Saturday, October 19, 2013

Saturday, October 19, 2013

oh the luxurious Sheraton

Posted by Hippo Bean at 4:59 PM 0 comments
My hotel pickup came on time. It's a little past 6:30 in the morning and the breakfast, as predicted, was not yet available. 150 dirhams for a 15 minutes ride to the airport was double the ordinary price but ah well. Transavia flight was 1 hr 40 minutes late so I didnt have to wake up so early after all. second ah well. Plenty of time to waste at the Marrakech airport. No gate announcement until when boarding began, but there were only 7 gates at the airport so I've just walked up and down it and luckily spotted the Transavia plane parked in front of one of the gate, so I knew which gate it was. Didnt know there was no complimentary food aboard the flight and I was hungry and my CapitalOne card didnt work on the onboard cc swipe machines, so I had to use my 20 euros note. Was saving it for Amsterdam. third ah well. The flight was short and I snoozed a bit and read a bit of Damage, which I continued to enjoy the writing very much. Being 1 hr 40 mins late in taking off, the flight arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule (taken the time difference). Go figure this one out!

As I anticipated the very basic and not so great Explore hotels, I've booked the Schiphol Sheraton for my 15 hrs layover. Schiphol is one of my favorite airports. No hassle whatsoever at the passport control and while waiting for my luggage, I've tried to buy the train ticket to Amsterdam Centraal but my CapitalOne card again didnt work in the ticket machine. It didnt have the gold chip like the Europeans cards. But did manage to exchange some euros in the machines, even though the exchange rate was so very poor. $60 only got me 30 euros with some change. Fourth ah well. Luggage came without problem and bought my ticket at the train counter (this time with my cc no problem) and checked in to the Sheraton which was just a stone throw away, and all this done in about a half hour. Dont you love Schiphol! The room had a big window and a direct view of the control tower and planes moving around. Although all the hotels in the tour but the one at Essaouira exceeded my expectations, the Sheraton was such a luxury, a nice comfortable way to end the tour. I had planned it this way and I'm completely happy with my decision. Nice bed, lots of big fluffy pillows, big flat screen TV with lots of channels in different languages, good amenities, big clean bathroom with toiletries and separate shower and tub, clean drinking glasses, nice lounge chair, good view out the window, and complimentary tea and coffee (including expresso) in the hall. Back to civilization indeed. Hopped on the train and in 20 minutes I was at Amsterdam Centraal and saw Borg waiting for me. How many years have we known each other now? A light rain began while we walked a bit around the canals . He took me to the Bird Thai restaurant, with authentic Thai decor and we had chicken skewers and egg rolls for starters and a pork and Panang Kai for entrees. The rice was sticky. Both entrees were very delicious. They didnt have Thai ice tea so I settled for Jasmine while Borg took 2 Heinekens. We got there before the usual dinner time and by the time we're done, there was a long line of people waiting already. Good place. Generous Borg paid for the meal and the Hip was eternally grateful. He showed me pictures of his 2 boys and we caught up about our lives. When we talked about politics, economics and money, like most people in the EU that I know, he did not like being a member ("I'm Dutch, I'm not European", "I miss the beautiful Guilder") He's funny, generous and friendly. Gosh, I've known this guy since ... my Apple days? Back out on the street it was pouring so he took me back to the train station. Tomorrow he will run the marathon and the streets tonight were filled with people. The Amsterdam atmosphere! Love it! Just a brief interlude with the Borg (and I shall miss him) and I was back at Schiphol. Walked a bit in the airport to check out the shopping and bought a muffin for dessert. Back at the luxurious Sheraton, I ate my dessert and had the hotel Ceylon tea while Small Leo continued to admire the airport view from our room. Gosh, this was another wonderful decision to book the Sheraton at Schiphol. After all the basic hotels, although all comfortable and clean and satisfying (except the one in Essaouira), finally the last night of the trip in luxury. Comparable to the Mimouna, the Sheraton room was also super luxurious. I've enjoyed the room reading Damage slouching on the lounge sofa. What a way to end the trip. The Riad Mimouna and the Sheraton. 2 fantastic decisions. I'm so proud of myself.

The 9h52mis KLM flight back home was stuck in the middle seat. Will all my careful planning, I didnt realized the self check-in machine switched my reserved seat. But my flight neighbours were friendly and polite ones so the flight wasnt intolerable. I've chosen chicken meat balls for the meal and it was delicious. For snacks they gave us ice cream or potato chips. For the second meal, a rectangle pizza. I've watched After Earth (boring) and the new Superman (horrible) movies. I've finished Damage. The ending was unexpected. I liked that.

the atlantic crashing onto the 15century portuguese fortifications at the ancient Mogador. i heard the same ocean waves from my room window of the Riad. narrow labyrinth cobblestoned streets with blue walls, door and windows of the harbour town and the towering Kasbahs. Ancient roman town with the most intact mosaics (one depicting all 12 labors of Hercules). 4 imperial cities, each with its unique flavor in the same islamic architecture. crenellated towers of the kasbahs along the valleys of the Atlas Mtns. the ochre cliffs of vast expansive mountains (we've travelled through the middle, the anti and the high atlas). The orange dunes of the ever diminishing Sahara - a night under the stars with beber music. Good traveling companions.


perhaps what's best Morocco has to offer, is its variety. from ocean to mountains to ancient great cities to parched desert, all within a day's drive, and coupled with savory tagines. it had exceeded my expectations. now I only wish the ceramics I've purchased at Fez would arrive someday!

Thanks Joann for going there first and inspiring me to go.

morocco See Morocco pictures

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday, October 18, 2013

our last imperial city, Marrakech

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
my heart was reluctant leaving the romantic Riad with spectacular ocean views. I pulled my luggage one more time through the Mogador's narrow labyrinth streets. The thud thud thud of my Nautical duffel wheels bouncing off the cobblestones accentuated my impending departure. The evening in Essaouira will stay with me always. At the parking lot outside the medina, our driver Abdoul Habibi was already there with our van ready. 3 hrs later, we arrived at our final imperial city Marrakech. World famous, world popular, so exotic for most, so sad for me since this was my last day. The hotel Grand Imilchil had very nice turkish style seating areas with nice sofas and cushions. However, the rooms were again, just basic. My hotel room had a balcony so I've hosted our last BYO lunch there. T, S, D and T came to share the food brought at the local grocery. The hotel situated in the Gueliz, the modern part of the city, was only 10 minutes from the Koutoubia tower and just behind it, the medina, so our guided tour was on foot. I was pleasantly surprised that the Bahia Palace was included in our walking tour. It was one of the sights I'd really wanted to see. I wasnt disappointed as the palace had the most intricate and elegant Islamic architecture of all the places we've visited. It constantly reminded me of the ones in Khiva. I was happy to at least get to visit 1 major site. The Majore Gardens, the Saadian Tombs, the Ben Youssef Madrasa, so much I had to miss because I've planned to leave a day early. But I did not regret it as by now I was tired of the road trip, tired of using bottled water to brush my teeth, tired of the basic hotels and tired even of group dinners. I actually anxiously awaited the luxurious peacefulness of Sheraton at Schiphol. we spent a fair amount of time zigzaging through the souk, and because it's still festival week, most artisans shops were closed (so what's the point of taking us through the artisan lanes), and same old shops upon shops of ceramics, potteries, leather goods, cheap jewelry, clothing, shoes, spices, ... the souks were beginning to feel old. The souk ended at the Djemaa el-Fna square. the place was already packed with tourists and locals. Vendors were setting up stalls and tables for food and there were already a few snake charmers, magicians and monkeys. I ventured back to the souk for a last chance on ceramics but did not score any. Dinner that night was at the terrace of a local restaurant with Berber music and belly dancing. I had to order a tagine, my last one.


See Marrakech pictures:

marrakech

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Portuguese Mogador

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
When we arrived yesterday in the sun and blue sky, the wind was howling hard and cold. It was still sheep slaughtering festival so very few shops were open and the town looked deserted. All fishing boats were docked at the Port. I began to feel disappointed. Our hotel Souiri was shabby and my room facing the street, was hot and stuffy and dirty, with ants marching angrily across the tile floor and in the bathroom. Strolled through the Port with the gang, and had mint tea with T and S, watching the sun set on the Moulay Hassan square. Dinner was at a restaurant by the sea, overpriced and horribly tasting seafood. Ordered the swordfish and shrimps tagine, but forgot the shrimps were small and didnt even like swordfish. After a week and a half of red meat, had wanted some fish. But should have ordered the calamari instead. The tagine I had here was the worse ever. the sauce tasted bitter. But the seafood soup was good. Most expensive meal I had so far and I didnt even enjoyed it.

Had planned the entire free day on doing some shopping and discovering alleys and ocean views on my own, free of the group. However, D kept tagging along. He and I meandered through the cobblestone alleys and discovered colonial architecture and the signature blue doors and windows. Finally bought a bowl despite it being bigger than I'd have wanted. But the design was Berber. Saw a cute dress. Bought it on impulse. Just love that orange color. D said the blue looked better on me but I just dont care to wear blue. And still I wanted to get a small plate, Berber style of course. Up on the 15th century Portuguese ramparts of the North Bastion, the Atlantic was misty and foggy. However, there was no wind and it's not as cold. Even though the weather was gloomy, the view of the ocean was still gorgeous. We werent sure if the fishermen went out to sea since this was festival week, but by midday the seafood were piled high and displayed at the stalls by the Port.Between us we sampled a whole flat white fish, bunch of calamari and 2 giant prawns each. Simply grilled on open fire with no spices added, and they were so deliciously fresh we've ordered seconds. All this for just 300 dirhams, less than $20 per person, a cheap but satisfying mouthwatering fantastic meal. Although the food was very good so far (mmm, the tagines), this was the best. Best in anywhere in the world I've been. I shall never forget this experience. In the afternoon I've checked in to the Riad Mimouna, right in front of the ocean. I could hear and see the waves crashing on the rocks right below my room window. The Riad room was tastefully decorated in Moroccan style, the bed sheets and pillow cases freshly laundered and crisp, the bathroom clean and in Moroccan tiles, even the toilet water was scented. A world of difference from the dirty cheap hotel Souiri. I didnt think I could stand another night smelling sewage gas in that hotel room. Others had better rooms. S and T had a huge room with 2 double beds and even a TV. Again, with my luck, I was given the worse room. After shopping for local pottery (did find a small plate I like but it had a spot on it and the shopkeeper just couldnt get it off), I spent the afternoon in the hotel terrace surrounded 360 by the ocean. Small Leo was looking out at the ocean, enjoying the view, ecstatic. I bought some cake and had it with mint tea. So peaceful and tranquil, so calm. Love this hotel. This was one of the best decisions I've made for this trip. For 870 dirhams (roughly $108) including breakfast, and for all the Riad had to offer, an outstanding deal. Good decision to not have it booked ahead of time. The price from Expedia and through the Riad website was about $160. When Aziz called the Riad directly, they quoted 2000 dirhams. Good idea of Aziz to book through his agency. I was so satisfied and gloriously happy with this decision. When I finally walked into the room, I jumped up in joy. Aziz and D took a peek at the room and at the view from the windows. Couldnt helped sensing a bit of pride. I dined alone at the Riad rooftop restaurant. I've ordered seafood soup and seafood pastilla and both were tastefully prepared. The pastilla beat the one from Fez a million times over. The crust was flaky and crispy. Just the right way. I was enjoying my tranquil supper when suddenly S, T and D showed up. I had told them they could come and party in my room, but didnt encourage them because I had wanted my peace and quiet to enjoy this hotel. S felt a little out of place and soon left. T and D ordered the pastilla because they saw how I was savoring it. Then I showed them my room and the ocean view. They left to rejoin the rest of the group for an evening of music. I've passed the music, resolved in sticking with plan of aloneness. I've started reading Damage with the sound of ocean waves in the background. Small Leo was still looking out at sea when I finally fell asleep. I've never enjoyed a hotel room so much. In years to come, when I think of Essaouira, I'll reminisce this Riad room, the ocean view and the sound of waves, and how ecstatic Small Leo was.


See Essaouira, the Portuguse Mogador's pictures:

clubhouse party

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

full circle

Posted by Hippo Bean at 7:00 AM 0 comments
a short morning hike to the Aremd village which looked just like in the google images. Saw a whole sheep being skinned for the festival. Then we departed the mountains and headed west towards the ocean to the Portuguese Mogador. We've started the trip by the ocean, went north along it to the protectorate capital, then northeast to the other imperial cities and roman town, then turned south and traveled through the middle Atlas to hit the desert and then northwest from there to the High Atlas mountains, and finally west again towards the Atlantic. We've completed the Moroccan circle.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

night in Imlil

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
We had breakfast at the hotel terrace facing the Ait Benhaddou. Yesterday we saw the Kasbah basked in sunset rays from the left. This morning, the Kasbah was illuminated from the right, showing a different aspect but both glorious magnificent views.

today, going north in deeper high atlas, passing the Tizi n'Tichka, the highest vehicular pass in Morocco, the view was not as spectacular as I've anticipated. We reached the mountain village of Imlil at 1700m, very cold for us who had just came from the parched desert. Our Riad was like a gothic castle. Rooms were small and dark with stone walls and the doors locked with giant padlocks. All room windows open up to the central corridors that wrapped around inner courtyards, like a maze. This Riad was fascinating. The rooftop terraces showed spectacular views of Atlas mountains all around, small hamlets scattered here and there, and the almost full crepuscular moon above the High Atlas basked in the late afternoon sun. After supper, T and I lingered on the terrace, braving the cold, and talked about Toubkak, the highest point in the Atlas, which was just behind hill from where we were, and about working at Nasa. Later on I returned to the terrace to be on my own to commune with the mountains. Oh what serenity these mountains conjured up, in the dark under sparkling stars. Much like the evenings in Mtn Kazbeki, the nights in the Norweigian fjords, nights in Patagonia. Just me and the mountains. Each inspired the same deep tranquility, and each unique in its own preciousness.

rabat Imlil pictures

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday, October 14, 2013

rock the kasbah

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
Sharia don't like it Rockin' the Casbah Rock the Casbah

Morning drive through the 'Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs', many oasis towns with their ornate mud and straw kasbahs zipped by our sight, but we didnt stop for any photo opt. One of the places that drew me to maroc was the kasbahs, so I was sourly disappointed. I've asked Aziz if we could stop for one. He took us to Amridil. A perfectly preserved Kasbah that was even featured in the 50 dirham note and in a local orange drink cartoon. The kasbah guide, much like all the local guides we had in Maroc, was very animated and funny. He showed us the courtyard, with palm trees, olive presses and butter churners doubled as baby rockers, the kitchen with 2 bread ovens, the berber one for the family and the indian one for guests/banquets, and the interior mosque. The kitchen had a sky window to the terrace and on the terrace, our guide looked down the window to the kitchen and shouted "Ma, I'm hungry. Oh it's Ramadan!" and we all laughed. The terrace was the perfect spot to admire the mud walls and the crenellated towers architecture of the kasbah. My desire to visit a kasbah was finally satisfied. The midday took us to Ouarzazate and we had lunch at a restaurant terrace that was across the road from the Ouarzazate abandoned kasbah. We went for a pharmacy after lunch where I've purchased some argan lotion for my dry skin and amber/cederwood oil for my headaches. The pharmacist explained to us each product they had and what they were good for. Some of us had a 5 mins neck and shoulder massage for 20 dirhams. We arrived at Ait Benhaddou just as the sun was about to set. The hotel Kasbah was within 2 minutes walk to the Unesco Heritage Site. My room although an OK size, had a little balcony that faced the back of the building but surrounded by walls so high, there's absolutely no view. The water in the bathroom was salty. Later we walked down the path to visit Ait Benhaddou. A very old man with a high pitch voice, who carried a stick came up to us and oh, he was our local guide! And he would hit us with the stick if we didnt keep up or listen to him. another funny maroc character. the kasbah looked mysterious and nostalgic basked in late afternoon sun. next to the main gate was an empty sandy area which was used to film the Gladiator arena. up on the highest point of the kasbah, we could see the entire compound, its mud structures with towers and gates, and look back at the new town. at dusk, the place was so serene and cool, and the late afternoon rays turned all the buildings to golden color, such a feast for our eyes, one wished never to leave.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunday, October 13, 2013

todra gorge

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
the wind channeled through the towering ochre cliffs in the early morning was cold. Along the todra river we walked the gorge valley sandwiched between vertical cliffs and climbed towards Abdelali to get panoramic views of the jebel sahro and the dades valley below. the hike although steep at certain points, was not strenuous and the views from the viewpoint not particularly impressive. We crossed paths with berber women driving mules down the hill to get water and provisions. we were told they did this journey every day. Descending by a different path, the cliffs were more dramatic and majestic. we even caught a glimpse of an abandoned kasbah. surrounded by orange and red hills on our way down, T and I talked about industrial programming. We lunched at a restaurant in the gorge valley and I had kefta (kabab) with very greasy fries and they were oh so sinfully delicious. While the Brits all went to sunbathe by the pool, the Hip spent the afternoon in the hotel room reading Angelfall which was nearing the end and getting very juicy good (and she's totally fallen for Raffe). The evening meal was partook at a local crazy Berber family home. We sat on turkish long sofas among enormous cushions and were first served a chicken kefta (2 sticks each) and ratatouille Maroc style. Then came the couscous followed by melons and mint tea. The never absent plates of olives were of course on the table. The crazy family started drumming like there's no tomorrow. the little 5 yr old grandson was the best drummer. even out drummed Aziz. Father, son, cousins, even the women were drumming and singing. The matriarch came to gather the women and clothed them in the traditional berber women attire. I know I've must have offended the hostess by refusing to comply but hey one thing the Hip doesnt do is to dress up and parade in front of people. Aziz and even Abdoul joined in the dance. It was an evening like no other, fun to watch and to laugh but it's just not my thing.



See Todra Gorge pictures:

rabat

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Tinghir

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:58 PM 1 comments
After a long drive, we finally arrived at Tinerhir, on the anti Atlas, the southern slopes of the Atlas. Before dinner, we visited the Ikelane kasbah, passing through lush palmeries that lined the banks of the Todra River. On the terrace of the town mosque, we could see the entire kasbah made of mud and straw houses. What a feast to my eyes who love adobe ruins! Our hotel was on a hill with expansive views of the mountains and the town below. My room had a balcony with views of the mountains. The hotel had a nice pool and a terrace with picture perfect mountain views. I liked this hotel very much.


See Tinghir pictures:

tinghir

anti Atlas and fossil paradise

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:50 PM 0 comments
we caught the sunrise up on a low dune. I prefer sunsets. Wanting to feel the Sahara sand, I've decided to walk back to the hotel instead of riding the camel again. The Sahara sand was finer than the Omani, almost powder like, and that's why it blowed in the wind like dust. It didnt feel as sensual as in the Oman desert. Didnt like it. I was trying to take pictures of the dunes and also to keep up with the camel caravan but kept falling behind. The caravan was going at a faster pace. T kept telling me to keep up. Finally our camel driver stopped the caravan and lowered the camel for me. Reluctantly I climbed on it and rode it the rest of the way. Didnt like the Sahara. Showered in the beautiful hotel room bathroom and we bid farewell to the desert and headed back to the Atlas. We stopped at a fossil factory that produced table tops with fossils. They were amazing and super good looking. Didnt know Morocco was fossil paradise. I bought some fossils for the rocket scientits. We saw some underground aqueducts on the way and went inside one. They cut a hole every few meters, the next one a little lower than the previous one, thus making the underground water flow down stream. Ingenious way so the water doesnt evaporate in the ferocious scourging desert heat.


See Atlas pictures:

atlas


See fossil factory pictures:

fossil

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday, October 11, 2013

Berber night under the stars

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
A short drive later, we reached the settlement of Merzouga, at the edge of Erg Chebbi, among the dunes of the Sahara. The Auberg Touareg looked like a kasbah with an enormous Sahara dune as backdrop. The rooms had big bathrooms with separate toilet and a grand shower, a sitting area and huge bedroom with built-in closet. Too bad I wasnt going to sleep in the room. The 4x4 drive only took us to dune viewpoints. I was hoping to get into the dunes to sink my feet into the fine sand. From afar, the dunes were nowhere as spectacular as the ones in the Arabian Peninsula. We visited an arab camp and then a Berber camp where we were offered Berber music and dance. Not interested. Like Joann has forewarned, the 4x4 was a waste of time and money.

We got on camels and caravan'd into the dunes to get to our Berber camp. Never liked camels and like less riding them. The forward and backwards swaying was nauseating and my inner thighs hurt. T had a faddish about riding on animals so he walked the whole way instead. The Sahara sand banks were orange color, not quite as high as the dunes in Oman and not as vast. I couldnt wait to feel the sand on my feet. I'd wanted to jump from my camel and roll in the sand. We started late and missed the glorious sunset. Our camel driver simply stopped us on a spot and told us to watch the sunset. We could barely see it from where we stopped. Someone reminded me of taking a picture of our shadows on the sand and I snapped quite a few. an hour and 15 minutes later we arrived at our Berber camp. Just like in the tripadvisor's pictures, the camp was composed of 5 or 6 black tents arranged in a square, with tables and stools at the center. a little afar was the latrine tent. Aziz and others who came in the truck were already there and had the table set up and the light on for us. We brought our wines and started with biscuits. I brought Small Leo who's never been to the desert before. GreenEye Leo had been to the Wahiba Sands and so Small Leo was ecstatic to be there. We were served a steamy soup and chicken couscous, followed by melons and mint tea. T said he would sleep under the stars, and so we pulled the mattresses out from the tents. They started an enormous fire and Aziz, our camel driver and the cook started playing the Berber drums. lying down on our mattresses and covered with woolen blankets, We've enjoyed the music. When the music died down, the captivating silence of the desert took over. The moon was almost full and the pitch black sky was painted with brilliant stars. Very much like in the Wahiba Sands. The night wasnt cold but a cool breeze picked up in the middle of the night that I had to turn my face away from it.All my years of camping, I've never slept in the open before. I opened my eyes and saw the star right above me on the black sky. The absolute silence of the desert was bewitching. I've enjoyed the camp in the Sahara but the experience wasnt as good and memorable as in Oman. I knew this was more rustic, but glad I've decided to endure it.


See the Sahara pictures:

sahara

the Touareg at Rissani

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:57 PM 0 comments
He told us he was a Touareg, the 'blue man', because of the indigo color of their veils/turban and clothing, and a British couple hand picked him out and paid to educate him thus transformed his life. He's got his Phd and taught at the University. He wore the indigo turban and robe with baggy low crotch pants underneath. On his robe, there's the Agadez Cross symbol, with the 4 cardinal points, like points in a compass, that showed where water was, for example. He drew the cross symbols on the sand and explained it all to us. His eyes, when not smiling, showed deep care and a true melancholy. He's very good looking. We visited the Moulay Ali Cherif Mausoleum, the founder of the Alaouite dynasty and then walked through the ksour , a fortified local village, with tall thick mud walls that blocked out the heat and kept the cool, sunlight streaming through from top of the walls. It had a nostalgic feeling to it. Next to the Ksour was the stunning magnificent Ksar Akbar (Ksar el Fida), a ruined Alaouite palace from the 19th century. I like Rissani, the tiny oasis town at the end of the vegetation belt before the dunes of the 'sand sea' begin, very much.


See Rissani pictures:

rissani

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thursday, October 10, 2013

through the middle atlas

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
In the morning we stopped at a supermarket to gather lunch material for a picnic. The supermarket was modern with plentiful food. Our last stop to get booz before the no alchool zone. I got an enormous round bread, some laughing cow cheese and a packet of turkey and a box of orange juice. My turkey meat was amazingly delicious. Our picnic was in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road, near a small stream. I stepped on some droppings. doh!
A whole day of driving through the middle atlas, not very high or interesting. Made a brief stop at Timadite, a very Swizz like ski resort town, unlike any other in Morocco. There's a statue of a mountain lion (only partly carved) because all the mountain lions were gone. We arrived at the desert settlement of Erfoud, a new setttlement, before supper. The hotel Salam had small rooms but a wonderful pool in the middle of the hotel, surrounded by the rooms. The dinner buffet was not great but at least it offered variety. Here we had to decide what optional activities we wanted for the next day. I wasnt planning on camping in the Sahara because nothing can top the 1000 Nights at Wahiba Sands and I had wanted a shower. But Aziz said we would return to the hotel at Merzouga for showers as we would still have our own rooms and would even leave our luggage there. So I signed up for the Berber camp and the 4x4. They played very loud Moroccan music at night at the hotel so I resorted to read AngelFall which I've started at CDG and was beginning to enjoy it very much.


See Atlas Mountains pictures:
morocco

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

our third imperial city Fez

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
I bought 2 gallons of bottled water. This should last me for a few days. I used too much for brushing teeth alone. A very funny local guy took us first to Fes El Bali, the medina, to avoid the later morning crowd. We visited the Attarin Medersa, small but with good decoration and stainglass windows which colors were reflected on the opposite wall, and then walked through the ever winding labyrinth narrow streets of the medina. Thick mud walls, beautifully ornate doors that led to courtyards and halls and rooms, shops lined both sides of the streets. Took a peek at the university inside the medina (tourists not allowed in), stopped at a tannery (very smelly and nobody bought anything except Aziz who purchased a pair of yellow Moroccan men slippers or shoes, strange that the guide made a purchase and not one of the tourists), had lunch at a very Moroccan style restaurant with turkish sofas and cushions (had lamb tagine and it was good), and a brief stop atop a hill to get the grand view of the imperial city of Fez and its walled medina. Fez did not impress me much. In fact, I found all the imperial cities, so far, lacking. At the Fez famous ceramic shop, the Hip went crazy and bought a set of cup and saucer, water pitcher, tagine pot and a dinner plate in Berber design and a small tagine pot in Moroccan design, and had the whole purchase mailed home. I hope it'll arrive. The guided tour ended at the Royal palace (how many are there?) just around the corner from our hotel. In the evening we drank our booz in the hotel relaxing courtyard. I've asked Aziz if he could book me a room at the Riad Mimouna , the only ocean front riad in Essaouira. We have 2 nights in Essaouira, and I knew the tour hotel did not have good reviews and I had wanted to experience a riad. Aziz called the Riad and they quoted 2000 dirhams ($250) for a suite with ocean view. Expedia and the Riad's website had ocean view rooms for $164. Aziz said he would call his agency in Marrakech to book me a room, as it would be cheaper. It would be wonderful to experience an ocean front Riad here in Morocco.



See Fez pictures:

fez

latin oleander

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
In the afternoon, we visited Volubilis (latin version of qualili, the oleander flower), the capital of the Roman province of Mauritania Tingitana. The main drag Decumanus Maximus was lined with decorated columns which ended at the triumphal arch. Behind it was what’s left over of the once grand forum and the opulent Basilica with its arched gates still intact, and the Capitol with its columns still standing. The houses had the most intact mosaics, the most I've seen in any Roman towns. The House of Hercules and the House of Orpheus had the most depictive mosaics. The 12 labors of Hercules were all depicted and Orpheus had a circular mosaic that showed all the animals and one with Poseidon riding a chariot. One room had a giant bronze penis and we the girls took turns straddling on it. Being a sucker for Roman ruins, this was the highlight of the day. The afternoon was very hot and the ruins had no shade and it felt like being in Italy or in Roman Europe. After the feast of Roman marvel, a long drive to the oldest imperial city, the country cultural capital Fez, our third imperial city. Our hotel was inside the medina, right on the main square. The hotel offered a fantastic courtyard with a good size pool and even a bar at the back. The rooms were big, however, everything inside the room was outdated. You stepped up to the bathroom (which incidentally had no door) was in blue and the bathtub sunk on the ground, the toilet was in a separate room (hate those) and 2 steps up to the window. The bedside tables were part of the wall and covered in blue Moroccan tiles. But the room was comfortable. Dinner was at a local family. again the round of Moroccan tapas. This time with fried eggplant/aubergines. But the chicken pastilla (another Moroccan signature dish) was tough and dry. Nobody liked them. We sat on turkish sofas and cushions. the table was low and eating like this took a bit getting used to. The dinning room we were in had a beautiful Islamic style ceiling that made you feel like you're inside a moroccan palace We were told the owner's cousin did the ceiling himself. in the evening we had beers at the bar, at the back of the hotel and chitchated. Young people in jeans and tshirts congregated at the bar with alchool in hand, and very old rock music was playing. Not too shabby a hotel actually.


See Volubilis pictures:

volubilis

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

our second imperial city Meknes

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:57 PM 0 comments
We took in the whole of Meknes atop a small hill with expansive viewpoints. From this vintage point, the imperial city did look quite spectacular with a big walled medina. we stopped for a photo opt of the Bab el Khamis Gate, which wasnt too impressive. Nothing compared to the ones in Uzbekistan. Inside the old granaries of the Heri es-Souni, S took up a broom and D said 'oh transportation'. S surely didnt appreciate that comment. Behind the granaries, there were impressive stables with rows of adobo arches upon arches. The Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, although every inch decorated, it too was inferior compared to the ones in central Asia. The walking tour ended at Bab Mansour gate at the Place el Hedim, the central square, where we walked through the small souk, first opportunity for shopping local fares. Meknes, a little more interesting than Rabat.


See Meknes pictures:

meknes

Monday, October 07, 2013

Monday, October 07, 2013

capital and our first imperial city, Rabat

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
Not sure whose grand idea it was, but Abdoul, our driver, took all our luggage and drove to Rabat, while we took the train. The view on the Atlantic side wasnt that spectacular and there were views of shanty towns on the other side. What was there to enjoy? First we went to see the Imperial Palace. They only allowed tourists up to a certain point and on the side. Couldnt even stand in front of it. As if taking a picture from the front would compromise security. Then we went to Chellah, the Roman town turned necropolis. The buildings were old and gorgeous and everyone wooed and aah'd about the storks. Dont even like them. Then on to the Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, the grand king. Quite a nice place. The tower, although not finished, was quite impressive. Moroccan minerats are square. Then the thing to see, my first Kasbah, the Kasbah des Oudayas. A fortified city with a grand gate and houses painted in the famous blue. So distinctly Andalucian. Labyrinths of cobblestone streets. Really enjoyed it. Had a Mediterranean flavor to it. Had my first tagine there, chicken lemon, and I was immediately addicted. Then back on the train. This time we rode in first class compartments. There's this local guy who was a bit shaky character, kept picking his nose and looking at his cell phone, slouched on his seat by the window, right next to me. I was stuck in the middle which I didnt really mind, except I wasnt sure if he's safe to be with. It turned out he took T's seat and T didnt even say anything. A girl came in and kept throwing weird looks at this character. After a while, she got up and left. At that point, I left too and exchanged seats with Aziz in another compartment. Wasnt going to sit for 2.5 next to this dude. Arrived at Meknes, our second imperial city, and walked to our hotel nearby. Tonight we had the most delicious Moroccan dinner at the Riad hotel, inside the Meknes medina. Took a peek at the Riad hotel, the one Joann stayed in her trip. The courtyard looked cozy and inviting. Inside the medina, labyrinths of narrow cobblestone streets, high walls with sunlight peeking through, small doors on either side, that open up to grand courtyards and multitude of rooms. Moroccan dinner began with a nice thick vegetable (lentil?) soup, followed by several little dishes (Moroccan tapas?) of olives, garbanzo beans, green beans, white beans, eggplants and then the main course, the Moroccan signature dish, chicken couscous, piled with carrots, zucchini, potatoes and garbanzos. Ended with coconut and peanuts cookies and mint tea. I was completely stuffed and in heaven. My hotel room on the fourth floor, was big, with a sitting area with turkish sofas and cushions, and a huge balcony overlooking a busy Meknes street. At 1AM, a local family leisurely strolled on the street. Don't they sleep? I couldnt either. So I continue to read Angelfall which I've started in CDG.


See Rabat pictures:

rabat

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Sunday, October 06, 2013

the infamous casablanca

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
premonition - somehow sorta knew my luggage would not arrive. Spent 2 hrs at the Casablanca airport filing a missing luggage report. Said it would arrive in a later flight. Delta out of SFO was 1.5hr late. So much for my comfortable 2.5 hrs layover at JFK. I dont think I'd be flying Delta again. That's the second time their planes had mechanical problems that caused delay and hassle for me. But somehow I also felt I would get my luggage in the end. My driver was generous enough to take me to the Hassan II Mosque, which although all tours were done for the day, I got to at least walk around the outside and take some pictures. In retrospect, I should have walked along the beach a bit and get a nice pict of the entire place, perched on an outcrop by the Atlantic. Should have also asked to take me to the Anfa mall and see if the Starbuck had the country mug. Ah well. The driver also brought me coffee and a bottled water. The woman he dropped off first, spoke French, married to a Portuguese and just returned from Lisbon. What a coincidence. She dressed well, perfumed body and blonde hair. Her house (or villa?) had a driveway up to a gate. The house itself was hidden from view. A local opened the door. Maid? Yes, the French speaking community was without doubt the rich upper cast. My hotel was in a shabby part of town, just like tripadvisor warned. Small room but clean and with a balcony that overlooked the narrow street and faced the houses across the street. Luckily Aziz, our local guide, had to go pickup the Brits at the airport so I went along to pick up my luggage. Otherwise it would be $100 for the roundtrip taxi. 45 mins from the hotel to the airport. So bone tired. Been up for over 30 hrs now. Too bad there was no time to really see Casablanca. But aside from the Mosque, there's really nothing else to see here. This was just a starting point for the trip. But "Why did you have to come to Casablanca? There are other places."


morocco see Casablanca pictures
 

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