NOTE: At the time of our travel, the Moroccan Dirham (MAD) was 10 to 1 USD. Easy to divide MAD prices by 10 to get the US equivalent.
January 20: Our tour of Morocco began in the hustling (literally!) bustling port city of Tanger (Tangier). Waving off swarms of “mosquitos”, we made our way across the port, through the medina gate and up the tangled streets to the Hotel Continental (http://www.hotel-tanger.com/lhotel-continental-tanger-034 website in French), our base in the city.
While the grand old place is somewhat run down, we chose it for its history (Churchill, and other luminaries and scoundrels have graced the premises over the years), and because it’s clearly visible right above the port and so fairly easy to get to, “unaided”, on foot. Our room (second floor, no elevator but yes air conditioning and heat!) was a bit dated, but clean and comfortable, and the price ($45 USD, terrace-top breakfast included) was right! After wandering around the streets and having dinner, we turned in to rest up for a full day of exploring.
Following a lovely roof top breakfast overlooking the port, we set out. Our must-sees were the original American Legation museum,
which documents Morocco’s being the first nation to recognize the US. Next, a ramble up the hill through the busy street markets to Saint Andrew’s Anglican Church (open for visits when there is not a service going on), and the Roman Catholic Cathedral (locked up except for Mass times). The Kasbah, a hike to the top of the town, has a fabulous museum documenting history and culture from pre-Roman to modern times. We had a truly delectable fish dinner and lemon tart dessert near the hotel at Restaurant Rif Kebdani (http://www.rifkebdani.com/ ) – it was one of our best meals in Morocco!
January 22: Off to the train station (Gare) by taxi (take Petit Taxis in town in Morocco – Grand Taxis are for longer distances) for our departure for Fez. We bought tickets for the entire journey all at once at the Tanger station, so we wouldn’t have to be standing in line at every stop. First class tickets (6 seat enclosed compartments) are extremely reasonable, and guarantee a window seat if you want one. We found our car, compartment and seats, settled in, and relaxed for several hours watching the varied scenery glide by. Agricultural fields, olive groves, herds of sheep and goats with attendant shepherds/goatherds, seashore, Morocco’s got it all!
Arriving in Fez, we caught another Petit Taxi to the gate to the medina for our walk to our lodging at Dar Seffarine (http://www.darseffarine.com/ ). We would NEVER have found it on our own if Sponsor had not been there last year; he was picked up at the station and shown the way. Our room was one of the two deluxe suites and the price – $130 per night, was well worth it! There are, however, very nice rooms for considerably less. All include breakfast on the roof! Expect lots and lots of stairs and no elevators; there were 49 steps up to our room, and more to get to the rooftop garden!
Both of our nights in Fez, we dined at the Dar (for an extra fee, a bit less than we would have spent at a restaurant). It was easier than trying to find a place to eat in a strange city, and afforded the opportunity to visit with the other guests. The typical Moroccan food was quite delicious!
Fez is a much larger city than Tanger, and the medina and souks are quite labyrinthine, so we had arranged for a guide (Rachid Sebbar – firstname.lastname@example.org tel: 06 76 64 97 55) to help us make sense of it all and keep us from getting lost. It was fascinating seeing the local craftspeople, hearing their stories, and learning how life in the medina has not changed much over the centuries! People still bring their bread dough to the neighborhood baker, and bathe in the neighborhood hammam. Tile patterns are still cut and set by hand, cedar and other wood is hand-carved, copper and tin are hand-hammered into pots, pans, utensils, and cut into intricate lamps, and slippers and carpets are hand-sewn and woven. It was well worth having an expert on hand to explain, and introduce us to the crafters!
January 24: Caught the train to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. As we traveled along, we struck up a conversation with two of our compartment mates – Officer trainees of the Moroccan Army. They told us all about their training, and enjoyed hearing about our travels. We made reservations on the fly at Riad Dar Zouhour (http://www.darzouhour.com/hotel-en/ ), for about $45 per night; breakfast, as always, included. Lodging was a manageable, fairly straightforward walk from the station with the help of google maps.
Rabat is a seaside city and most of it is walkable. Our day started with a mint tea at the beach, followed by visits to the Kasbah, Andalusian Gardens, and the Tomb of King Mohammed V, located next to the never-finished Hassan Mosque, which, with its many columns, reminded us of something out of Pompeii.
From there, we took a taxi to the ruins at Chellah, which is a site containing the remains of both Roman and Arabic settlements, and over 100 active stork nests! I never knew storks made such a racket, constantly clapping their beaks – it was quite a cacophony!
January 26: Five hours on the train from Rabat to Marrakech. Another Petit taxi ride to the Bab Agnaou gate to the medina, and short walk to the wonderful Riad Bab Agnaou, named for the gate (https://www.riadbabagnaou.com/ web page in French). Our room was about $45 per night, including breakfast. Again, we never would have found it had Sponsor not been met at the train and escorted last year. You can be, too!
Marrakech can be overwhelming, there’s so much to see! Tombs, palaces (The El Badia is stunning, with its woodwork, carved stucco, and tiles!), gardens, museums, and the huge souks (I’m still kicking myself for not purchasing the hand-made, bright red slippers with the turned-up toes for $8, but, traveling with only one backpack each, I just had no place to put them!).
Not to be missed is the ongoing sideshow that is the Jemaa el Fna square, with its musicians, snake charmers, magicians, dancers, storytellers, food stalls, restaurants, and people, people, people! We enjoyed overlooking the scene while enjoying lunch and dinner after mingling with the crowds.
January 29: Our time in Morocco was swiftly approaching an end, but we wanted a chance to take a quick respite from the frenetic pace of the cities before returning to Spain. So, at the mercy of a sweet little old taxi driver who had absolutely NO idea where he was going (he pulled over several times to inquire of police, other drivers, and a couple of teenage boys), we were off to the Supratours (http://www.supratours.ma/en/ a component of the ONSF rail system) bus station (right behind the train station!) for a quick overnight to the seaside town of Essaouira (buy tickets the day before). Upon arrival, we purchased tickets for the return trip. Our reservations were at Riad Al Zahia (http://www.riadzahia.com/ ), again, in the medina for about $50, with breakfast. It was an easy walk from the bus station with map in hand.
This was our relaxation stop, so we didn’t have any sights or activities on the agenda, just poking around the alleyways of the medina (we found a tiny, still active – according to the docent – Jewish synagogue that was open to visitors), having coffee at the beach, and people-watching in the main square. Nice!
January 30: Following a succulent fresh fish luncheon (with wine! Not many restaurants in the medinas of Morocco serve wine – though Morocco produces some lovely wines!), we hopped back on the bus to return to Marrakech and the Riad Bab Agnaou for our final night in Morocco. Our “last supper” was celebrated at the same spot as our first: the Kasbah Café (http://www.kasbahcafemarrakech.com/ ), just a couple of blocks from the Riad.
We took our time after dinner, relaxing at our table on the terrace, sipping our mint tea and listening to the evening call to prayer emanating from the minaret across the street. At last, it was time to return to the Riad and pack up for our departure.
January 31: Bidding our hosts adieu, we shouldered our backpacks and headed out to the taxi stand for our ride to the airport and flight to Seville. From Seville, it was just a short train ride to Rota, and our C17 flight home.
At last, we had come full circle in our exotic tour of Morocco…for now. We hope that someday, soon,
We shall return!