If Marrakesh was the “mother of all medinas,” surely Fez is the great-grandaddy. The oldest parts of the city are over 1,200 years old. It looks just like the movie versions of a medina, and for good reason: Nearly all movies set in an old North African walled city are filmed in Fez.
Huge throngs of people buy, sell, haggle, and walk on the cobblestone streets. In Fez, we jump out of the way to avoid not motorcycles, but big hand carts and overladen donkeys. There are no automobiles within the medina. When we arrived, a porter met us at our taxi with a big cart, filled it to the brim with our excessive luggage, and then pushed it on the ten-minute walk to our riad (an old mansion converted to an inn). Continue reading “Danny DeVito Street”
We reached Chefchaouen around noon, to begin a whirlwind 24-hour visit of the “blue city” on the eve of Ramadan. You enter by crossing over a small waterfall where women and men wash clothes with buckets and washboards. There are many myths throughout Morocco about why Chefchaouen is painted blue and white. The reality is that at one point in its medieval past, the Jews of the area were ordered to relocate within the walls of Chefchaouen for their own protection. They decorated their new town with colors that are still used worldwide in traditional Jewish décor. The Jews are gone (to Israel, mostly) but the tradition remains. Continue reading “The Blue City”
If all you have time to do is visit the souks and historical places of Morocco, do it! This is a beautiful country with a remarkable history, and any visit at all is worthwhile. But when you are only spending a little time in the most touristed places, it’s natural to get a very skewed view of Morocco because it seems like everyone wants something. “Come look, just take a look!” can get very tiresome when you’ve heard it 300 times during an afternoon in the Marrakesh medina. The surface view is so exotic for many westerners that it’s difficult to see what’s under it in a short time. Continue reading “Appreciating Morocco”
Since Yvonne had the weekend off, we could explore the medina together. Friday evening we had a delicious dinner of cous-cous and meat brochettes at the Jemaa el-Fnaa. Afterward, we wandered through the alleys. Even though it was nearly 10 PM, many of the shops were still open and we went for a walk.
We met a young man who was putting out food for a cat which was obviously sick; there are an enormous number of feral cats in Morocco’s cities. It turned out that the food was laced with antibiotic, and was provided to him by a veterinarian who distributed the food for free so residents could help the cats. As we talked, the vet happened to come through the alley. She grabbed the sick cat by the neck and put drops in its eyes, then walked a few yards and did the same with another cat she passed. Continue reading “I Almost Sold My Wife”
Well, not quite; the Fes medina is even bigger. Nonetheless, the Marrakesh medina is far, far bigger than the others we’ve visited. That first day, Yvonne and I wandered: Across the huge main square called Jemaa el-Fnaa, into a spice market and through alleys both covered and open, filled with shop after shop selling everything a tourist could ask for. If we were lost in the other medinas, we could just walk in a direction and we’d soon find an exit. But the Marrakesh medina is about 10 km in circumference; pick the wrong direction to navigate the maze and it could take hours to get out. Continue reading “The Mother Of All Medinas”
The train gets underway. As night falls, porters come around and magically convert our seats into beds. They make them up with sheets and light blankets. After a peaceful night of sleep, they come back in the morning to wake us up, and convert our beds back into seats. Another porter comes around with a cart offering breakfast. When we arrive, we disembark rested and ready for the adventures ahead…Continue reading “Don’t You Know We’re Riding…”
One of the joys of traveling is that because everything is new, it’s natural to be more present and open to what’s happening around us. But to be present in this way also requires slowing down. Here in Morocco where there is so much to see, I’m grateful to have enough time to slow down and just experience life. Though I started out yesterday afternoon as a tourist with a nice haircut, it turned out to be the richest day I’ve had here thus far.
After leaving the hair salon, I took the short walk to the corniche along the beach as the muezzin called the faithful to prayer, and waited to hail a taxi to the medina. On the narrow strip of grass sandwiched between the busy boulevard and the paved sidewalk, a man stood barefoot on an old piece of cloth. At first I thought he was talking to himself, but then I realized he was facing Mecca and praying. He prostrated himself several times, lost in devotion as the traffic whizzed by. In the U.S. we would think the man is crazy; here, it’s just life. Continue reading “Living In the Moment”
My first mission today was to find a place to get my hair cut. As I mentioned in my last post, there are an enormous number of barbers and salons here, but most seem to cater to older men with really short hair, just like the classic American barber shop. I wanted a more styled look.
I began with an early lunch at a noodle shop near our hotel. While I was there, they started playing a recitation of the Koran by a Saudi imam, which was unexpected since the employees were all young women in cute noodle-shop uniforms, and none seemed a bit conservative. I ate my lunch and asked them for advice on finding a place to get my hair cut. They recommended a men’s salon about a mile away, and I started walking. Continue reading “Fashion Statement”
Literally. While still in Casablanca, I created this title as a joke, knowing that Tangier is a ferry ride away from Spain and channeling Tina Fey’s portrayal of Sarah Palin. But we didn’t realize how close. When we entered our hotel room after the 5-hour train ride north, we were amazed; I can see electricity windmills dotting the Andalucian coast (not Don Quixote, however).
Tangier has an extremely shady 20th century history, borne of its time as an international zone. Writers, spies, artists and pirates from around the world have all spent time here. But that’s the past of Tangier (though the artists and writers do still come). Now, it’s a weekend vacation spot for Spaniards and Moroccans alike, and the main boulevard along the beach is full of high-rise hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs. The long corniche (boardwalk) runs the entire 2km length of downtown along a sandy beach, inviting visitors to stroll. Yet, Tangier is small enough that with good feet, enough hours and some self-discipline, you could go everywhere worth going in a day. Since I have a week, I can slow down and explore more thoroughly. Continue reading “I Can See Spain From My Hotel”
We begin at Mahkama du Pacha (Palace of the General), a building in Quartier Habous which is pretty nondescript on the outside, but beautiful on the inside.
Next we move to the medina. Then a couple of photos of cattle egrets for the birders out there, sitting right above me on a tree-lined street by the Parc de la Ligue Arabe. Another building nearby, and finally some shots of the downtown area along Blvd Mohammed V, famous for its protectorate-era Art Deco design.