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June 24, 2017 / oneworld82

From Fez to Erg Chebbi through the Atlas Mountains

While cities are great, nature is even better. After all, we’re talking about Morocco here! Consider this: desert is what people usually associate with this wonderful country (together with, perhaps, couscous and Marrakech), and so it was only natural that we decided to take the long way around from Fez to Marrakech, driving to Ifrane, Azrou, Midelt and along the Oued Ziz to Erfoud and then Merzouga to spend a night in a Berber tented camp in Erg Chebbi; continuing then through Rissani and the Tafilalt oasis to Tinerhir and the Todra and Dades Gorges; ending the journey on day three in Marrakech going through Ouarzazate and splendid Ait Benhaddou. What a trip! The scenery would change from green valleys, to cedar forests, to snow-capped mountains, to water reservoirs in the Ouad valley, to desert oasis, to sand dunes as high as mountains in the Sahara, to the dizzying walls of the Gorges du Dades, to the cinema studios of Ouarzazate, to the out-of-this-World architecture of Ait Benhaddou, to, finally, the majestic sights of Marrakech.

I won’t lie – in three days we did a lot of driving and it was decently tiring. Yet, I am glad we did it, as we really got to experience a lot of Morocco, from rural to nomadic life.

While we booked this as a private tour, we ended up being with four Indonesian girls, although we had our own car and driver. We didn’t mind at all the arrangement, as the girls were very nice and accommodating (they were spending a year in England studying abroad).

The climb to the middle Atlas was steep and scenic. The green valleys surrounding Fez gave soon way to a more alpine landscape. We soon reached Ifrane, a Swiss-like town atop the Middle Atlas featuring proper Alpine architecture (it was built by the French as a resort town). A famous private university is housed here, and the feeling is of a glitzy mountain resort, Moroccan style.

Ifrane

Snow was almost everywhere here, although it was almost all melting away; as surprising as it might be, Morocco has ski slopes and skiing infrastructures.

We kept driving until we reached the Azrou national park, home to a large cedar forest. I can really say these trees are impressive (and beautiful). Morocco is blessed with abundant quality wood, and contrarily to Lebanon (where cedars have all but disappeared) the country still has a decent number of them (and they are protected as well). The air up here was definitely chilly – Azrou sits at around 1400m above sea level (around 3,300 ft high).

We kept driving through the mountains – the landscape was lunar, with sparse vegetation and only a few nomads (with relative flocks of sheep and goats) around. We definitely were in a very different part of Morocco now, and we were clearly entering Berber territory.

We started descending from the mountains, and around 12.30pm we arrived in Midelt, a provincial capital that feels more like an outgrown town than a city. We stopped by a roadside restaurant for lunch; this is one of the few things we did not like of this organized tour: luncheons and dinners would always be at mediocre, overpriced restaurants for tourists. In fact, for the next three days the food would not be memorable at all.

The sun here was hot, and the landscape was now arid. After lunch we drove on towards Erfoud, and the sights along the road were spectacular. Right before the military base at Errachidia (we are not far from the Algerian border here, and as you might be aware, the two countries are not exactly on friendly terms), the Barrage Al Hassan Addakhil is a fantastic blue mirror surrounded by rocky desert.

Not far past Erfoud, between the villages of Ouled Chaker and Ksar Jdid, a most amazing oasis along the Oued Ziz enclosed in a somewhat deep canyon provide some great photo ops. The views were amazing – we really were in the Sahara!

Around 5pm we arrived in Merzouga, a dusty outpost at the fringe of the desert that in years past survived on trans-Saharan trade while today tourism is the main source of livelihood. A few hotels provide camel caravans into the majestic Erg Chebbi, where various Tuareg tented camps happily host tourists overnight.

The trek to the camp lasts around a hour – and seeing the sun setting over the dunes – with nothing but sand surrounding you – is simply remarkable. The quiet and scale of the dunes (and the cute beetles crawling seemingly out of nowhere to the top) give pause to think and reflect – too often we are caught in our busy life and have no time to slow down, to relax, to think. I have to say mea culpa for this as well, as I left an easy, relaxed life in Italy to follow the American dream. Sure, money and professional success are great – but how I wish I had more time to spend with my fabulous wife and daughter instead of having to worry about work or fixing the house or buying the next new electronics… But I digress.

We arrived at the camp when it was almost dark, and after some tea we were served a nice dinner in a communal tent with harira and chicken tagine – the food here was actually decent. The camp was almost completely dark – only a bonfire gave us some light, and we sang and danced until around 11pm. The starred sky, by the way, was spectacular.

The tent where we slept was basic, but it did the trick for the night. We woke up at 6.30am and we climbed one of the (very) tall dunes behind the camp to savor the spectacular sunrise from high up. It was very chilly before the sun came to warm us up – it was still March after all and the thermal excursion between day and night is very marked here in the desert. After we got back to the hotel we had a simple breakfast of bread and honey (plus coffee) to get us going for the second day of this comprehensive road trip.

June 19, 2017 / oneworld82

Why airplane food is difficult to master?

I just wanted to share an enlightening article I stumbled upon describing why it’s difficult to get food right while flying at 30,000+ft above ground. It’s easy to complain about airplane food and the paucity of portions/service in coach, but this read will enlighten you on some of the reasons behind the culinary and logistical issues surrounding proper food and beverage service while flying.

The article is linked here

I hope you will find it as interesting I found it!

June 19, 2017 / oneworld82

The Blu City of Chefchaouen

Northern Africa is associated with many images: palm trees, deserts, kasbahs… yet, one of the most enduring images of the Maghreb is the one of the blue doors and houses found around the region.

There are various explanations of why Northern African homes are painted blue; the most sound tells out that the particular blue used here is despised by mosquitoes, making for a great natural repellant. Call it collective wisdom.

But there is one city that made of being blue its chief attraction. We are talking, of course, of Chefchaouen.

Chaouen is a lovely city set at the feet of the Rif Mountains, a couple hours drive from Tangier. It’s not big, and it’s medina is compact enough to be explored in a couple of hours.

The city has an interesting interesting, including a long period were Christians were banned under pain of death (but not Jews, that made up a sizable portion of the local population for a long time). Then the Spanish came, and they opened the city up, bringing along their traditional tiling techniques. The result was a very Andalusian city, and in the 1920’s the traditional Islamic green was replaced by blue, giving the town its characteristic aspect.

What also makes Chaouen unique is its natural setting – look at the landscape surrounding it and we’ll forgive you for thinking to be in the Alps instead of Morocco. The Rif has some incredible hiking, and being there clearly showed us why! The peaks around are perfect for hiking – the are rocky, not too steep, bouldery. The town is surrounded by Berber tribes living in the mountains and countryside around the city, and Berbers make up the largest part of the local populace – if you want to buy Berber carpets, this is the place!

Also, Chaouen sits at the center of the lucrative hashish industry. Hashish – a concentrated form of marijuana – is smuggled from here to most of Europe, and the town is obviously famous with backpackers looking for some cheap thrills.

While we stayed only one night, we decided to stay at what’s likely the best Riad in town – Lina. For those who don’t know, Riads are traditional Moroccan houses (often built around a central courtyard) that have been restored in opulent ways and that serve as guest houses. They only have few rooms each, and service is highly personalized.

Lina Riad & Spa sits at the core of Chefchaouen’s medina. The house is really beautifully maintained and decorated, while pretty tiles and mosaics everywhere. The staff is courteous and friendly, and they really make their best effort to make you feel home. We booked the best suite in the house (first night of the honeymoon, after all!), and we weren’t disappointed. The room was well-furnished and very comfortable, and most importantly it had its own terrace overlooking the blue roofs of the town, offering a wonderful panorama that included the rugged, tall Rif mountains.

Series of views from our room terrace

Two features of the hotel stood out though:

  1. The breakfast. It was simply magnificent. We ate it in the lobby/dining area, and both the quality of the food and the warmth of the service were phenomenal. Pancakes, pastries, yogurts, eggs, bread, honey… nothing was missing and everything was delicious. It was a great introduction to how much Moroccans love eating.

  1. The spa. Situated on the ground floor, the spa features a Romanesque indoor swimming pool in the original basements of the building. The pool is heated, and the ceiling is made of glass, which means light shines in. Quite spectacular.

Aside from the hotel, Chefchaouen is as nice as backpackers recount. It’s cobble-stoned, narrow streets bustle with life, and while the medina is compact it’s certainly a great place to wonder around for a few hours. Several areas and items make up for fantastic photos:

  1. Doors

                                    

2. Staiways

3. Alleyways and small squares

Plaza Uta el-Hammam is the center of old town’s life. The cafe-lined square was the entrance to the kasbah, and today it’s a bustling open area where tourists do people-watching and locals sell trinkets. Overall, it’s a chill place – one of the positives of Morocco is that hawkers are not aggressive in the least, making it easy to enjoy life.

The kasbah (literally: fortification; it refers to the palace where the rulers used to leave) across the square is very well-preserved. It houses a decent museum highlighting the history of Moroccan pottery (and the town’s history) and the tower offers a nice view over the city and the surrounding valley. Also, the kasbah gardens are well-kept and provide a nice area where to relax.

Given the size of the city (and the fact that most tourists are backpackers here), there aren’t too many decent dining options in town. One of the best restaurants ought to be Morisco, on the main square. This was our very first meal in Morocco. Thuy had her first harira – a chickpea soup and a real staple of Moroccan households – while I tried the tahliya, a dish of sizzling goat, almonds, and honey that was a real surprise given the mix of sweet and sour.

The day after for lunch we sat in one of the few restaurants with a terrace overlooking the main square. While the view was gorgeous, the food was regrettable (especially this anchovies tagine).

Great view…

…not so great food

As you can see, Chefchaouen is a very unique, photogenic town that certainly deserves a stop – especially if you are into hiking, as the Rif Montains provide excellent opportunities for that. You will find not much history here; nonetheless, this town will remain with you for a long time given its unique, fairytale-like flavor.

June 16, 2017 / oneworld82

Can it get more Moroccan than this? Imperial Fez

Ask ten people what’s the capital city of Morocco, and they’ll answer Marrakech. Or ask them where they visited n Morocco, and they’ll probably say Marrakech. Marrakech is certainly the city that captures everyone’s imagination, but it’s truly pitiful that not many people have much knowledge about Fez.

Because Fez was actually the center of Moroccan power centuries before Marrakech (when the Almoravids and Almohads had their capital here, Marrakech was only a small village). Not only that, but Fez was always the center of the religious and the intellectual life of Morocco (jurisprudence and faith are very much linked to each other in Islam) – Fassis still today sport a superiority complex towards other Moroccan cities.

Medersa Bou Inania’s minaret as seen from Cafe Clock

Driving into the city you realize immediately that you have landed in Imperial Morocco. The hustle and bustle of the modern city leaves way to the imposing walls of the royal palace first, and to the various layers of walls of the medina then.

Outer medina

What’s impressive of Moroccan cities is how well preserved the walls usually are – a testament to the quality of Maghrebin masonry.

Fez has the largest, most intricated medina of all Moroccan cities. Its alleways are narrow, its buildings tall. Bab el-Mahrouk is the main gateway into the city in the west, and the two main streets of Talaa Kebira and Talaa Seghira run almost parallel eastwards to join near Ain Allou – these two arteries are the real commercial heart of the medina where endless merchants, workers, donkeys, and students come to do their business.

Bab el-Mahrouk

While navigating the city along the two main streets is relatively easy, but part of the fun is getting lost. Every corner has a interesting fountain or some bizarre store; one street might see lots of carpenters, another plenty of women clothing. Everything is different yet the same, and the common denominator is the hustle and bustle that can be found around Fes el Bali.

Given the fact the Fez was the political and religious center of the Empire for so long, there are lots of historical sights to admire. Take the Medersa Bou Inania for instance. Built by the Merenid dynasty in the XIV century, this medersa (Koranic school) has some amazing zellij and carvings – everything Moroccan you can think of can be found here.

The famous water clock

The Medersa el-Attarine, further down the street, is another great example of XIV century architecture…

 

 

 

…while the lively Kairaouine Mosque and University, while forbidden to non-Muslims, is another great sight.

Sweets stalls outside the mosque

Place Seffarine is a very lively square where blacksmiths work incessantly to create anything you can think of – keys, trays, wheels, you name it. There are a couple of good terrace-cafes here – a great place for a pit stop with some good mint tea – one of the very specialties of Morocco.

Place Saffarine

While the sights are great, the number of people plying the narrow alleyways of Fez is the true highlight of the medina. You can literally find any type of person here, and this is why wondering around without any precise direction is half the fun.

Medina

Yet, there is a place you need to make sure you eventually head to; a place that’s very much the identity of Fez around the World – a place so unique that will leave you speechless: the Chaouwara Tanneries.

 

May 7, 2017 / oneworld82

The beginning of our honeymoon-adventure: DFW-MIA-MAD-TNG on AA First Class and Air Arabia Maroc

Morocco is often thought as an exotic place by European and American holidaymakers. I do not like that word though, because exotic reminds of something different, almost alien. Instead, the history of Morocco and that of the Western World have been intertwined for centuries. Maghreb – the farthest land to the East in the Umayyad Empire that followed the advent of Mohammed and Islam, saw powerful kingdoms (Almoravids and Almohads) that exercised power and influence across big parts of the Iberian Peninsula. Food, religion, science, and people flew between this extreme corner of Northern Africa and Southern Europe, shaping one another’s features in an everlasting fashion.

So, no, I do not think Morocco be exotic; I think Morocco as an extension of us; visiting and understanding this country would only be a way to gain a better understanding of ourselves.

There is a book that I read before embarking on our honeymoon: A Year in Casablanca by renowned British-Afghan writer Thahir Shah. The book is an entertaining and melodramatic recount of the attempt the author did to move his family to Casablanca looking for a slice of Paradise and good life, allured by the time he spent there with his family as a kid. The book explores the lives and culture of the people surrounding Thahir as he tries to navigate the intricate underbelly of Moroccan society in order to find people and materials to fix his newly purchased house in Casablanca. The book is enlightening because it shows how different yet similar to Southern European cultures Morocco can be: the importance of relationships, the role of the extended family,  etc. The book set the tone right for some good old observation while in Morocco, and made me genuinely excited to go.

Our itinerary to Morocco was DFW-MIA-MAD-TNG (Tangier), on a mix of AA and IB. I had booked two separate tickets to MAD and then to TNG (using Avios), with what I thought to be a big enough bigger in MAD. Unfortunately, first a mechanical problem and then a storm delayed us around 2 hours in Miami, and so we were going to miss our connection in Spain. Thankfully, Air Arabia Marco offered cheap, same day fares on a later flight, and for around $60 per person we were able to book ourselves on that flight. The annoying part of it all was that I wasted 18,000 Avios (which cost me around $100 to collect), and that because of the later flight we couldn’t stop in Tetouan for some sightseeing (I was relishing that given that Tetouan is off the beaten path).

In any case, no big deal – as any frequent flyer knows, these things happen. I knew it was going to be a bad day when our flight to Miami was delayed 2 hours. And then 3. And then downgraded from a 767 to a 321, which meant no chances for an upgrade. At least the IFE was good and I watched Manchester by the Sea while Thuy napped. Then in Madrid we paid a quick visit the renovated Admirals Club by gate D12, before having a quick bite at the Centurion lounge.

While the AA lounge was a zoo (read: very crowded), the new design looks neat and I snagged a few photos (but I couldn’t do more given how many people were there). The food offering was same as usual, but I suspect that will change for Premium passengers once the pre-dining opens up. The chicken soup we tried was rather good.

The Centurion Lounge was crowded as well, but comparatively less so than the AA club. We got some prosecco, some brisket with potatoes, we enjoyed the view… and then it was time to board.

Flight AA68, MIA-MAD
March 23rd, 2017
08:10p-09:25a+1 (scheduled)
10:00p-11:10a+1 (effective)
First Class, Seats 1D & 1G
Boeing 777-200, old version (16F)

Boarding was a breeze, and thirty minutes before our scheduled departure time we were onboard. Everything looked good, until I saw a couple of maintenance people around the cabin. Apparently, there was a problem with the intercom. No big deal the captain announced, we’ll be leaving 10 minutes behind schedule. Than those 10 minutes became 30, and that’s when I started to worry, as this is the exact pattern I had encountered 3 weeks earlier on the very same flight on my way to Madrid for work – that flight was eventually delayed 90 minutes. I was frantically doing mental math, as T4S to T4S connections in Madrid are fairly quick – 45 minutes would have sufficed especially silly since we had no checked baggage and since we already had the IB boarding passes. 40 minutes behind schedule we were ready to go… and then a storm hit, closing the ramp due to lightnings. Fantastic, another good 35 minutes delay and no real chance to make the connection to Tangier. Resigned, I looked for options and I came across the Air Arabia flight, which I promptly booked. I also informed our driver of the change of plans, and we were set.

Good riddance old AA first class!

The crew was good during the delay, offering drinks and nuts to the passengers in first class – the captain was communicative and apologetic.

In any case, all the usual amenities were at our seat when we arrived. The seat really looks old, and it’s good to know there will be no more old seats on AA premium cabin by mid-Summer!

The redesigned Cole Haan First Class kit is an improvement over the previous one – it’s a stylish big bag that I can actually see myself using! On the way back Lufthansa would give us a similar one, although it would be Jil Sanders (and hence higher quality) with La Prairie amenities instead of 3 Lab ones.

After taking off, the crew started frantically to get dinner ready. Table was set, food was taken out… but service was very rushed and impersonal. First of all, no pre-meal drinks were offered. Then, I got no drink until I had finished my appetizer, and when I asked for a refill I was told “when I have some time I will bring you some more”. Wow.

Anyways, service is a low point for AA – we all know that – and hopefully the company will invest heavily in rejuvenating and train its flight attendants.

I must say it was a very good selection of items, and the quality of the meal was overall good.

I started with the charcuterie board, which featured capicollo, Genoa salami, and… it was very tasty – even more so when enjoyed with some warm pretzel bread.

Then the salad came – it was fresh but plain.

The main dishes were very good. I had the beef rendang – it was very flavorful and not chewy – not as good as the one on Singapore Airlines back in November, but still very good.

Thuy had the vegetarian meatloaf with barbecue sauce and mashed potatoes – it looked and tasted good.

For dessert, Thuy had the chocolate mousse (which she enjoyed) while I had the upside down cake – this was was spectacular, especially because the jackfruit convened a certain punchiness to it!

After the meal I made the bed myself with the pad that was provided, and got four hours of sleep – not particularly restful as I got warm, but not bad either.

bed controls

When I woke up we were right off the coast of Portugal, about one hour ten minutes from Madrid. Breakfast was being served, and I decided to have some. Only the egg strata was left, and everything was served on a tray with a biscuit, butter, orange juice, and choice of coffee.

The strata, accompanied by sausage and potatoes, was very dry and not so good – I had good ones on AA before but not this time.

Breakfast on AA first class

After breakfast I went to the washroom to refresh and to change into my clothes, and not long after we landed in Madrid, 1h41m behind schedule.

As we left the plane we decided to run to the gate where the Iberia flight to Tangier was supposed to depart, as one of the boards put the flight on “last call”. We ran through security… panting and all… but the flight had already left. It turned out we missed the flight by about 10 minutes, a pity. The whole connecting process took us only 20 minutes, so we were very unlucky I felt.

As we were dirty and tired, we made our way to the Priority Pass lounge (Neptuno) to take a shower and freshen up our low mood. As we were there we had some snacks – the selection of chorizo and jamon serrano was good.

Travel planning

Spanish snacks

After one hour or so we left the lounge and made the way to the exit to catch a bus to Terminal 1, where the Air Arabia Maroc flight would depart from.

Check in opened 3 hours ahead of flight departure time, and after making our way through security we headed to the Cibeles lounge to rest. Terminal 1 in Madrid is home to SkyTeam carriers and others like Air China, and the Cibeles lounge partners with some of these carriers as well. As a result, the lounge is really big, with similar decor to the other Priority Pass lounges and similar food and beverage offerings. It turned out that the lounge did have a shower, contrarily to what stated on the Priority Pass app.

As we had some time to kill we tried some more food – the quality was ok (wife preferred the KFC outside the lounge anyways).

Forty minute before our flight we trekked our way to our gate A2, where no more than 40 people were waiting to board the flight to Tangier.

The Air Arabia Maroc plane turned out to be perfectly fine and rather new, and while we slept for most of the flight we enjoyed some nice views over the Gibraltar Strait and over Tangier on approach.

Tangier’s airport is very small – one of those were you just walk from the plane to the terminal, but immigration took a good half hour, after which we met our driver Said and started our honeymoon through Morocco.

May 6, 2017 / oneworld82

A beautiful day, from Volubilis to Meknes through Moulay Idriss Zarhoun

Alright, as you might have understood already, we were very surprised by how green and fertile Morocco is this side of the Atlas. This became even more apparent during our day trip to Volubilis and Meknes, about a hour drive from Fez. The former was the capital of Mauretania Tingitana, the extreme periphery of the Roman Empire in the West and situated on the slopes of the Zrhouan Mountains overlooking a very fertile valley; the latter was one of the four Imperial capitals of Morocco, if for a short period of time.

The agricultural riches of the land became apparent as soon as we left Fez. Orange orchards and fava bean fields are everywhere, and the Barrage Sidi Chahed is a blue artificial lake that helps irrigating this part of Morocco. Stopping by allowed us to get a glimpse of the sounds and colors of this valley – quite idyllic if you ask me.

Daisies

And seeing how rich this land is, it’s no surprise that the Romans made of Volubilis an important regional outpost. I will spare you all the long story (C.P. Pennell’s book “Morocco: from Empire to Independence is a great source of Moroccan history that I highly recommend) regarding the rise and fall of the city, but suffice to say that it is one of the richest cities ever excavated in terms of number and quality of villas and mosaics, and that this region used to provide olive oil, honey, wheat, and other goods to all Northern Africa and farther.

Volubilis was much more interesting than expected – mostly thanks to our guide that we hired for ~$20 at the entrance. He was a Moroccan guy born in Spain who moved back to Morocco for work (interesting, eh?), and he was very knowledgeable about the site. I highly recommend hiring a guide in Volubilis to make the most out of it.

The site is strategically located atop a small hill overlooking most of the fields around, and receiving fresh spring water from a source 3 miles up the mountains. An aqueduct brought water from there, and the number of fountains and water features in town had to be impressive.

Overview of the site

Together with the usual triumphal arch and basilica (very impressive), all along the decumanus maximus a number of large villas dotted the city center.

Decumanus Maximus

Triumphal Arch – the real center of Volubilis

The best feature of them are the many well-preserved mosaics depicting scenes from Roman mythology. It’s truly remarkable the great state of these mosaics!

The beautiful mosaic depicting the 12 Labors of Hercules

Another great feature of Volubilis were the many thermae (baths); caldaria, tepidaria, and fridaria are still visible today in some of the houses – as well as the vomitoria where people used to throw up during never-ending banquet. It’s to me no wonder that this civilization eventually declined, as the level of decadence reached has probably very few comparisons in history!

Public baths

A sun clock

Stork

Again, I can’t over-emphasize how beautiful the surroundings were – and the fact that it was a warm day of Spring definitely helped.

Looking towards Moulay Idriss from Volubilis

Visiting the whole site at a leisurely pace took us about two hours. After that, our driver drove us through the holy town of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, where Idris I is buried. This fella was the great-great-great grandson of prophet Muhammad, and he’s credited with bringing Islam (and its Maliki school) from Medina in the 8th century CE, founding the first imperial dynasty of Morocco, the Idrissids. Even more incredible is the fact that this guy was poisoned by his enemies, and that his body was discovered, nearly intact, six-hundred years after his death, and then brought here were a mausoleum in his honor was built.

Unfortunately, the tomb is closed to non-Muslims, but we got to drive through town and see the hustle and bustle of it – as one of the holiest sites in Morocco, many pilgrims come this way.

Moulay Idriss Zerhoun

The ride from Moulay Idriss Zerhoun to Meknes was short – around 30 minutes. At this point we went through a mountain pass and there we were on another plain, as fertile as the previous one.

Meknes is the more modest of the four imperial capitals – also because it was the center of Imperial Morocco only for a few decades. Moulay Islaim, the brother of the founder of the Alawite dynasty, made Meknes his capital in 1672 and reign from here for fifty-five years. Still, the city has a host of great sights.

We entered through the Bab el-Khemis gate (Bab means gate), which was majestic.

The center of the city is Place Lahdim. This is a quintessentially Moroccan square, flanked by cafes, sellers, magicians, snake enchanters – with the benefit of being much less touristy than Marrakech’s Jma el-Fnaa. As we reached Meknes around lunch time, we took a front-view seat on the terrace of the Pavillon des Idrissides, a cafe with unremarkable food but spectacular views over the square.

Place Lahdim

Snake enchanter, monkey, and ostrich

While the food wasn’t too memorable, it wasn’t bad either – we had our first cous-cous of the trip which was something to remember anyways.

The main feature of Place Lahdim is surely Bab el-Mansour, the old entrance to Dar el-Kbir, the Royal neighborhood of Meknes. The gate is consider the grandest gate of all Morocco – and with just merit. The elaborate and zellij and inscriptions across the top make this gate a true gem.

Bab al-Mansour

Another feature of Meknes is its authentic medina. You won’t find any tourist here – only local going about their business. Because of that, this is the most authentic medina we visited – the only one that really gave us a feeling of being lost in a maze. Fantastic!

The most authentic Meknes medina

Bread – with honey and olives the true lifeline of Morocco

Hospitality

While the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail is closed for renovation, the Royal City is a nice area where to take a walk. The Koubbat as-Sufara, once the hall where foreign ambassadors where received, lies here, as well as extensive underground prisons.

Minaret

The underground prisons of Meknes

A short drive away lies the Bassin Souani, a water repository right outside the Royal City and popular hangouts with locals.

 

Bassin Souani

Right behind it the Stables and imposing granaries are a sight not to be missed. It’s hard to describe, but walking through these dark, big chambers really brings you back in time.

The Imperial Stables and granary

Perspective

I can easily say this was a great day! Volubilis, Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, and Meknes are a short ride away from Fez, and any hotel or riad will be able to arrange a day tour for you. I highly recommend you take the chance to visit this slightly off-the-beaten path cities, as you’ll be rewarded with few tourists and an authentic Moroccan feeling.

May 3, 2017 / oneworld82

A Moroccan honeymoon

After an extenuating wedding planning (and a fun Wedding Day), we were finally ready for our honeymoon.

While we had originally planned to go to Rwanda and DR Congo for our honeymoon, the “surprise” of a second pregnancy made us change plan and postpone that dream trip of mine by a year. So I asked my sweet wife where she wanted to go for our honeymoon, and as she seemed very interested in Morocco I decided to make it happen – after all, I had never been to  the Maghreb, the country has a wealth of cultural and natural sights, and the food is really good.

Planning turned out to be not that difficult at all; Morocco is a well-traveled country, and even though the majority of tourists venture out only to Marrakech and Agadir, the rest of the country sees enough tourists each year to have a solid holiday infrastructure.

After buying the ever critically-important Lonely Planet guidebook, we decided that we would fly into Tangier to the North, hire a driver to get us to UNESCO World Heritage Site-Tetouan, spend a night in the Blue City of Chefchaouen, before heading south to Fez to visit Meknes, Volubilis, and Moulay…; after three nights there we would join a private tour that would take us to Merzouga (via the mountains of the Middle-Atlas) to spend a night in the picture-perfect Erg Chebbi. Then we’d continue to the Todra Gorges, Ouarzazate, and Ait Benhaddou, before spending the last couple of days in Marrakech. To top the vacation off, we’d spend the last two nights in Paris (why not?), and we’d have our first Three Michelin Star dinner.

To be honest, the whole trip got us very excited given the diversity of sceneries we’d encounter along our honeymoon. The weather promised to be cold the first 2-3 days, but then sun and warmth were poised to kiss us.

We booked our outbound on American Airlines to Madrid and then on Iberia to Tangier, and then we’d fly Air France to Paris and Lufthansa back to Dallas.

We packed a mix of warm and light clothes, grabbed a Uber, and we were at the airport ready to go!

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