Monday, December 28, 2015

More Morocco

Arriving at Casablanca and you soon find out it isn't a quaint little city. It's the economic powerhouse of Morocco, with the city & suburbs housing a reputed 8 million folk. One of these cities, where drivers use their horns for driving!

I headed out to see the must-see sight, Hassan 2 Mosque. It's huge with a minaret over 200m high, capable of holding over 25,000 people inside and a further 80,000 outside. Amazingly it was built in just seven years, albeit by thousand of workers. A tour inside and you can see the fine intricate details. Nearby the waves crash on the breakwater, and even a couple of people surfing in the choppy waves. A hop on the train takes me up to the capital of Morocco, Rabat.

Rabat seems slightly quieter and more relaxed, with wide tree lined avenues where I am staying, near the Archaeology Museum. I pop in there for a nosy, it's small and has some neat carved items taken from nearby Volubilis. I head to the exotically named Kasbah of the Udayas, a former Barbary pirate stronghold! Well, now it's a tidy blue-painted village. Small lanes wind around, up and down the residential area. Good views over the sea, and nearby Sale. A nice garden houses many plants, some with medicinal uses, and some fruits such as oranges & bananas. Heading back into town, I walked through some markets, some selling tourist tat, others just general household goods.

Another short train journey and I arrive in Meknes. I stay at a beautiful riad, which was once used by a branch of royalty (apparently!) and hoarded some treasures, hence the metre thick walls! I'm in the middle of the medina, and get nice views across Meknes from the rooftop. Back down on the ground a couple of minutes away, tucked behind a door lies a small former school. Although not nearly as grand as Medersa Ben Youssef in Marrakesh, it has a well decorated courtyard. A walk through the medina, bring you out at the large El-Hadmin square, flanked by the Bab Mansour gate. I had a walk around town and find a tasty rotisserie chicken joint for dinner, where I get a plate with everything on it!

Next day it was a petit taxi to the grand taxi stand, where I shared a taxi with a couple of other backpackers to get to Moulay Idriss. A holy town, with Moulay Idriss bringing Islam to Morocco. Six pilgrimages here is equivalent to one Haj to Mecca. The town itself is perched on a hilltop and nearby has great views of the town itself and down to the nearby Volubilis, which I walked down to. However I must of taken the wrong road, whilst ending up at Volubilis, unfortunately there was a large fence in the way. Not sure where the proper entrance was, I just ducked under a gap. I had a good look around the partially excavated sight. The sun was starting to dip, giving a golden hue to the pillars, it was nice and quiet, until a busload of tourists turned up for sunset. After taking some pictures, I headed out giving my 10 dirhams admission price to a bemused guard. I walked back up the hill just as it was getting dark. I later headed into a local restaurant to have some overpriced and very chewy beef brochettes. The next day I crammed into the taxi with a driver and 5 other passengers. Definitely a tight squeeze, but luckily the door locks were adequate. Back in Meknes, I jumped on the train for another short hop over to my final destination, Fez.

The last of the four imperial cities and the hardest city to navigate! It is a huge warren of interconnected pathways weaving around in no discernible order or direction. They say is is unchanged in a thousand years, but one obvious addition is that of satellite dishes everywhere! I set out to get lost and succeeded. I did manage to get up to the Borj Nord Arms Museum. It was a decent museum, but the English audio guide was amusingly bad. Great views back out over the medina from up on the hill here. Back down in the city itself, I has a look at the tanneries, which color the skin. I enter and am given a sprig of mint to hold to your nose to mask the smells. They store the animal skins in pigeon droppings for a while before dyeing it. As you can imagine it's not a place you really want to linger to long. I  ended up getting dragged into the dreaded carpet shop, which I managed to extricate myself from. I stopped off at Cafe Clock for one of their famous CamelBurgers, which was surprisingly good! Another sight I manage to eventually find was the faded grandeur of Palais Glaoui. This crumbling palace had hints at it's former glory. Quite interesting with a tour from the guide, although she didn't speak a whole lot of English.

After Fez, I retraced my path, following the railway line back to Marrakesh via Casablanca. A few more days in Fez, I went to the Menara, which looked better in the postcard. Although in the postcard, you don't hear the music they were playing. Then I found a couple of palaces which I had failed to find first time round! They first was more run down, the second however had more surviving. With mosaic walls, intricately painted doors and wooden carved ceilings. One final meal, I opted for the 'royal' menu at a restaurant where I got six starters, then a huge main with chicken, beef & meat(?) skewers over couscous with few different sauces & chutneys. Then just the flight back to Glasgow which was fine except for one crazy woman who decided to suddenly start screaming at the top of her voice at the airport gate.

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