Friday, September 20, 2019

Morocco - Part III

Morocco - Chefchaouen, Tetouan and Tangier

It took us four hours by bus to get from Fes to Chefchaouen. Overall, the trip was easy. We stopped midway at a restaurant stop, had a quick bite and continued onwards to our destination. 

Once in Chefchaouen we took a taxi to the town’s center. Our riad, once again, was not too far into the Medina, so it was easy to get to it. Our host, Said, welcomed us to the Dar Soleiman. He gave us a nice rundown on places to see, places to eat and cafes. Breakfast, which we always looked forward to, started at 8:30.

Chefchaouen, known as the “blue city” was indeed blue. Incidentally, we found out that the “blue” phenomenon actually was a recent  movement that occurred within the last twenty years.
For whatever reason they decided to paint the town blue, it worked. The camera shots are irresistible at every little passage way. Light blues, dark blues, some mixed earth tones - and all juxtaposed to the wares being sold. An incredible feast of colors for the eyes.

Above, is a photo of Tetouan, a city we visited for the day that lies north between Chefchaouen and Tangier. We spent the day walking through it’s market (souk) and then went back home to Chefchaouen.

Below, a photo of our Aussie traveling buddies (Joan and Stephen), who we kept running into in several places. We had a great time together, even though I didn’t understand what they were saying half the time. :-)

Our final destination in Morocco was Tangier. An enormous city (over 2 million in population), bridging Europe and Africa, with a history dating back to the Phoenicians. And today, Morocco’s king is concentrating to make Tangier a stop-over for cruise ships and a destination for the super yachts. 

In Tangier, for once, we gave in to one of the local folks who wanted to show us around. We were glad we capitulated because he showed us areas we likely would have missed. In the Kasbah, he showed us beautifully painted passages. These were much different from Chefchaouen, in that they were more artistic and mural style paintings - not just a hue of blue paint spread on. 

Besides its long history, Tangier has a marvelous boardwalk along the beach that stretches for miles. Friday’s, Saturday’s, and Sunday’s are particularly busy with family and lovers walking down the boardwalk. 

One of the favorite things we enjoyed in Morocco was the coffee. So strong and so fragrante. One of the few times when I actually added either a little sugar or a little water. Man, was it good. 

After a couple of days in Tangier, we flew to Rotterdam and returned to Amsterdam. 

Morocco - Part II

Morocco - Meknes, Volubilis and Fes

The train ride from Rabat to Meknes took about an hour and a half. It was more scenic than our first train ride. We sometimes even passed by vineyards. 

Our riad was inside the Medina, which, at times, can present a challenge since the Medinas only have a few entrances. Fortunately, the Riad Bahia was on the outskirts of it, so it wasn’t too difficult to walk to and find.

For us, the main reason to stay in Meknes was to visit Volubilis. This ancient site was the capital of Mauritania, an ancient civilization dating back 3rd century B.C.!!! Later on, Volubilis was also part of the Roman Empire and others after the Roman era.

Besides the beautiful arches at the entrance of the site, Volubilis has a number of remarkable mosaics. Many of these were installed in grand homes of wealthy, well connected, individuals. 

In one of the photos below, I sit in what used to be a “spa”. Warm water was fed into the spa via ducts. Life was good if you were part of the elite.

                                                            Above, Diane and I relax on the terrace of our riad.

We had read lots of negative comments about getting to the tanneries in Fes. We mostly heard of fake guides getting you to go see a particular shop or showing you something and then wanting money in return. We didn’t experience much of that at all - and none of it was overwhelming.

Watching the tannery from one of the observation decks was fascinating. We visited one of the three tanneries in the area known as Chouara. Built in the 11th century, the methods they used to process the leather today is still pretty much the same from centuries ago. They use pigeon poop and cow urine to soften the hides. To hide the odiferous smells, one gets sprigs of mint to push up your nose. We didn’t use them, wanting to get the full impact of it all. :-)

One last comment, if anyone is to stay in Meknes, we highly recommend the Riad Bahia. It’s a lovely building with a big family who run the riad smoothly. Very nice people.

From Meknes, we took yet another train ride (this time a real short ride of about an hour) to Fes. 

That’s Part III.

Morocco 2019 - Part I

Morocco - Marrakech to Rabat

We decided to visit Morocco while we were in Amsterdam. The trip we planned was a circular route beginning and ending in Marrakech. But after a couple of days in Marrakech we decided to change our itinerary and simply travel northward ending and flying out of Tangier. By doing so we would miss a few things in the south that we had planned on seeing, but instead, we’d see Chefchaouen, Tetouan and Tangier (in addition to our planned itinerary of Meknes, Volubilis and Fes).

Marrakech was a far busier city than we had envisioned (I think we were twenty or thirty years too late). The weather was warm and there was a constant swarm of people wanting to take you to shops that had good deals (because they got commissions). On the plus side, all they wanted was to sell you things. We never felt in any danger and felt very much at ease and safe. 

The remarkable thing to me was how we eased into a comfort level walking through the dimly lit, narrow passages of the Medina. Although the phone’s GPS was helpful, it was slow and at times, inaccurate. But we always managed to find our way.

The vibrant colors, the fragrant smells of spices and oils and sounds in the tight passages of the Medinas were unique. Diane and I felt quite at ease getting lost in the markets and then somehow finding  our way out and back home. 

From Marrakech we took a 3 1/2 hour train ride north to Rabat, Morocco’s capital. We had hoped for interesting scenery, but it was mostly arid land with not much to offer. The train was comfortable and on time, although the air conditioning stopped functioning mid ways, making our compartment “sauna” warm.

Once we got to Rabat, we took an old beat up taxi from the train station to where our riad (hotel) was supposedly located. The taxi driver dropped us off in front of an enormous door and said “Your riad is in there - you have to walk from here! No cars”.  At first we thought he was just trying to pull one on us. But it soon became apparent that our riad was in an area cars were not allowed. It was the “Kasbah” - the old fort city of Rabat..

The walkways in the Kasbah were narrow, painted blue and white. With the help of a young fellow, we found our riad. 

Below, Diane is standing in front of our riad. 

There were cats every where you looked. This little family of cats hung around in front of our riad and were always looking for a little attention.

In Rabat, we visited the Chellah, a necropolis but also part of an area that was used by the Phoenicians (that’s hundreds of years B.C.) and later by the Romans and thereafter, by other civilizations.

A couple of frames below, a woman is feeding cats (and also keeps eels fed in a spring adjacent to where she’s sitting).

After the Chellah, we got a ride on an electric trike taxi to visit the Hassan Tower, a mausoleum built in around the 12th century. The beautiful ornate ceramic work reminded us somewhat of the Taj Mahal. All around and inside, guards were standing guard.

Diane had her mind set on getting real argon oil. We asked our hostess at the riad (who only spoke French) about getting some oil. She told us that we easily could find it in the souks. We searched and found a fellow who would grind the nuts and make it right on the spot. Below he is busy grinding the argon nuts into oil. 

The next frame is us having a Casablanca beer on the terrace of our riad (which is adjacent to the beach). BTW, beer and wine were not easily found in Morocco. Sometimes when I asked a clerk where one could find a beer, I’d just get a blank stare. They didn’t have a clue!

Above, Diane and I are having our evening meal with our half-bottles of wine that we got elsewhere. The people at our riad (Riad Bahia) were kind enough to allow us to indulge in our wines with our meal, but would not provide it. I mean, really, why eat dinner if you can’t have a glass of wine with it?