A Travellerspoint blog

7. Marrakech

all aboard that train

overcast 70 °F

If you have not been able to find my blog about the Fez medina, you are not the only ones. I have written and published it twice and I've lost it both times. Very frustrating. But I am getting good at that writing about that particular experience. (which was all good, by the way.)

Today we rode from Fez to Marrakech, across different landscapes and through dozens of different towns. It was long, but always interesting. At the end of the road, we found ourselves in a wonderful resort-like hotel. Of course, after a day on the road, we gravitated to the pool cocktail lounge. Now it's time to end this day. A long ride and a bottle of wine can tire a girl out.

Posted by Follow Carol 15:33 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

6. Medina Madness

don't try this without a guide

semi-overcast 78 °F

Oh, the Fez medina. I loved it. But buyer beware - the medina is like an acid trip. It is either a good trip or a bad trip depending on you. The medina is a 1200 year old downtown behind walls. The "streets" are alleys narrower than the human "wingspan". It is a huge, un-navigatable, bowl-shaped, labyrinth of three story buildings. Look up, you can see a bit of the sky, but don't depend on the sun for navigation. And don't look up for more than a second because the dirt and cobblestone paths are uneven, slippery, dirty and dangerous. You have to strike a balance between enjoying the vibrant color of the small shops and the risk of falling down. OMG, the colors. Fabrics, yarns, spices, leathers, pottery, gold, silver. . . Honestly, it's not so much that I wanted to buy it all. . . .I just wish I could own it all. My excellent roomate Kathleen summed it up. . It's like time travel.

Of course our guide guided us into some of the more tourist-worthy shops. I saw some beautiful silk bedspreads and a hot turquoise handbag, but I fell in love with, and had to buy, a giant handpainted platter. It's like 30 inches in diameter. It probably will never be used as a platter, I'll probably hang it on a wall. No, I am not able to pack it. They will ship it. You are all invited to my house for the unveiling.

I discovered that my sense of smell is far worse than I thought. We went to a tannery. The tanneries are located on the bottom most level of the medina so as not to insult delicate noses. We were actually just in the showroom, several stories above the action, but we were able to look out over the operation while we were admiring hot turquoise handbags. As we entered, they handed us sprigs of mint - a "nosegay" to hide the offending smells. I didn't need it. Remind me never to apply for a position as a wine taster.

After hours in the medina (not enough hours, but some of tbe ladies were wimping out) we returned to our riad and enjoyed cocktails on the rooftop bar. The weather has been interesting, it rained this morning at breakfast and it rained on us again at the bar. It has been relatively cool, and the rain is refreshing. Nothing stops us, we just relocate. Speaking of which, we have to leave this lovely riad tomorrow morning. They're taking me to Marrakech.

Posted by Follow Carol 15:31 Archived in Morocco Comments (1)

5. Meknes and Volubilis

On the bus today

sunny 80 °F

Today we did a lot of travelling. Some of the time that we're on the bus, there is a lot of chattering going on, and then Amani fills in the spaces with background information as we travel. Of course there is a great deal of Moroccan pride in his running commentary - but one thing I've noticed is the depiction of the various Moroccan rulers as superhuman. For instance, to hear Armani tell it, King Hassan II (who died in 1999) invented agriculture. It is against the law to speak negatively about the royals, and I am sure this guy was pretty smart, but c'mon! At least it's not as bad as Turkey where shop owners are required to display a picture of Attaturk (which would be like Washington to us).

After a couple of hours of driving through small towns and rich farmland, our first stop was Volubilis, a 2000 year old Roman city. Volubilis is not as well preserved as the ones I saw in Turkey, but walking on 2000 year old streets and walking around what's left of 2000 year old mansions and looking at intricate 2000 year old mosaic floors that still have color, completely blows me away. Armani turned us over to an excellent local guide who studies ancient history, and this guy was able to describe the life and commerce of the city. Fascinating. I guess until recently, Morocco had never worked to preserve this site - and to be honest they are not a rich country, so now other countries are chipping in to try to help. Too bad Hassan II didn't invent archeology.

Our next stop was Meknes, which is the 4th largest city in Morocco. Armani told us a lot about the town, but it was just a town, to me. We did tour the ancient royal stables which was pretty impressive as they were built to accomodate 12,000 horses and their respective riders. It's big. We also stopped to admire "the most beautiful town gate in Africa" - the Bab El Mansour. All of these cities are walled with gates. Some of the gates are pretty elaborately decorated, as is this one. Naturally we all took pictures and oohed and ahhed.

If you know me, you know that I have an unnatural attraction to graveyards. Well, I am out of my league here. The dead are always buried right outside the town gates. Therefore, as you approach any of the walled towns, you drive by acres and acres of gravestones. They are all white, and plain, and crammed in the allotted acreage. There is no way to walk between the graves. How does anyone visit their dead loved ones? Or even find them? It's kind of unnerving. Maybe Muslims don't believe in cremation. I need to look that up.

We got "home" around 5:30 and adjourned to the rooftop garden bar. This bar is very lovely but the view of the medina (that they brag about) leaves something to be desired. Imagine looking out over miles of dilapidated roofs of dilapidated old buildings. That's just what the medina is, but the beauty is on street level. And we're going to spend the whole day in the middle of it tomorrow. Exciting! But watch your wallet- it's a pickpocket's dream out there!

Posted by Follow Carol 15:28 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

4. Arriving in Fez

OMG. I need to buy a riad.

sunny 78 °F

I am sitting with four of my traveling buddies, outside on a big balcony overlooking the beautiful courtyard of an old palace in the medina in Fez. A family palace in Morocco is called a riad (ree-ahd). This one has been made into a hotel having 15 amazing and unique rooms. This is the fantasy Moroccan hotel. Outside the front door is the medina - the ancient old city of Fez. The "streets" are narrow alleys, some so narrow only one person fits. Our bus dropped us off in a big parking lot and five men came down with little carts to fetch our luggage while another escorted the fifteen of us through the alleys to our riad. Some of us went out to dinner (back down alleys to bus) while the five of us chose to stay here and drink wine. We got hungry at one point and ordered some small plates to share. It has been a wonderful evening.

Today was a bus day. We rode from Casablanca to Fez, stopping along the way for a seaside luncheon. Our guide is wonderful. As we ride, he is discussing politics, agriculture, history. I never would have imagined so much fertile farmland i Morocco. We drove by acres and acres of farms and and crops. "Armani" is a very knowledgeable man. He is also persuasive and we're all sold on Morocco now. I need to read more, but it seems like they are a developing new country with neutral instance. Women still have a way to go toward equity, but they are aware of it.

Then there's Fez- a much more artistic region than Casablanca. And the medina is much bigger, much cleaner, and much more like a regular town. Of course I have only seen a tiny portion. I'm sure I'll venture out and get lost tomorrow.

For now, I need to sleep. I think I have a cold. No one wl believe me anymorethat I never get sick because for the past few trips I have managed to get sick.

Posted by Follow Carol 13:56 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

3. Casablanca

Commercial and exotic

sunny 80 °F

Today our guide (whose name is "Amaranni" but to whom some of us refer as "Armani" - not because of his clothing, but maybe because he has a certain style) took us for a tour of Casablanca, most especially the Hassan II Mosque. This mosque is very new (as mosques go) having been opened only 20 years ago or so. It is huge, the third largest in the world. And it is absolutely beautiful. I get so sick of touring mosques and cathedrals sometimes. . . . but this was spectacular. While it is very modern, it is also incredibly detailed. Instead of many colors of tiles, the giant building is built of taupe colored and moss colored marble. The mosque accomodates 25 thousand worshipers: 20 thousand men and 5 thousand women. Muslim men and women do not worship together. I guess women are too distracting. Too bad the Prophet Muhammad didn't instruct his male followers to grow up.

Afterward, we rode around the town touring neighborhoods and government buildings and when it was time for lunch, he dropped us off at a mall with a food court. I know, wierd. Poor Armani doesn't get American women "of a certain age" . When you travel that far, you're not shopping at a mall. A few of us found a Turkish kebab place and had an OK lunch but couldn't have cared less about the stores.

That wasn't the only time Armani got it wrong . . . .bless his heart. Guides like to praise all the ways that their government has made so much progress toward women's rights. Armani was explaining how their First Lady is so modern and is very concerned about women's health issues. For instance, she has been a big proponent of cancer screening of "the tits and hymen". No, I am not kidding. He said that. Not a one of us said a word. We all just nodded approvingly and listened respectfully. Later, Rosemary said she looked around and saw that not a one of us flinched and she said a little prayer that no one would giggle. Of course, he was just trying to be very clinical - a Muslim man surrounded by fifteen women. And you have to acknowledge that English is only his third or fourth language. . . . .but still. Anyway, Rosemary is going to gently talk to him about a better choice of words.

When the tour was over, four of us ventured into the Medina to roam and take pictures. Most of the ladies are a bit too delicate for such a gritty neighborhood. And it is gritty. It's crowded and poor with shop after tiny shop bursting with shiny and colorful inventory. No one bought a thing, it's hard to want to barter over merchandise that could so easily be cheap fakes. So we merely experienced the exotic atmosphere, and then returned to the hotel for a glass of wine and a toast to tits and hymens.

This evening we had dinner at Rick's Cafe. This tourist trap is owned by an American woman and serves pretty good food in a 1930's Casablanca atmosphere. It was something we had to do. What self-respecting tourist would walk away from a chance to run into Bogart or Bacall? In truth, we had a great time there, but that was because of the company.

I should be asleep by now. Tomorrow we need to pack and get on the road to our next stop, Fez. I love Morocco so far, and from what I hear, I'll love it more in Fez.

Posted by Follow Carol 17:19 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

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