers but are attentive, if not a little busy with a fair volume of regulars and passing trade. Orders are taken at the table and payment made at the till (no card payments by the way).  The coffee is of good quality and at a fair price. I also had a good sized jacket potato with cheese and coleslaw. This was served with a small salad (cucumber, tomato, cress and iceberg lettuce. The coleslaw was good and still had a fresh cabbage flavour. The carrot cake I had was very nicely made, but rather high priced (as opposed to a very reasonable price for the meals and coffee). There is a small play area for children, and a disabled/play area toilet convenient to the dining area, as well as other conveniences further into the complex. For those interested in such things, there are several features that show a true social concern. There are also anti-poverty goods available and a friendly attitude shown to regulars, visitors, and passing students as well.

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Livingstone’s Cafe

 

Not far away is another lunch spot, the St Andrews Street Wagamama. The restaurant is upstairs, but there is a lift for those with mobility issues or with pushchairs. The tables are bench style with fixed stools, and the decor is rather plain, but the food is tasty and served fairly quickly. We had shiitake donburi which was in very big portions, and this was complemented by the infused oil, and choice of soy sauces on the table. Green tea is served for free with the meal, and all in all it was a tasty affordable lunch.

 

For a more Latin feel there is also a Nando’s outlet nearby.  The restaurant is convenient to the city centre and the Portuguese flavour does come through in the atmosphere, even if it is a chain restaurant. The decor is bright, Latin music is in the background, and the feel as a whole is positive. The staff were friendly, and very helpful; taking time to explain the menu and ordering process. While this is a order at the counter, served at the table system, the amount of time spent explaining the system to newcomers might as well allow for table service – but this is not to detract from the quality of the service that was received.  On a previous visit, I had a portabella mushroom wrap with a medium spice marinade with a couple of sides. All were well prepared, and the portions were good value for money.

Other Foodie stops include the Castle Bar, which has a really good ice cream kiosk on the sidewalk during the summer months, and the Regal which is a Wetherspoon pub. I have eaten at the Regal on a couple of occasions. The first was for a breakfast (before visiting the church in a previous year), I found the offerings, and quality quite good. The restaurant/pub is large, yet a comfortable, and welcoming place to visit. The ordering system is the pay at bar, served at table type, but the staff were very efficient and helpful.  I had eggs royale, which was nicely prepared and the salmon very nicely complimented by the hollandaise sauce. The coffee was a bit basic, but not bad. On my recent visit, my wife and I had lunch there, and there are some very good Friday Fish deals.

If churches and colleges aren’t your thing there is always the Grand Arcade. I am not one for malls and shopping precincts, but the Grand Arcade is a well maintained, attractive centre. I was there to use the Apple Store, but found the other shops interesting as well, and the Costa Coffee hidden away under the escalators provided a nice place to wait while significant others are doing their thing.

While a little off the beaten track of King’s College, Senate House, and the Queen’s College Bridge, St Andrew’s Street has a lot to offer, and it is worth checking out if visiting the home of greatest university in the world.
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In the Palace of the Sun King: A Visit to Versailles

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A few summers ago, we had the opportunity to visit the palace of Versailles. While journey to France was pretty straight forward, our SatNav proved a bit iffy. We had set the device for “The Palace of Versailles,” and it dutifully led us to the suburbs of Paris to the Versailles Palace Nursing Home.  We then resorted to the printed road map to find our way to our true destination.

As we arrived later than expected, we found parking more complicated, and ended up in an overflow car park.  We had a mobility scooter for my wife, so the trip into the palace wasn’t too difficult, though she did have to negotiate cobbled streets and pathways.

The palace itself is what one would expect of the court of the man who was arguably the most powerful monarch in Europe. Louis XIV built for himself a place of ultimate luxury, and the architecture evidences this everywhere.  Even the most mundane purposed buildings are bedecked with sculptures and embellishments.

The gardens too, manifest this opulence.  The journey would be worth it for the calm and beauty of the formal gardens if for nothing else.  But, the grounds also have magnificent statuary and water features.

The interior of the palace is no less grand than the surroundings.  The Hall of Mirrors, and the Chapel Royal are “must sees.”  There are more statues, wonderful murals, and amazing chandeliers to round out the overwhelming experience.

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Versailles is a place to take an entire day.  It is all that you would expect of “The Sun King,” and it will not disappoint.

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The Beauty of Practical Ceramics (and a stay at Riad Dalia)

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One of the outstanding features of my visits to the Middle East, Iberia, and Morocco is the beautiful tile work.  These are wonderful artistic expressions, and many of the hand decorated tiles are unique.  Even the stenciled ones make for fabulous mosaics that make the art and architecture stand out.

In Morocco (and in Iberia), I found not only the tiled walls, but even the pavements in places had intricate patterns and sidings.

 

 

 

Even the bathrooms featured tile patterns which made accented the copper sinks and presented an artistic atmosphere.

Riad Dalia - Fatima Room Detail (wash basin)

Moroccan tiled Bathroom

Riad Dalia - Courtyard Detail 2

Doors and Screens (and Tiles)

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Tiles and Hangings

The pictures above shows the beauty of how these features all come together to give a a scenery experience.  This sense of space and place really enhances life, and it is because of this that the motifs have been borrowed to create atmosphere elsewhere (see below).

 

 

 

Much (but not all) of this wonderful art was found in and around my hotel, Riad Dalia which was a terrific place to stay. I stayed at the Dalia for two nights, and enjoyed the peace, beauty and atmosphere of the place. Mohammad and his staff are truly wonderful people, and were helpful from the booking onwards. They arranged transfers for me on arrival and departure. I was greeted at the taxi stand and shown the way to the riad through the twists and turns of the madina (all this with them carrying my bags). I was given a bottle of cold water on arrival, and shown to my room which was beautifully decorated.

The quality of sleep was wonderful. The double bed was one of the most comfortable I have slept in whilst on travels (there was also a second single bed in the “chamber” which was softer as well). Since the room overlooks the courtyard there was ambient noise through the shuttered windows, but this was quiet chat on the first night, and a member of staff softly practicing traditional music on the second (a marvelous sound to drift off to).

The breakfast was served in the courtyard. Moroccan bread with butter, cheese, and jam; a boiled egg and freshly squeezed orange juice served on arabesque plates. The meal was tasty, and the coffee good. In fact, I should note that I found the juice far better than the “must have” juice at the Jamaa el Fna. The riad also offers other meals if you let them know you want them. While I didn’t arrange either of my evening meals here, I was served some very nice bread, tomatoes and juice just before my departure.

The helpfulness and attention of the staff can again be mentioned, as I was once again guided out of the narrow streets till I got a handle on the route on my second day. Staff members also helped with my bags to the pick up point on the day I left.

The courtyard, rooms, and common areas are really atmospheric, and the decorations gorgeous. I spent some very pleasant time just chilling in the shade of the courtyard.

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Link to Riad Dalia

Morocco: Windows, Doors, and Arches

 

 

I am not a great artist, yet I do appreciate things of beauty.  Whether it be natural landscapes, or thoughtful and creative examples of human expression.  There are many wonderful examples of both in Europe, but in style and “exotic” quality, I really found Morocco had a lot to offer.

In today’s travel post, I am going to focus on some of the under appreciated aspects, many going unnoticed in European architecture: the doors and windows. Many of these that I saw in Marrakech were not the standard rectangular parallel posts and lintel construction, but ones that incorporated screening, rounded and peaked arches, and decorative paneling.

 

 

In the labyrinth of narrow allies and passageways in the old city, I was able to use the distinctive features of these designs to navigate along the almost uniformly pink walls. Some of these were augmented by spectacular tile-work, but most were purely identifiable by the patterned screens and arches.

The windows, as well as the doors, offered amazing diversity, and enhanced the arabesque feel of the experience.  Some of these has woven and carved screens, and others various patterns of coloured glass.

 

 

In the close allies and in the courtyards of riads and restaurants there we wonderfully crafted archways, whether as passage entries, or as features of fountains and even as “bathroom” fittings.

These artist expressions are not only beautiful, but practical aspects of the architecture, serving as landmarks and in some cases I am told in regulating the circulation of air to moderate the temperature of the areas.  For me though, they made for a culturally rich North African experience.  [They also make for some great travel photos].

I will blog on the wonderful Moroccan tiles in a future post.

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