August 25, 2017

From the Rif Mountains to the Atlantic Coast: Chefchaouen to Essaouira

After a laid back 4 days in Chefchaouen, we were ready to move on and see more of the country.




We took a 3 hour bus ride to Tangier after lunch which should give us a bit of time to explore the compact city before getting on the overnight train that will take us back to Marrakech. Once in Marrakech we’ll transfer on another bus for 3 hours to Essaouira. The bus station is just behind Marrakech Railway Station.



Tangier is right across Gibraltar, Spain and ferries cross the short strait frequently making it the entry and exit point to Europe. In a clear day, you can supposedly see Spain, but as it was raining heavily just as we entered Tangier, we couldn’t say for sure. Because of Tangier’s proximity to Spain, I was hoping to find a real nice resto for maybe a paella dinner but that and our plans of exploring were scrapped and we were holed up at the Tangier Ville (central railway station). We grabbed some sandwiches and made ourselves comfortable as we waited for our sleeper train with our tickets booked days in advance in Fes.

The train left on time at a little past 9 PM and we slept the whole way through comfortable in our first class 4 berth sleeper couchettes. Ours was shared with a local lady. The ride was 11 hours long with stops along the way but as we were getting off the last station, we had no worries of missing our stop.

It was light when we finally reach Marrakech at around 8 in the morning and the station was buzzing. We grabbed some strong hot coffee and croissants for breakfast as we tried to orient ourselves and wipe the trace of sleep off our eyes. We have about an hour before our bus for Essaouira departs.


The trip from the Rif Mountains down to the Atlantic Coast though took almost 24 hours and with several transfers, it was all very straightforward. Morocco is well connected and has an excellent public transport system.

We stayed at Casa del Mar, and true to its name, it was indeed right by the sea where we could hear the waves crashing at the rocky coastline. Our room was at the 4th floor and above us was the roof terrace with commanding views of the ocean.


After some colorful incidents in Marrakech on the first leg of our journey, we decided to do a quick trip here instead of staying in the former longer before flying back home. This city was kind of an afterthought but we’re glad we got to see it.


The active port city of Essaouira at the Atlantic coast just 3 hours out of Marrakech is something special. Possibly our most favorite city in all of Morocco. 



June 12, 2017

Chefchaouen

Life in most of Morocco is still firmly moulded in tradition and the past. More so in Chefchaouen.


Those who dwell here live in stone houses built along the crooked hillside of the Rif Mountains inland from Tangier. Men are elegant in their leather shoes and djellabas (traditional clothing of hooded robes) and the Muslim women their faces beautifully framed with their hijabs (veil). As with any other Muslim country, the powerful and beautifully melodic adhan (Islamic call to prayer) rings out from the nearby mosque five times a day – from pre dawn up to evening.


The tangy fresh goat cheese wrapped in palm leaves native to the area is sold in the morning on the streets and was one of our favorites at breakfasts. We sit in our rooftop terrace cozy in our sweaters and scarves with a glass of hot mint tea cradled to warm our hands.  We watch as this little blue town on the hill stir to life.



The town province noted for its blue and white buildings is that one place that had us drawn to Morocco in the first place and it did not disappoint.



The place is impossibly photogenic and we were smittenPicture this. Blue doors against blue walls against blue skies in varying shades from pale to vibrant all in one pretty little maze of - you guessed it - blue.



There's not that many tourists either compared to the other cities we’ve visited.

It's so lovely out there with so few people and the weather a little cool. We'd walk the hilly streets up and down although we have to keep stopping to catch our breath and poke our noses in the little alleys. We took so many photos and savored some in my minds eye when my photos couldn’t give the place justice.



I tried to blend in too I just had a 350 camel offer to marry a Berber. Base offer was a 100. Not bad. True story.

Most of our photos are either empty alleys or with the locals purposeful in their stride and tentatively wandering in our frame. We smile and greet them good morning and we get a shy smile and a nod back. Or a greeting of As-salamu alaykum. Because of its proximity to Spain, a lot of locals speak Spanish and we do get the occasional “hola!”





Our first week in Morocco was quite frantic moving to and from another city every 2-3 days. But in ‘Chaouen, we've adapted to the laid back attitude and had just the faintest outline of itineraries. We keep track of time by the grumbling in our bellies and the heaviness of our lids.





We stayed 4 days but mainly did nothing. We didn't seek out any must see spot or must do activity but just lazed around and wandered aimlessly. It was one of the most rewarding part of this almost 3 week long trip. 





‘Chaouen is one of the best towns to simply wander around without a plan and be rewarded with discovering charming corners and quiet plazas away from the crowd.


We did climb up the Spanish fortress in the square one afternoon. It was a gloomy fall day but at sunset, the sun broke thru blanketing the town with its soft golden light. I didn’t think this tiny hillside town oozing with charm could get any more magical.




May 29, 2017

Meknes and Volubilis Day Trip

MEKNES 

We left Fez on an exceptionally sharp and cold October morning. We are going up the Rif Mountains on that day for Chefchaouen but planned as much stop along the way to stretch the drive. We rented a private car with driver and it was convenient for the exploration we had in mind and without worrying about our luggage.

After securing in advance our sleeper train tickets for Tangier to Marrakech at Gare de Fes, we went on our way.


Our first stop was the Imperial City of Meknes. Although smaller and quieter than its neighbor Fez, the city was built in an impressive Spanish-Moorish style surrounded by thick high walls and great doors.


Our driver dropped us off Heri es-Souani, the massive Royal Stables and although no longer functioning and some parts are in ruin because of a strong earthquake in the 18th century, you still get an idea of the building's past grandeur if only for its sheer size, giant vaults and cedar wood doors. The stables used to house 12,000 of the royal’s horses, plus a groom and a slave for each one. The structure is an important part of Morocco’s history and Sultan Moulay Ismail regarded it as one of his finest architectural projects.

Entrance fee: 10 MaD
Opening hours: 9 AM to 12 noon & 3-630 PM.







From there we proceeded to Bab al-Mansour, one of North Africa's finest examples of surviving gateways. The elaborate main gate is between Meknes' Medina and city districts. We sat at one of the tables in the square and had a leisurely snack of pizza and coffee just watching the going on about us.






VOLUBILIS

 Not long after, our driver collected us and we continued to Volubilis, about an hour drive away. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site of a partly excavated ruin of a once mighty empire of Mauretania of the Romans. This Berber and Roman city dates back from the 3rd Century BC and feels very Spartacus in Central North Africa set on a vast olive field.






We explored and photographed every nook and cranny soaking in some history and Roman ghost vibes at midday. Good thing it's autumn and ushering in winter so there's less risk of heat stroke as there’s hardly any shade from the broken columns and marble archways.




After a lunch of meat sandwiches, individually wrapped little cakes and boxed juices that our riad in Fez packed for us under the olive trees, we piled back on the van. Slept almost the whole way through while we rolled up the mountains. Our driver woke us up just as we were entering the city that had us most excited about traveling in Morocco. 


Entrance fee: 20 MaD
Opening hours: 9 AM to 12 noon & 230 - 6 PM.

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