The trip to Morroco was certainly an adventure and most interesting. I am glad I had the chance to visit here and its many cities with their winding ancient streets, Kasbahs ( central part of town, within ancient city walls), Medinas (and old Arab or non-European quarter of a North African town) , Souks (Weekly street market place ) and inviting hotels we stayed at. It may not be a trip for all, but for those who are adventurous at heart will love it. I never felt in danger or at risk. Yes we had to be aware of our belongings but that is like any other city that is crowded and markets with vendors. The countryside was varying and lovely to see, each city we passed had its own adventure to offer. Great memories and new friends were made ....... I hope you enjoy my blog.
April 28th and 29th
Marrakech is the 4th largest city in Morroco. It is located to the north of foothills of snow capped Atlas Mountains. Our drive through the Atlas Mountains was quiet harrowing as there was alot of road construction going on to widen the roads. Our driver was amazing snaking along these roads and passing up the slower moving vehicles. The cliffs off the sides were a bit nerve racking but the views of the many mountainside Berber villages were beautiful.
Many of the buildings are made of red sandstone. It has one of the busiest market squares in Africa, we went to a rooftop bar for a refreshment to watch the crowds meander through the square and then ventured down amongst them to see the snake charmers, monkeys, many food vendors and fruit and vegetables stand.
Like many cities in Morroco, Marrakech is an old fortified city packed with vendors and their stalls, the medina which is actually a UNESCO Heritate Site. It is bordered by to newer more modern neighborhoods. It truly was one the busiest cities we visited. It is a key tourist area as well, of all the cities we visited, Marrakech is one that tourists can handle on their own.
We had our last afternoon on our own so we ventured out to the Yves Saint Laurent Gardens, the Jardin Majorelle. It was originally built and cultivated by French artist Jacques Majorelle and was his botanical and landscape garden. It has a wide variety of botanicals, trees, flowers.... Due to health issues and such, it fell into disrepair and was saved from bulldozing and restored by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge.
From here we ventured to the grand and luxurious Mamounia Hotel. Rates are $500+ a night. We were not allowed to take pictures of the hotel as it works to maintain privacy to all guests. We had a cocktail and bite to eat at the Bogart Bar, pricey but good.
We thought we knew how to get back to our Riad ( Hotel ) but we made a wrong turn and took the very long way back. As we were unsure of the route we asked a few people for directions, with the paper we had , they directed us to one of the city gates that was at the opposite end of where we wanted to go. Ultimately a most gracious man guided us back to the door of the Riad, he was most wonderful to take the long hike with us.
Driving from Skoura to our final destination Fes, we passed through Ouarzazate.
With the temperate climate and long daylight time, this city is in the middle of a flat plateau and has become a film industry area in Morroco. It is a very inviting location for many international film making companies. Many films have been shot here.... Lawrence of Arabia, The Man Who Would be King, The Mummy, Gladiator, even parts of Game of Thrones. In the distance we saw two very large sets for Jesusalem and Mecca. Other sets are being considered. We drove by the entrance of a very large Italian / Morrocan film studio. The movie Jewel of the Nile was filmed in this area and was the kick start for the building of this area.
In the distance you could see the very large Ouarzazate Solar Power Station, also called Noor Power Station. It is the world's largest solar thermal power plant. You could see its tower from miles away shining very very brightly as it captures the suns energy. It is being built in three phases and and in four parts and the total project is expected to cost $9 billion . Pictures will posted later today .
April 26th through 27th.
As we did the long drive to our next destination, Skoura, we passed through the Rose region. The roses sweet perfume permeated the air, was wonderful.. the bus driver pulled over by two guys selling rose hearts. It was quite fun to watch the driver and local guide negotiate on pricing of the hearts our guide bought for all the ladies on the trip. We had no idea what they were saying but it was quite animated.
We passed through several towns on our way, including Erfoud. In these towns, one day a week is market day when the Berber farmers come to sell their crops. Very colorful fruits and vegetable stands. As you can imagine it is very crowded. We passed many small oases and hundreds of ancient buildings each having their own historical story and treasure.
Skoura is a quiet little village with palm tree groves. It is the 1/2 way point on the Silk Road of commerce. There we visited the Kasbah Amridril originally built in the 17th century. It is one of Morroco's most iconic living museum exhibiting the ancient traditions of kasbah life. I have several pictures of original tools and items that I will post when back home.
In Skoura, we arrived at one of the most beautiful hotels, Ksar el Kebbaba. It has a enourmous garden with palm and olive trees and the most fragrant rose and lavender garden. It was originally part of the abandoned Casbah and was renovated to the hotel. Was a spectacular setting, my room was on the top floor with 360 views which included the barren desert landscape on one side and the oasis on the other. Here they have a full service spa where I did the traditional Hammam - massage and body scrub - was most wonderful !!
The drive through some of these various regions to get reminded me alot of Arizona and Colorado, very similar landscapes and settings. You could see the dried up river and lake beds that about 10 years ago flowed abundantly with water.
Saturday April 25, 2019
The drive to Merzouga was long and arduous... over 7 hours, but if you want to see the Sahara Desert, there is no way to avoid the drive! Located on the edge of the Sahara Desert, Merzouga is a small dusty town in eastern Morroco. Although the town itself has little to offer the intrepid traveler, it is famous as the gateway to the vast Erg Chebbi dunes where we spent our evening. Here, soaring peaks of sand change color with the shifting light of dawn and dusk, just beautiful to have seen the golden hour and the blue hour here in the desert.
As the sun rose we awaited the arrival of our camel caravan for a sunrise ride into the Sahara Desert. The camels were so calm and sweet as they patiently waited for their riders. Our camels created wonderful silhouettes as we rode along the dunes, shifting and changing as the light changed.
Posted some pictures already on FB , will post more here in the Morroco gallery later. The place we stayed is run by local Berbers.
Our accommodation this evening was a traditional Berber tent. The tents are made with heavy burlap like cloths and the sand is covered with very coverful handmade rugs. Each compartment varied in size. The bed itself was hard but comfortable enough to sleep through the night. It was quite peaceful. When we first arrived, the sun was high and strong. Felt a bit humid. As the sun set, it cooled off very nicely. we were able to walk around the dunes and do some photography. After dinner local traditional Berbers came to give us a concert of their traditional rhythmic music.
The Berbers kept watch over our tents during the night. It was fascinating to watch them simply sit on the dunes and look out to the desert, so calm and peacefully. The environment we visited has remained unchanged for thousands of years!
April 22 through the 24th....
We left Casablanca on our way to Fes via Rabat. The drive took us along farmland roads for onions, olive, orange, fig and apple trees, potatoes... I was surprised to see farmlands in such abundance. Poppy flowers appeared everywhere in many colors, red, white, yellow...
Rabat is the capital city of Morroco and the countries 7th largest city. It houses the main royal residence and several foreign embassies. It is one of the four imperial cities of Morroco. Rabat was once a full scale fortress , and while in Rabat we visited the Ouida Kasbah which is the walled in city. Rabat is known for its blue/white walls. The blue paint is actually a mosquito repellant. It is a toxic mixture that if the mosquitos land/eat it, it kills them. Rabat is on the Atlantic Ocean, the views were beautiful and the temperature was most comfortable. We walked in the Casbah through its meandering streets and alleyway ways finding beautiful photographic opportunities. We had a traditional lunch in a lovely restaurant before getting back on the road to Fes.
Fes is Morroco's oldest imperial city and the center of culture and religious learning. It is symbolically the heart of Morroco as all the dynasties have left their mark on the city. It is the second largest city of Morroco. Our hotel was situated such that we had a view over all of Fes, the old city and the new city. The entire medina of Fes is surrounded city walls built in the 11th century. There are several gates providing access to the inner city.
Notably, there are cemeteries near each of the gates to Fes as there is no room for them within the walls. All plots face in the direction of Mecca. We had the opportunity to walk through one of the cemeteries, will post some pictures when back home and can offload them from the camera.
We walked through several neighborhoods In Fes on the way to the central medina including a large Jewish quarter. There are actually two old medina quarters, one of which is a world heritage site and believed to be one of the oldest largest urban pedestrian zone ( car free) . Here we visited the the Chauncey Tannery established in the 11th century, one of the oldest tanneries in the world. The tannery process operates in the same fashion as it did in the early centuries. The tannery is packed with round stone wells filled with dye or white liquids for softening the hides... the white liquid includes pigeon poop which apparently contains a strong ammonia that helps the overall process quite a nasty smell.. glad I had my Lavender with me!
We did some night photography of Fes from the rooftop of our hotel, wonderful views as the afternoon sun set and the lights of Fes came on. Those photos are on my Nikon and will download when return home.
We learned that the Arabs do prefer to living in the city and the Medina's while the Berbers prefer to live in the mountains. As we traveled between cities, we saw many Berber villages built on the mountainside, their traditions continue and they live off the land.
Monday April 22, 2019
having spotty internet at our next hotel so my posts may be delayed !!
Today we traveled from Casablanca to Fez via Rabat.
Fex is a larger city with ancient history.
Sunday April 21, 2019
A day in Casablanca. Today we visited the King Hassan II Mosque. It is the largest mosque in Africa and the 5th largest in the world. It was completed in 1993. The walls are hand crafted and the roof is retractable. A max of 150,000 worshippers can pray together; 25,000 inside the mosque hall and another 80,000 on the mosques outside ground. Overall the mosque and grounds covers 22 acres.
After the visit to the Mosque, we walked through the central market, a ‘souk’. It has four large gates decorated with flowers of various colors. One can buy fish, fruit and vegetables, flowers , rare spices, , etc. it is very busy with locals and very few tourists. There were cats everywhere which reminded me of Greece!
Saturday April 20, 2019
Arrived safely to Casablanca after a long layover in Montreal. Group dinner tonight to kick off the trip.
A little history of Casablanca...Originally the town of Anfa, site of a Phoenician trading station founded in the 6th century B.C. It was renamed Dar el Beida (the White House or Casa Blanca) after its destruction by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. It has risen to be the main port and industrial powerhouse of Morroco . This modern city, with a skyline of skyscrapers, dominates the national economy. It is the financial, commercial, manufacturing and industrial center of the kingdom, as well as its chief port. Over 3,500,000 people live here. The crowning beauty of the city is the contemporary Grand Mosque of Hassan II. This magnificent building, with exquisite handwork evidenced in the wood and marble carvings, is lit by Venetian crystal chandeliers and us one of the King of Morroco’s most extraordinary building projects.
Easy day today... roamed around the Hyatt Regency Casablanca today. Wonderful Morrocan architecture and design.
Friday April 19 2019
And so the adventure begins... Left early so to have plenty time in case there was any rush hour traffic, was a quick ride to the airport. Breezed right through and to the gate only to find out that there was no TravelEx currency exchange on that side of security. So I ventured back out to their window, had the best experience with their rep Christina, she went from terminal A to B to get the currency I needed. Then my luck ran out! LOL... this time TSA wanted to inspect my carry on bags that had all my camera equipment which they did not do the first time I went thru, needless to say, they took everything out and looked at it all.. apparently last night someone tried to sneak a gun in their DVD player so they were checking ALL electronics. I thought ok, cool, if that is the worst of it, so be it... hahahaha... I board on the United Express flight to Montreal for my connecting flight only to find out my carry on does not fit into the overhead, had to do a quick switch out between the carry on and back pack and gate check the carry on. All in all, if that is the worst of it today, I am happy. Took a gamble and went to check with the Air Canada lounge if I could hang out there witht the ticket I have and Yes I can !! Very relaxing way to spend a 5 hour layover..... glass of wine, good food, chocolate chip cookies... needless to say, the adventure is starting off in quite the right way... stay tuned for the arrival in Casablanca and some early photos! From Montreal, TGIF and Happy Easter and Passover to all.
Friday March 29.
And so the Sabbatical begins. Last day of work! In 3 weeks I leave for Morocco and then Poland. Most of the planning is done, few odds and ends to do and get the packing done for a month long trip. Stay tuned as I add to my travel blog.