Valencia

When you visit Valencia you go to see the Cathedral, the Basilica and the Palace, right?  So we went to the beach! I guess we were ready for a break!

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Maybe we were not that bad, we did walk around the ‘old town’

and see the two remaining gates, the Madrid Gate facing north and the Barcelona Gate facing east.

We also visited the Mercado, a really impressive iron and glass art nouveau building with a huge range of fish, meat, ham, poultry, breads, fruit, vegs, cakes, wine and coffee shops all under the one roof.

Probably most interesting was the River Turia which surrounds the city on three sides, except it is no longer there. Apparently it flooded a lot, so the city rerouted it away from the city centre and the old river bed is now a 9 km long park, about 300 metres wide.  It has a running track, bicycle track, numerous sporting fields, children’s play area, dog areas and plenty of trees for shady walks.  Extremely beautiful and fascinating as the old river bridges are still there spanning the park, some medieval, others 20thcentury.

Near to where the river mouth used to be (and hence the area is wider) is the best aquarium (the Oceanografic) we have ever seen. We started with the dolphin show: think Taronga but 10 times bigger, with up to 10 dolphins preforming at once.

From the surface the actual park does not look much, but that’s because all the aquariums are underground.

There are at least 8 different ‘tanks’, including sharks and rays, tropical, Mediterranean, polar, temperate, Red Sea and mangroves. All the tanks are walk through, ie they all have viewing from above, below and inside!  We arrived there at about 7 pm (the park stays open until midnight – we are in Spain after all) and only left when we were too weary to walk and could not visually absorb more fish! To get a real feel for the place, go to the web site: www.oceanografic.org.

Also plenty of birds to see.

One more thing about the Oceanografic, they are keen on protecting different species.  There is a turtle rehabilitation pool and the sign indicated that they had returned 70 turtles to the oceans.  There is also a jelly fish breeding program – you must admit that’s quite unique!

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Most of our day was spent on La Malva Rosa beach, sitting under a palm umbrella on sun lounges, occasionally having a dip to cool off and reading something totally unrelated to our travels.

We managed to walk 20 metres from our towels to the restaurant on the beach and enjoyed a great seafood paella with wine for lunch before returning to have a little siesta.

Madrid

A short drive from Toledo meant that we had an afternoon plus the next two whole days in Madrid, but a lot to see.  Madrid is known for its art galleries and we did want to see three of them, the Prado, the National Centro de Arts Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza, so spreading them out over the three days sounded like a plan.

 

first a walk to Plaza Mayor, created by demolishing a series of slums in the early 1800s

All these galleries open for free in the last 2 hours each day, say from 6 or 7pm so that was an initial thought. However, we eventually decided ‘why wait’ and went at 4pm to National Centro de Arts Reina Sofia and were glad we did. Free they may be from 7pm, however the line can be up to an hour long and, as old codgers over 65 we got in for free or half price anyway!

We don’t have too many pictures of our hours of viewing, we couldn’t take many photos. Picasso’s Guernica is clearly the highlight of National Centro de Arts Reina Sofia, with all its emotive background and then history of its travels outside of Spain after the 1937 Paris exhibition until democracy was returned. Other notable artists were there as well and we managed a few snaps!

We crossed the road from our apartment. Oh, did I say Ros found an apartment in the no car quarter of Madrid, but with parking around the corner! Very handy to walk everywhere. The first night we had tapas for dinner at the local restaurant and met two guys in town for the recent Madrid Gay Pride Event. We had a great time talking to them about the world in general (The gay Pride event and this explained the numerous same sex couple we saw while we were there!)

Next morning we joined a city tour, again not too many pictures but a lot of history. I had heard snippets of Spanish history over the past 8 weeks, but the guide really did flesh it out for me especially the Habsburg and the Bourbon monarchs.

He also pointed out the plaques outside some of the shops indicating that the business had been continually operating at the site for over 100 years.  One restaurant has been operating since 1725!

We spent a long afternoon and evening in the afternoon in the Prado. No photos allowed and really no commentary as it is impossible to comment on this enormous collection. It was interesting to see the originals of the El Greco paintings which had featured in the video about his style and technique. Also, some of the Rubens which did not have a religious bent were fantastic. Suffice it to say Ros was pretty much over religious artwork by the end and headed off upstairs to look at the fabulous decorative arts collection. The workmanship here was simply breathtaking and Ros was regretful she had not come earlier to see this collection Each piece was unique.

Next day a visit to the Palacio Real, again no photos, however one of the most lavishly decorated palaces I have seen, each room was an artwork in its own right. It is claimed to be the best in Palace in Europe.

An afternoon in the Thyssen-Bornemisza with its very varied collection.

There was also a Balenciaga temporary exhibition on here and this was fascinating as it paired the gowns designed by Balenciaga with the artworks he was exposed to at he time and which influenced him. The originals of these artworks had been specially brought in for the exhibition so that you could clearly see the influence of these painters and their works on Balenciaga’s gowns.

That evening we did another fabulous food tour which took in some of the oldest tapas bars in Madrid as well as covering some of the history of the city.

The highlight of the night was Meson Del Champinon specialising in stuffed mushrooms cooked over a hot plate and then to be eaten with two toothpicks!

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Toledo

The town that connotes all that is Spanish – Toledo – the town on the hill surrounded on three sides by the Rio Tajo with its massive alcazar and cathedral showing on the skyline.

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Again Ros found a cute apartment in, wait for it, the Jewish Quarter!  Very decorated with lots of mirrors to bring in the light, just that it was in a no car area so we set out from the car park (first instructions were daunting – head uphill) but found it after a circle or two.

In the morning we joined a walking tour which took us past the highlights: the Zocodover, Alcazar, early morning street cleaning,

mosque, cathedral, monasteries, convents,

a work of art, looking like a stagnant puddle, synagogue, and finally back to the Jewish Quarter!

While the town was important to the Romans and Visigoths and until the 16thcentury for the Spanish nobility, after the capital was moved north to Madrid it declined. However as it was still an important town for the church, numerous orders moved into the cheap real estate and established numerous monasteries and convents. As more real estate became available each institution expanded and then as properties across the road were added, bridges were added to join the properties resulting in many covered alleyways.

At the end if the walk we spent some time in the El Grego Museum where only a few originals were hung, but copies of the most important plus a video describing the highlights of his technique were of interest.  The museum was set up by a private individual who purchased the property believing it to have been El Greco’s actual home: bad luck it was across the street and long since knocked down!

In the afternoon I set off on my own and visited the military museum inside the alcazar – not all that well set out with numerous seeming unrelated rooms and exhibitions rooms. However I did like the model soldiers and some of the historic displays.

I found a pub for a beer and a nibble with the TV showing a bull fight so that kept me interested for an hour.

Because it’s there and as I had not seen a cathedral for at least 2 days I ventured into the  cathedral. Lots of gold and statutes however probably worth the cost in the end just for the following two pieces of art work: the beauty and smile on the madonna’s face and the sun rays coming out of the plaster work especially.

And then there is the monstrance in gold and so detailed plus the alter 4 stories high

then the chapterhotse with a picture of every bishop from antiquity!

 

Driving in Spain

You quickly become aware when driving in Spain that this country is simply an enormous producer of olives and olive oil and its various bi-products. I think we may have mentioned this before, however it becomes glaringly obvious when driving between Seville, Granada and Toledo.

There are simply millions of olive trees across this huge region and they stretch from visual horizon to horizon and beyond. The hills in the distance are dotted with serried rows of olive trees marching in uniform lines across paddocks up distant hills and then silhouetted on the hilltops. The road winds around hillsides and more olives stretch out in front of you.

Agriculture is extremely important to Spain’s economy, being the third largest contributor to the country’s GDP. This comes behind tourism and manufacturing, particularly pharmaceuticals and automobiles.

Driving also revels the diversity of agriculture in the country as well as giving you glimpses of the lovely, generally white, villages and small towns, often topped by an old castle or fortification and often surrounded by olive groves.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the only thing Spain produces is olives and olive oil, however when you drive through the country the huge newly harvested fields of grain crops, swathes of sunflowers, vineyards, legumes and other vegetable crops, you come to realise there is far more to Spain’s agriculture than olives. Summer is of course a time for harvesting and people can be seen working in the fields.

The roads are good, with even the secondary roads being well paved and a pleasure to drive on. Motorways, some with tolls and some without, connect all major cities. We have been using both types of roads depending on where we are going and how soon we want to arrive! With Goldie humming along in her usual reliable fashion it was time to once again think thankfully of Stuart Ratcliff in Sydney who has prepared the car so well for us for these long trips, and Malcolm Beer in the UK who has kept her in such fine fettle for the last couple of years.

Driving from Cordoba to Toledo we were using the motorway but decided we needed to take a break and do a little backroad driving. Our first thought was to stop in the town of Valdepeñaswhich is the centre of the huge wine growing region  of La Mancha, the biggest single wine region in the world. We looked at the possibility of visiting a bodega in this town and tried two before admitting defeat. Despite the fact that both were supposedly open until 2.00pm, and we arrived at 1.30pm, Spanish siesta had obviously beaten us! The beautiful main street, lined with amphorae, pays tribute to the regions importance as a wine producer.

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The next thought was to go tilting at windmills. When I was growing up my Dad endlessly encouraged me to be a good and wide reader, as he was himself. During my early teens he introduced me to the Man of La Mancha, Don Quixote, his steed, Rocinante, and his sidekick Sancho Panza. I loved the story of this completely unworldly but crazy character. When in Spain in 1975 I bought Dad a carved wooden set of these two characters and, although Dad is no longer alive, I still have them today.

One of the most endearing parts of the novel is Don Quixote’s ‘tilting at windmills’ a saying which has entered the English language and has stuck. If you are searching the unattainable or fighting imaginary enemies then you are tilting at windmills. Don Quixote’s windmills still exist in the town of Consuegra, which was not that far out of our way. So having failed to find an open bodega we set off for Consuegra.

We had had no lunch and it was getting lateish, though not by Spanish timeframes, when John spotted a large building approaching. It became apparent that it was attached to a winery and boasted a restaurant, so we parked Goldie in the shady carpark. This was a great find as the waitress organised a wine tasting for us, provided us with cheese bread and Iberian ham as well as a commentary on the wines and we settled in to relax and enjoy ourselves.

Then it was on to Consuegra to tilt at Don Quixote’s windmills. The windmills can be seen from some distance away, however these are not the originals. We did, however find the originals. Such a pity I cannot take one of the pictures below home to Dad.

Then it was on to Toledo.

Cordoba

Cordoba set in the middle of Audalucia could be seen as a bit of a one attraction town because the attraction, the Mezquita a mosque with a cathedral inside, is so amazing!

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A bit difficult finding the hotel: Ros is great at booking little interesting accommodation in the Jewish Quarter of the ‘old town’ and this was no exception.  This time I was the navigator and we ended up with many locals telling us we cannot drive up this or that street.  Finally we just stopped and I went walking to try to find the La Llave de la Juderia Hotel: up a narrow street with tables and chairs, along a one way (other way of course) street and asked how we could get there. Oh, you need to do a complete loop of the town and come in from the back.  Lucky we left Granada with plenty of time to make the tour at 1:15.  Ros has decided that she will navigate into towns form now on!

We joined a tour of the Mezquita in the Patio de los Naranjos, a courtyard with orange trees, minaret (now a bell tower) and fountains (for Muslim washing) before entering the Mezquita, colloquially known as the mosque cathedral.

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Dating back to the 12thcentury, the mosque has subsequently being enlarged 3 times so today its 2,400 square metres (about 2.5 hectacres or 6.25 acres) with these amazing white and ochre columns, all remaining 850 of them.

And then right bang in the middle is a gothic cathedral with all the bells and whistles expected of such a cathedral!  The cathedral sort of ‘pops’ out of the roof of the mosque: the mosque is flat and then in the middle are these gothic flying arches holding up the cathedral dome about 4 times higher than the surrounding roof. Also, the Christians have filling in quite a few of the arches and added smaller chapels and alters both around the outside and even within the open spaces. It is thought that originally there were around 1300 columns, with only 850 there today.

As we have seen before, the mosque was not the first religious building on the site: the tiled floor of a Roman temple can be seen through a glass window in the floor. And then above that are the remains of a Visigoth Christian church.

The mosque itself was not built all at once. Interestingly, the columns in the mosque are not uniform as the building was constructed using relics from the previous buildings: some columns are marble, some alabaster, and for the most recent extension painted to look like marble!  Additionally the cathedral is not the first, a smaller cathedral was built inside the mosque with the ceiling decoration and a few tombs remaining to show where it was.

An amazing building well worth while making the journey to Cordoba, even if the rest of the town was a bit ‘plain’ after the other amazing Spanish (and Moroccan) towns we have visited on this trip.

At the suggestion of Alberto, the owner of the hotel we had dinner on the roof top of Pepe’s restaurant with a nice cooling breeze as the sum slowly set.

I have just reread the guide books and I have missed one of the attractions of Cordoba: getting lost in the Jewish Quarter: well I guess we did that, but not on foot!

A little postscript: we are acclimatising to Spanish weather and lifestyle.  As to weather, the morning are quite cool (22 deg) and during the day it gradually gets hotter and hotter until about 8pm in the evening when it starts to cool down. Yesterday it was 24 at 9am, 27 at 10am, 30 at 11 am, 33 at noon and kept on going!  On lifestyle, we have worked out to mentally set our clock back 2 hours: breakfast at 10am, lunch a 4pm, dinner at 9pm and bed around midnight (and even then there is still a lot open and the streets are full of Spaniards enjoying the tapas and bars)!

Another post script, Jewish Quarters: every town seems to have them and they always have narrow twisting lanes with the buildings close together.  Sometimes even their own wall within the city walls as protection or in Morocco they were inevitably just next door to the royal palace also for protection.  Now however there are no Jews living there.  They either got expelled (or killed or forcibly converted) during the inquisition (Spain) or left to Israel (Morocco).  All the towns still use the expression Jewish Quarter to nominate a part of the town and it is on every the tour itinerary, with the statement ‘get lost in the Jewish Quarter’! Sometimes there is a synagogue, although it now might be a museum and would have a history of uses: hospital, storeroom, barracks etc.

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Granada

If you travel through Spain then a trip to Granada is worthwhile if only to see the Alhambra, including the Alcabaza, the Generalife and the Palacios Nazaries.

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The Alcazaba

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Palace of Charles V

I had read everywhere that it was essential to book tickets for the Alhambra online and early as the tickets sold out quickly. So I did, booking a guided tour which began at 8.00am. An early start was an excellent idea as there were not so many people around and you avoided the worst heat of the day. Yes, summer is here and it is getting progressively hotter as we head towards August.

Booking the tickets was a bit of an exercise and I had eventually picked a tour which did not include the Nasrid palaces, a bit of a stupid mistake! However, I asked our guide about tickets to this later in the day, yes there were some still available late afternoon. As it is still light at 9.30pm this was not a problem, so out came the phone and I booked a 6.30pm entry to the palaces. What did we do before mobile phones?

The Alhambra was built during the reign of the Nasrid dynasty and the complex comprises the partially excavated ruins of the 13thcentury Alcazaba, the Generalife the private country estate of the Nasrid kings, the Nazarid Palaces and gardens, and the 16thcentury Palace of Charles V, all set in extensive parklands and woodlands.

The tour of the Alcazaba ruins was fascinating as just the sheer size of the complex which had been here was impressive.

The views back over the city from the tower were also well worth the climb.

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The Generalife and its gardens is exquisite. We were there early morning anf the gardeners were out in force. The size and scope of the gardens demand constant attention and as much of the gardens is planted out with annuals then upkeep is essential.

A feature of all Moorish gardens is the recreation of nature and the use of water and in these gardens fountains and pools constantly gave the impression of a cool space even as the day warmed up.

In the Generalife this staircase had water flowing down channels on either side of the stairs. This had a twofold effect, to bring water from the reservoir on the hill, via gravity to the palace and its gardens and second to provide a shady and cool summer retreat from the heat.

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The Moorish Nasrid Palaces took us back to Morocco with the use of mosaic tiles and intricately carved ceilings and columns.

There were numerous courtyards in the palace, again water and greenery were a strong focus.

One large courtyard had a spectacular lion fountain in its centre. Each lion is different, all are carved from marble, as is the fountain itself.

We spent some time wandering through the lovely city of Granada itself, notable for its lovely old buildings with the Moorish legacy seen in the many fountains throughout the city. An interesting feature is the shaded streets, and these huge ssil like shades do significantly reduce the heat in the streets. This is also a very clean city, these troops of cleaners do a fantastic job at ensuring the streets are a pleasure to walk around.

We also spent time wandering the winding and narrow streets of the Albaicin, the oldest part of the city. Here streets are so narrow a large car or van would simply not fit. It is obvious to see where many may have tried and failed!

 

 

 

Costa del Sol

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Could this be heaven?

A lovely drive along the Mediterranean Coast of Spain. Numerous beaches and a golf course every 10 kms!

A bit like driving on the Gold Coast, except four times as long. From La Linea in Spain (just outside Gibraltar and named as in ‘the line of fire ‘ into Gibraltar) to Malaga there is just one long strip of high rise / resorts / villas.

At one time we headed off the Gold Coast Highway equivalent (and yes there was a motorway inland from that) and tackled the narrow lanes down to the sea side.

A stop for coffee by the sea

Then we headed inland to Cordoba and were amazed by the numerous olive trees in the countryside. Ros later looked up Spanish olive production: over 5 mil tones of olives and 1.15 million tones of oil, more that double the next biggest supplier, Italy and far ahead of Australia (about 200,000!). And, extraordinary as this must sound, Australia exports extra virgin olive oil to Spain!

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An easy drive along an empty motorway, quite new and hilly. With interesting crash warning signs.

Gibraltar

An early start from our hotel in Tangier as we needed to catch a ferry to Spain and drive to Gibraltar: 3 borders and one hour time loss!

To leave Morocco the car was x-rayed: the last time this was done was when we arrived in Turkmenistan so we knew the drill!  However an advertised 35 minute crossing does take a bit longer: at least an hour before and sitting on the boat ready to leave and Spanish immigration on the other side.  An interesting touch of Australia, we crossed to Morocco on a fast cat built in Tasmania and then back to Spain on a fast cat built in WA!

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Arriving in Gibraltar was a long wait, because …. the road in crosses to airstrip so cars and people have top wait whenever a plane lands or leaves.

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We checked into The Rock Hotel with great views over the bay back to Spain.

We then walked to the cable car to ride to the top, The Upper Rock Nature Reserve, but found a much better option: mini cab for 8 people to drive you up, stop at all the prime spots for about the same price and no walking at the top.  A very well organised arrangement as the roads are all one way and very narrow so the cabs just queue behind each other and there is an allocated time at each stop off, so while everyone keeps to the time, then the queue moves along in order.

First stop was a look out to Morocco, not quite so exotic as we’d been there 4 hours before! Then along to the St Michael’s Cave, believed at one time to be an underground passage to Africa, but the route is still not found.

The cave is lit in changing colours and can seat 600 for performances.  it was an emergence hospital during WWII.

Next stop the Apes’ Den, where a few families of very domesticated Barbary macaques were waiting for us.

Quite comfortably jumping on to the taxi to receive a peanut, or better still on your shoulders.

Apparently the apes were brought to Gibraltar by the British as an emergency food supply!  They are all tagged and vet checked on a regular basis with records kept of new births and deaths.

Back down to sea level and a walk along good old England complete with red phone boxes, warm beer, and pounds sterling. Even a statue of Nelson!

A walk along the many marinas to remind us that we are now on the Med.  Lazy approach to dinner, on the deck of the hotel watching thew sun set as we enjoyed duck with a great Spanish red.

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One last thing before we leave, the ubiquitous trip to DHL for the parcel home.  We were very luck to meet Greg the franchisee who assisted us on rates to Australia.

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Rabat and return to Tangier

Leaving Marrakech we had an uneventful drive up the coast to Rabat, the political capital of Morocco. Arriving in Rabat we met up with our local guide, Abdul, for a walking tour of the city, both old and new.

We began at the walls of the old town which were built  in two distinct periods, though you need to be a better historian than us to tell the difference. Walking through the gate was a little like reentering Chefchouan as many of the houses are painted blue, at least the bottom half. Again, the reason given is that blue deters mosquitos.

We wandered through the old town and out onto a viewing platform, once used by pirates to control the entrance to the city, which overlooks the main city beaches, one ocean facing and one more harbour facing. If you ever thought Bondi was crowded, then think again. These beaches were wall to wall umbrellas and the water teeming with people.

Then we returned to the old town to see the oldest mosque in the city, the trendiest bar which overlooks the harbour beaches, some beautiful city gardens.

Also on the itinerary we saw the old Rue de Consuls where the international representatives to the city once lived.

The government has recognised that maintaining the old city is important both culturally, socially and from an economic point of view as this s the main focal point of tourism in the city. As such, the souk area is being restored to ensure its longevity. This restoration is very obvious in many areas especially as the old lattice bamboo ceilings have been replaced with wooden lattice work sympathetic to the original design and the shop front doors have all been replaced in wood (no metal doors here!). Much of the souk and old Jewish quarter are now turned over to shops targeting tourists, however the vegetable markets, woodworking section and textile section are all still very much there for the locals.

Many of the old buildings residential are also being restored, including this wedge shaped building which was simply originally built to fit the wedge shaped block on which it sits.

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We then visited the mausoleum of Mohammad V which has been built adjacent to a huge mosque which has never been finished. The minaret, also never completed, closely resembles the one we saw in Seville, now the bell tower of the Seville cathedral. Adjacent to the mausoleum is a separate relatively modern mosque and an area reserved for the Royal family. Guards are present at both the entrance to and inside the mausoleum, which is extravagantly decorated, and the steps up the the building ae flanked by huge shiny brass urns. (I wonder who cleans them?)

The new part of the city, the Ville Nouveau, is quite modern. We passed a Greek Orthodox church and then found our way to the main thoroughfare. This is a very wide boulevard with a huge fountain at its centre and grassed walkway between the two roadways. There are some lovely old colonial era buildings along the street as well as the current parliament house.

We stayed in a beautiful hotel, Villa Mandarin, in the suburbs. It was actually a relief to just drive into the hotel grounds and park the car! This is a beautiful hotel with stunning gardens and lovely areas for sitting and relaxing. The hotel has a book with every plant in the garden photographed and listed with both botanical and common names beside the photograph. Absolutely fascinating to browse through. The resident peacocks, peahens and chicks visited at breakfast time. We met the manager, Greg, as he saw our car in the car park and came looking for us. Greg had lived in Brisbane for eleven years and was fascinated by our journeys. If you are heading to Rabat, this is the place to stay.

The next day we headed back to Tanger for a last night in Morocco. Much of. the route was lined with huge covered greenhouses in which bananas were growing. Often behind these tents we could see Sandhills!

Along the way we visited two seaside resorts. The first, Moulay Bousselham, was much more casual and down market then the second, though it did have a good looking beach.

The second town, Asilah, was much more upmarket with garish pink horse drawn carriages, camels on the beach, long beaches with lots of rentable umbrellas and restaurants and coffee shops galore.

We did stop for coffee but as the maitre d’ went to great pains parking the car close so that we could see it, we ended up having lunch! We thought we were ordering a small kebab, we ended up with a huge plate of fried fish, sardines, prawns, calamari and extras! Luckily two cats turned up to help us with the quantity of fish to be consumed.

Then it was back to Tanger to the Hotel Villa de France and the same small local restaurant we had dined in on our first night in Morocco.

Kasbah Bab Ourika

A holiday break at Kasbah Bab Ourika was our next move.

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Firstly farewell to Marrakesh

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Even more relaxing, we were driven there by the team which meant we could totally chill out.  we walked through the front door and did not walk out until it was time to leave two nights later.

The accomodation was great, an entrance room, bedroom and private garden with lounges.

Set high on a ridge jutting out from the High Atlas, Kasbah Bab Ourika had amazing views in 3 directions

With numerous spots to sit and relax.

Or sit around the pool

We left there probably too relaxed and needed to rev up to keep going.

Just to recap leaving Marrakesh…

Marrakech – Day 3

John went off to golf very early, I will let him give you a hole by hole account of that, while I had the luxury of a lie in and a late start. I was meeting up with Abdellah for a shopping tour of the souk. You can walk through on your own and never find the back alleys where goods are still being handmade on site and certainly you do not appreciate exactly what skills are being employed to produce the objects being sold in what are usually tiny shops.

Our first stop was back at the herb and spice shop we visited on the first day. I definitely wanted to buy some Ras el hanout to take home and, whereas saffron is ridiculously expensive in Sydney, here it is ridiculously cheap by comparison so that was also on my list. By the time we left the shop I had added a few other items to my list! It was all good fun, accompanied by some Royal tea, mostly mint with hot water and a little honey and maybe a hint of cinnamon. Very refreshing.

Walking across the square which leads to the souk we came across a whole range of plant stalls. We then entered the souk with its many alleyways selling everything you can imagine. Our first stop was at the first library/book shop in Marrakech. Owned by the same family since its inception in the early 1900s, sadly it has now become a café. It had remained a library/bookshop until the current generation took over after their father’s death and for them it was a better money making proposition as a café.

There are so many crafts on display in the souk it is certainly hard to see them all, yet alone come to grips with the skills of the craftsmen. We visited a family run jewellery business where you can select your beads or rare stones and your design and have a piece of jewellery specially crafted to your taste. The shop was a veritable Aladdin’s cave. Not being a great jewellery buyer it is hard to get me interested in the possibility of buying jewellery and as I was not sure about the antique bracelet I liked I decided to wait and see what else I might find on what could easily turn into a shopping spree. Many of the crafts in Morocco are so beautiful and exotic it is hard not to get carried away!

That was certainly the case in the antique store we visited next (no photos allowed) and although he was interested in explaining what things were and what they were used for I was still conscious that really he was more anxious for a sale than simply to display his lovely and interesting antiques.

We did visit a clothing business which was, again, a long standing, family run affair. I was a bit overwhelmed by the makeover store had recently undergone as this marble triple fronted store looked a bit too glamorous for the souk. Abdellah had said repeatedly that I was under no pressure to buy anything anywhere but being handed over to a person in the store who ostensibly shows you how things are made, and gives you some history of the business, and then wants to show you all the things you can possibly buy is definitely putting you into a pressurised position. I had fended off the young man successfully when we got a phone call to say John had finished golf and was joining us. This allowed me time to go back unobtrusively to look at a jacket I had seen and liked but did not want to be pressured into buying. I did eventually buy one, but only after careful trying on!

We visited the area of the souk where people bring their yarn to be dyed the colour of their choice, seeing both the natural dyes, which wont wash out, and the vats where the colours were set.

Along with thousands of scarfs, we were also shown cactus silk – absolutely amazingly soft and sensuous.

The next part of the souk to be visited was the section where beautiful wooden pieces are made. We saw one craftsman holding some tool with his toes while turning a tiny piece of wood.

Some of the pieces were stunningly beautiful and intricately inlaid, while some boxes were impossible to open unless you know their secrets. Some woodworkers make high end pieces, others make kitchens utensils, beautiful cutting boards and platters. The aromas from the different woods used, which in the kitchen places were very present as nothing was varnished, was wonderful.

We also saw cobblers at work, one making the soles and heels of shores before passing these over to another cobbler who was hand stitching the tops to the soles. Painstaking and hard work; how strong must this gentleman’s fingers and hands be!

In another section iron mongers were at work making, among other things metal, beautiful door knockers and amazing locks.

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We stopped in on the hammam fire feeder. His job is to sit here all day feeding the fire which heats the water for the hammam. He uses whatever there is available which people need to get rid of. When we visited he was feeding the fire with leather offcuts! When not feeding the fire he sits and plays for his visitors on a beautiful old Moroccan stringed instrument.

Our final stop was at a light shop, and John got completely carried away. Do you remember I could not buy either a small fountain or even smaller metal horse because of the space constraints in an MGB? Well, John fell in love with the beautiful filigreed Moroccan brass lights and thought he knew just where ‘we’ could hang one. When the shop owner named the price with shipping even John baulked. Then Abdellah got involved and showed the shop owner a picture of pour car. All of a sudden it was important that we could afford to buy a light to take back to Australia. Could we carry it ourselves? ‘Of course’, says John! So, having established what our budget was off the owner went on a hunt through the back reaches of the shop and low and behold – two options! So, where do we put a largish filigree brass light in an MG? This little quandary is yet to be solved.

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Now for the important post: Marrakech Royal Golf.  In planning our trip to Morocco we were fortunate to be introduced to Carol who runs the wholesale travel business ‘By Prior Arrangement’, fortunate because Carol had lived in Morocco for 20 years and has been running bespoke tours for as many years.  When she visited us to plan out trip I was about to head out to golf, so a round at Marrakech Royal Golf was added in. The previous king, Hassan II liked golf and as a consequence there are golf courses in each city, sometimes in the botanic gardens or on land provided by the king: indeed, in Meknes the course is inside the Royal Palace.

An early start and an enjoyable round, albeit on my own, a few pars and overall I was quite surprised at how well in played after more than 2 months without lifting a golf club. There are two courses and you can see how the ‘Old’ course is based around the old clubhouse (no longer used), while the ‘New’ course is set around the very specular new clubhouse.  As renovations were underway the course was made up of the first nine on the ‘New’ course set through an oil grove and the back nine on the ‘Old’ course which was set with palm and eucalyptus trees.

Thanks again to Soufiane and Kahlid for driving me there and back.  Which brings up the point that Carol has a great team on the ground in Morocco.  We have had outstanding guides in each city who have gone out of their way to show us around plus in Marrakech the care and attention of the transport team of Soufiane and Kahlid. They found underground parking for Goldie, dropped us off and picked us off each day (even if the trip was only 500 metres) and drove us to the desert camp and to the Kashbah (that’s tomorrows update).

We know that they all were somewhat surprised that we arrived in our own car, an old one at that and one that we have driven to so many places. We were the first clients not to be driven from city to city, so that may have added a special something.

Well done to our new Moroccan friends.

 

 

 

 

Marrakesh Day 2

Today started with an early morning horse carriage around the Ville Nouvelle.  it seems that each Moroccan city has a French new town outside the Medina built form 1913 when the French protectorate started.  These Ville Nouvelle have wide streets set out in a planned pattern (sometimes semi circular, sometimes square) and post independence became popular with the locals.  so much sop that the old cities fell into disrepair until the historical importance was realised (UNESCO heritage all off them) and it then has become groovy to live there.

The carriage dropped me at the Majorelle Gardens at 8:45, unseemly early but for the good reason that the first bus arrives at 9am and I had 15 peaceful minutes!

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The gardens were originally the work of Jaques Majorelle beginning in 1923 and improved through his life time.  When he died they fell into disrepair until Yves Saint-Laurent fell in love with them and restored them.

The street is named after him and there is a monument to both YSL and Pierre Berge

As well as numerous cactus (over 400 varieties) there is Jaques Majorelle studio in deep blue.

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A central water feature, with the inevitable cat

And then by 9:15 the place was full of selfie taking posing (mostly Chinese by the looks of it) tourists.

A few last pictures and then off we go

A mid morning walk around the souk (but more on that tomorrow):

Before we headed off for a desert experience with a candle lit dinner.  First the drive there with various views…

then a wander around the camp site..

plenty of spots to watch the view (sand?)

or to stay overnight or sit around the pool

and then the candle lit dinner

or in case you missed it, a camel ride (we didn’t having ridden camels in Sudan, Egypt, Uzbekistan and Cable Beach!)

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Marrakech Day 1

After a leisurely breakfast under the orange trees with the fragrance of blossom and roses in the air we joined Abdellah our guide for the day on a trip around the historical sites of Marrakech.

We started at one of the many gates into the medina, this one made of slate.  We have moved from the tiles and colours of Fes, often referred to as the ‘red city’, to the red earth area of Morocco and here the stone is slate.

The slate gate and Abdellah with his hood up

Our first stop is at the Saadian Tombs which were used from the 16thto 18thcentury and were then deliberately closed off by Moulay Ismail and forgotten until 1917 when the French flew over and saw what was inside. Originally tombs from the Almohad times (1200s), and then during the Saadian reign they were expanded and beautifully built and elaborately decorated.  One room contains the tomb of Ahmed el-Mansour plus his son, another contains his mother. One ceiling is entirely covered in gold leaf.

I always say these trips improve my history – I can not say I am fully aware of the dynasties of rulers in Morocco, plus the European interests but it’s a lot more detailed than it was two weeks ago!

Outside the door of the tombs was a water man: a career in carrying water for people to drink: ringing a bell to let people know he is there. The outfit is a uniform and the red relates to his role in being a fireman as well.

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During our walk around Ros could not stop taking pictures of doors, and there are certainly many beautiful wooden ones still to be seen, although unfortunately the cost of cedar is encouraging people to replace the old wooden doors with metal ones.

A visit to an herb shop was unbelievable for the range and quantity of herbs in stock.  Herbs for sicknesses, for beauty, for cooking, for dying material, for scrubbing the body, plus oils from numerous plants. Recently Ros went looking for the herb Ras el hanout in Sydney for a Moroccan influenced recipe she was trying out, but it was not readily available. Here it is piled up in heaps in large vats and you can buy as much as you want. Made up on 24 spices this is one of the most used spice preparations in Morocco.

We then visited El-Badi Palace, built in the late 1500s by Ahmed el Mansour after he had defeated the Portuguese in 1578. El-Badi, meaning ‘the Incomparable’ is one of the 99 names of Allah and it was certainly intended to be incomparable.

Unfortunately, like the tombs, El-Badi Place was came to the notice of Moulay Ismail who essentially destroyed it for its materials, which he then used in Meknes.  Today we see the empty rooms and some renovation work. Still impressive, especially themassive courtyard with what would have been beautiful and cooling pools, despite the loss of so much detail.

What was originally there, what was found in the 1900s and what’s there today

Palace Bahia, which means ‘Palace of the Favourite’ was built in the late 1800s by a father and son who were each the visor to the young king Moulay Abdelaziz. It is build around two courtyards with apartments looking out into the courtyards.

Most notable are the ceilings in the apartments: beautifully carved and painted wood with every room being different.

As well as the visors own apartments, plus the apartments for the 4 wives, there is the children’s area, the gardens for growing fruit and veg plus the reception rooms.

A quick walk through the main square, Place Jemaa el-Fna, filled with horse carriages and snake charmers and monkey handlers and other tourist attractions.

Then across the road to see the Koutoubia Mosque, or more particularly the Minaret, which, if you look closely the resemblance to the minaret/bell tower on the Seville Cathedral is undeniable. It was indeed built by the same sultan, Yacoub el-Mansour at a time when the Moors ruled southern Spain!

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Again, as the hotel is a house,  a riad, it had no parking. The travel agency took pity on Goldie and arranged for us to park in the underground car park of their office. It would appear that we are the first ever customers they have hosted who have driven themselves, rather then hiring a car and driver for the visit.

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Abdellah wants it for himself

Dinner that night at the latest hip spot, The Clock, owned by the same English guy who owns the Scorpion in Meknes, where we had lunch a few days before.  Unfortunately, a bit too hippy for us, the music was local (billed as the sounds of the Sahara) and loud and the food, a cross between European and Moroccan, failed on both measures. The dreadlock and tatts set seemed to be enjoying it!

We walked home via the local shopping streets, clearly local as there was quite a stampede on the shoes and kaftan stores.

Then to Place Jemaa el-Fna which had completely changed form the day time.  It was now the haunt of the locals with 100+ food stalls rolled in, various musical groups, games of chance plus numerous stalls for fruit and attractions.  We ventured up to the top floor balcony of one of the hotels and admired the view.

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From the balcony we could see a group of pigeons circling the plaza and then landing again, always in the same spot. When we later went to investigate this pigeon fancier and his homing pigeons were putting on a flight display and then the incredibly tame pigeons would sit on the shoulders and head of anyone willing to pay to have their photo taken adorned with pigeons. They were certainly well trained birds!

 

Yesterday  

(Well it was when I wrote it).

Out longest drive of this entire trip was from Fes to Marrakech, around 500 kms.  Although it would be quicker (albeit longer) on the motorways we choose to use the national road which took us through villages, valleys, the countryside and the Middle Atlas mountains.

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We set out even before our objective time of 9am and headed to the first intereting town of Ifrane, a town totally unlike any other we had seen or have seen since. With wide tree lined streets and Swiss chalet style house it seemed completely out of character. We learnt later that in winter it might snow, but we really could not see the need for the steeply pitched roofs. However, there they were.

Then, grumble and we had a flat tyre.  Ros acknowledged later that she had just been thinking that we hadn’t had a flat on this trip yet!  But we did. We were at the time outside the Royal Palace and the three guards we quite keen for us to drive on – but we just got out the jack and went to work.  Changed in 10 minutes and we drove around the corner and found a Shell garage with the right tools to repair.  As they also had a lubritorium I decided why not get the oil change done here rather than hassle some time later in a busy town.

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Over all a successful stop: repaired tyre, oil change all for $5 labour and materials!

We drove on through the towns of Azrou, Khenifra, Kasba Tadla, Beni Mellal plus numerous villages. While the previous drive we commented on the good road signs we quickly learned that we needed I Maps on the go through towns to help with those mysterious corners that sneak up on you.

The trip, while long, was not too onerous because Ros suggested we don’t rush.  We noticed a few days before when being driven around that slow is common.  Plus police are everywhere and all the locals are concerned to ensure they don’t speed. So, we proceeded at 60, or 80 but never 100!  There weren’t many 100 spots and they were usually only a few kilometres long anyway. Despite our conservativeness I did get stopped: very officially with the policeman standing on the road and directing me with meticulous hand signals, but once he found the driver’s side of the car the only question was ‘where are you from’ and then waved us off.

Hot and tired after 10 hours on the road we arrived at the door of the hotel to find the address was a tyre repair shop!  How coincidental.  The hotel was there: the fancy door next door with brass plates that shone in the sunlight and behold inside an amazing building with beautiful courtyards olive and orange trees (it is called Villa des Orangers!) and two swimming pools. We goofed off and had dinner around the pool!

Fes – day 2

Khalid met us in the morning to take us on a repechage of the souk tour delayed from Friday. Certainly far more interesting with many more stores open and much more activity. Look back to day one and the two pictures of closed wooden doors. The pictures below are of the same two streets but now with open shops. Whereas on Friday the city was quiet and hidden away behind closed doors, it is now bustling and crowded. Not only do people throng the streets, you also have to contend with hand drawn carts, donkey carts and motorcycles! It is obvious why Khalid thought we were missing out on seeing the medina in its true light.

It is fig season and they are in abundance in the markets. Also to be seen was a butcher whose was advertising that he had camel meat for sale by hanging the head outside the shop. Not something you want to bump into accidentally!

there were many fascinating areas of the souk area of Fes including the wedding area where dresses, accessories and bridal chairs could be purchased,

and the coppersmith square, Place seafaring, where coppersmiths have been practicing their craft for centuries. Oh for more space in the MG!

We looked at the outside of the Royal Palace, an enormous affair of 80 hectares, which the king visits sometimes. There are 12 royal palaces in Morocco. Although a constitutional monarchy, the king here is more than just a figurehead and is involved directly in decisions relating to the governing of the country. He even has a right of veto over government ‘cabinet’ appointments.

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We looked at the Bou Inania Medersa, built in the 14thcentury, the largest and most highly decorated medersa ever built by the Merinids. Interestingly it has a pulpit (you can see the staircase leading to this through the arch in the RH photo below) and a minaret. It has served as a mosque, a cathedral, students residence and school combined.

Also on the tour was the Blue Gate, one of the gates through which you enter the medina, while the other side of the gate is green, the colour of the city of Fes.

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Not far from the gate you come across the building in which the Independence manifesto was drawn up, while opposite it across the street is the list of 70 people who drew up the manifesto and signed it. This manifesto listed a series of reasons for demanding Moroccan independence from France and was delivered on 11 January 1944. This date is celebrated by Moroccans still today.

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While wandering through the city we walked through an entirely new section. Here old buildings, too far beyond repair to restore, were being replaced by a completely new complex. Architecturally this  new complex was completely sympathetic to the old. This new complex spans the river, Wadi Fes, which divides the medina in two.

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Our final stop was a museum featuring the woods and uses of the woods of Morocco. This museum is housed in an old fondouk, or caravanserai, and was turned into a museum as much to highlight the skilled artisanship of Moroccan wood craftsmen of all types as to ensure the survival of this beautiful old building where the skills of the wood carvers etc are very much  on show. The building’s courtyard with its beautiful wooden bannisters, railings and pillars is a masterpiece, while the building references its past with the huge public scales which were used in the building when it was used as a fondouk. The museum includes displays in different types of wood found in Morocco, woodworking tools and wooden furniture, boxes, marriage contracts etc.

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And I could not resist the offer of looking at carpets! So, off we went to this amazingly beautiful building, formerly a very palatial house, with more carpets in one space than I have ever seen. First we did see some of the women actually working on rugs, though many choose to work on the smaller pieces in their homes.

Then we had a look at a few rugs, Khalid assured us we were under no pressure to buy anything! The choice was bewildering but eventually we succumbed, the pressure being in the beauty of the rugs themselves.

Then it was farewell to our fabulous guide Khalid who has made this city live for us in so many ways.

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We goofed off in the afternoon: we have never found a city so intimidating, 9,672 streets in a rabbit warren maze after a long morning/ early afternoon left us easily using the excuse of needing to update the blog as an excuse to not hit the city streets yet again. Although we could probably have found our way around by the afternoon, laziness slipped in!

Dinner out at another recommended restaurant. This time more international, however in another amazing building. Here again we had a guide to take us to the restaurant. From outside there was nothing. The passageway wasn’t exciting, but inside was.

 

 

Fes to Mekness and Volubilis

We were picked up after breakfast by Abdul, our driver for the day, for visits to Mekness about an hour and forty five minutes drive from Fes, and then the Roman ruins of Volubilis, followed by lunch in a notable restaurant in a nearby town.

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The trip to Mekness was interesting as it highlighted for us just how fertile this region is and to what extent Morocco is still first and foremost an agricultural country. Abdul, who was obviously pleased to be able to practice his English, was keen to tell us all about the crops growing along the route. Olives, of course, as well as peaches and almonds dominated the orchards of fruit, while growing in the fields were sunflowers, beans, corn and also, on a scale which completely staggered us, onions.

There were also fields which had been newly harvested and Abdul informed us the main crops were wheat and barley.

The storks, as is usual, find high perches for their nests. This electricity tower seemed to have more than its fair share, however it was the only high vantage point around.

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We passed many villages on the way as well as some very weird houses in the middle of fields. These houses had garages of the ground floor and were then 3 or 4 stories high with the top storey jutting out from the others. Not a balcony in sight, and plenty of room around for a more sprawling house.

First stop was Mekness where we were met by a local guide, Benni. In total contrast to Fes, Mekness has wide streets, though the city walls still dominate the landscape. Mekness was founded in the 10thcentury but was overshadowed by its neighbour Fes until the reign of Moulay Ismail, beginning in 1672, when is was elevated to the status of an imperial city. Each successive ruling dynasty has moved the capital of Morocco to a different location, so Fes, Marrakech, Mekness and now Rabat have all at some time been regarded as the ‘capital’ of the country.

While in Mekness we visited the Bab El Mansour gate, said to be the most beautiful in all Mekness, if not all Morocco, and then the Basin de l’Aguedal, with a surface area of 40,000sq metres, the large water reservoir built within the Kasbah by Moulay Ismail and designed to supply water to the whole city, including the Imperial palace. Beside the basin was this extraordinary statue erected in 2007. Remember we are in a Muslim country but this is a statue of a person and one which has his hand out begging.

We also saw the Dar El Mar, another project by Moulay Ismail, designed to hold the town’s water reserves. This building contains 15 rooms each with a water wheel, once worked by horses, to draw water up from underground to then supply the city. Then it was on to see Heri es-Souni the grain store stables of the king. This was a huge building, with 29 massive aisles, and was used to store the grain for the 16,000 strong stable of horses owned by the king. The thickness of the walls, as well as the network of underground passageways maintained the internal temperature inside the grain store at a low and constant temperature.

The main square was busy with stalls and a beautiful fountain.

 

There used to be a royal palace here but it was demolished and has made way for, of all things, a golf course built inside the palace walls.

Inevitably you end up in a shop! In this shop a young man was demonstrating the art of applying, by hammering fine threads of metal to metal, the creation of intricate metal patterns on a variety of objects. The shop also sold table linen, hand embroidered by local women with traditional motifs. Much as I would have liked to bring home one of the metal horses, sense determined that a tablecloth which John particularly liked, was easier to transport in Goldie!

Then it was on to Volubilis. Originally settled by the Mauretanians in the 3rdcentury BC it was annexed by Claudius in 45 AD and became one of the most important cities in the region. Following the departure of the Romans it was next a Christian city and then an Islamic one. Eventually abandoned it disappeared until it was rediscovered in the 18thcentury and finally excavations begun in the 19thcentury.

Excavations have revealed a very Roman town featuring baths, oil presses, bakeries, aqueducts, drains and shops. The layout of the town is consistent with other Roman towns, with main gates at each end of main street and with most other streets set in a grid pattern. There is also a triumphal arch still remaining which was erected in 217 AD. The arch stands along the main street where you can still see the columns of the arcade which would have lined each side of the street.

The Capitol, also identifiable and with a sacrificial alter in the plaza bleow it, was where public rites in honour of the gods, possibly Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, were performed.

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Of real interest were the number of oil presses in the town. Most of the larger houses, those of the wealthy, appeared to have their own press and as well there was a very large press of commercial size in one house which, it is presumed, belonged to an olive oil merchant. Both the grinding stones and the channels carved into the base to carry away the oil can still be seen throughout the ruins.

The other extremely interesting feature of these ruins is the number of mosaic floors still in existence. These can be seen in many of the houses, whose outlines are still discernible, and whose detail is still incredibly clear and colours distinct. The other amazing aspect of this site is that these floors remain unprotected, they are simply exposed to all the elements, unlike the beautiful floors in Ephesus which are covered and well protected.

Other notable buildings still identifiable are the basilica, where the senate or curia would have met, the forum below this where all business would have been carried out and a market place adjoining this.

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Then we were whisked away to the town Moulay Idriss for lunch. The town square was alive with people and stalls and we also saw a newly married young woman having a henna pattern applied to her hand and wrist.

Lunch was served in the cool haven of a restaurant named The Scorpion. Established and owned by an expatriate Englishman, who also owns restaurants in Fes, Marrakesh and Rabat, this is also a small guest house. The house is perched high above the city with fabulous views.

It has been beautifully restored and decorated.

Lunch was superb with a variety of Moroccan ‘tapas’ style dishes featuring salads and meats, with your own personalised menu.

A perfect way to end an interesting day and before returning to Fes.

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Fes – Day 1

We arrived in Fes late in the evening after 6 hours of driving. iMaps did get us to our destination which included driving around the outskirts of the amazing and majestic walls of Fes in heavy evening traffic.

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We drove into a carpark with blank walls facing us in all directions and it was only that our guide, Khalid, saw us and waved us down did we realise we had, in fact, found the right destination. Where was the beautiful hotel which we had seen on the website? Here was Khalid in an outdoor car park outside the city walls.  Just where was the hotel? Our first question was, ‘Where can we park our car?’. ‘Here’, the answer, as Khald waved his arm to the surrounding area and parked cars. ‘No’, was the response!  Khalid did recognise that Goldie was a bit unusual and he then arranged for us to move the car right next to where the 24 hour car park attendants were sitting under an umbrella. Both Khalid and the hotel assured us all will be well.  Let’s hope Goldie is still here in 4 days time!

Our hotel, Palais Amani is inside the city walls and this city is one of numerous laneways with no room for any cars at all.  The only vehicles you will see are donkey carts, hand drawn carts and the occasional motorbike in the wider ‘streets’. Although the thoroughfares are referred to as streets, all 9,672 of them, most are narrow laneways with residential doors opening straight into the street or tiny shops whose presence is completely hidden when the shops are closed.

The hotel is a rehabilitated house (or small palace) built around a central uncovered courtyard, filled with orange trees and flowerbeds and a beautiful pool and fountain, with rooms on two floors facing inwards (except our room on a corner has exterior windows overlooking roofs and satellite dishes!)

We asked about dinner and were met with one answer only – here in the hotel.  I did look outside and realised that this was a closed door city: many doors bolted and barred with no indication of what lay behind.  So we gave in and sat in the delightful courtyard under orange trees in the candle light with the tinkering of the fountain while enjoying Moroccan shiraz and delicacies.  Perhaps not so bad after all!

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The next day we started on our tour of Fes Medina.  The city has about 80,000 residents and 9,672 streets / alleyways / short cuts / dead ends. Our first stop was on a hill overlooking the city which highlighted its compactness, particularly that of the medina.  Nevertheless, it’s big and bewildering: we are usually able to find our way around towns and even ‘old towns’ but as of today this one has us beat!

Our tour covered a ceramics and tile factory. The ceramics reminded us of other such factories we had visited in Turkey and Uzbekistan where skilled potters and artists created beautiful plates, cups of all shapes, tagines, bowls etc etc.

And then of course there are those fabulous tables and fountains with intricate mosaic patterns made up of tiny interlocking tiles.  The tiles are all baked in squares of about 200mm x 200mm and then cut up into the shapes needed to create the pattern. The skills here are extraordinary as the sheer cutting up of the tiles into tiny shapes requires extraordinary finesse (the cutters are paid by the piece, so you don’t want to break one while cutting).

Then of course the artesian builds the pattern, which he does have on a small sheet of paper, upside down by placing the tiles face down on the ground so that they can then be cemented together! All the tiles are to be found in small plastic bags along the edge of the work area. A fountain for Smiths Lake was discussed but abandoned (by John) due to boot constraints! (It could have been shipped home!)

We then visited the Bou Inania Medersa with its restored and beautiful wooden carvings. The carving and painting of wood in Morocco is of a startling beauty and intricacy. Look up in any of these beautiful buildings and you will see a magnificent ceiling. And, the ceiling in each room will be different.

And then the tanneries we hear so much about. Because the old city is divided by Wadi Fes (river) water is available for the tanners. The process is quite complex: first, strip the hide of wool or hair in vats containing pigeon droppings, limestone and salt (the white vats), then rinse before tanning in vats containing pomegranate seeds, cedar and something else (the dark vats).  All hides come out tan in colour (hence the expression tanning), are dried in the sun and then placed in vats with different colours.

The vats are surrounded by buildings with viewing platforms and numerous rooms packed with leather goods: rooms of shoes, jackets, bags, poofs and anything else that can be made with leather.  And then came the hard sell.  We left.

Unfortunately we were here on a Friday and consequently 90% of the shops in the souk were closed.

A few stalls an shops were open and Khalid said these would be mostly for tourists. However, I do not think there would be too many tourists lined up for fresh chicken, slaughtered and plucked on the spot! Pick your chicken from the rack at the rear of the shop and have it slaughtered in front of you, or choose from the pre prepared meat in the front cabinet. You can also bring along your home grown chicken and have it slaughtered and plucked for you, for a price. More appealing was the fruit and veg for sale, regardless of the religious holiday.

We called an end to the day early and made plans, with Khalid, to repeat the exercise on Sunday when things were happening.

We ventured out at night to a local restaurant. Well, we really did not venture. The hotel called ahead, a family member was sent to collect us and lead us to the restaurant and at the end we were escorted back to our hotel – such is the nature of Fes that we would surely have gotten lost without a guide. (I think you would need to spend at least three dedicated days here to start to become familiar with finding your way around.)

This restaurant did give us an insight into how a more traditional few house would be decorated. Here were beautiful carpets adorning the walls of a truely family run establishment. We have arrived early and the family is gathering next door for a casual family get together, however we are very well looked after by the daughter of the owners.

The meal of a vegetable tajine, a (spicy) lamb tajine and then sweets. Being Muslim, no alcohol was served, however we had been told by the hotel we were welcome to take our own and so took a bottle purchased in the Rioja. We did, however have to open it and pour it ourselves as the family were not allowed to even touch it.

We are learning to look up! Half the beauty of Morocco is on the ceiling. (It is interesting in that when people ask to see over our ‘old’ house in Mosman, the first thing I say to them is, ‘look up’, as each pressed metal ceiling in our home is different. Now I have to repeat this mantra to myself.) To truly appreciate the magnificent craftsmanship of the Moroccan home you must ‘look up’. This ceiling is all wood, carved and then painted.

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The ceiling of the dining room, and detail of the ‘cornice’.

Pictures do not do this justice!

We were escorted to and from the restaurant by Omar, a young man whose sole occupation was to ‘escort’ people around the town. He was very proud of the fact that he knew every street in the Medina, one which has 9,672 streets!

Talking to people you meet is the best way of learning, and Omar, after some hesitation was eager to talk with us. He began his working career as a public parking area attendant then, because he had worked hard at learning English from TV and talking with people, he had graduated to the position of official ‘Escort’, a job which is legalised by the city. Where to next? was my question to Omar. Hopefully a tourist guide. How old was this young man, who looked no more than 16 to 18? Well, he had worked for 16 years as a parking attendant and then 3 years as an Escort.

There is no social service payment here, as we know it in Australia and yes, you do see beggars. (As you do in Sydney.) Here, if you want to earn a living you simply have to work. Omar was an example of a young man committed to ‘working his way up’ in his world. He was polite, interesting to talk with and a credit to himself.

Chefchaouen

Our first day on the road in Morocco saw us driving from Tangier to Fes via the ‘blue town’ of Chefchaouen.

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With no Morocco maps loaded in the GPS we reverted to google maps on the phone, however these seemed to have spasms of failure providing untold frustration.  Eventually Apple maps proved the best option. And we really only needed these maps to get in and out of towns: the roads are well signposted so the old paper map and watching for road signs became the best approach (remember those days?)

So we will start with some photos along the way:  countryside

hay making

animals and birds

and helpful roadside signs

After a few hours we arrived in Chefchaouen and were greeted by our guide for the town.  He explained that Chefchaouen was not originally as blue as it now is.  In the past the blue was only painted around the windows and doors to stop the flies and mosquitoes from entering the house (does this really work?).

 

However, in the 1980s the locals cottoned on to the interest of visitors provoked by the blue and so people began to paint whole houses in shades of blue.

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Now there is an abundance of blue throughout the town.

Like all the Moroccan towns we have visited, cats are everywhere, not necessarily owned but all well fed with cat nibbles and water left out around the villages.

We also learnt about the local bakery: take your own bread dough to the baker and he will bake it for you.

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Into Morocco

An early start as we were booked on the 11am ferry 2 hours from Jerez.  In the past all the ferries we have caught between countries want you there an hour before, however this time we could have arrived 10 minutes before. The large Tasmanian cat ferry may have had 200 foot passengers, but only Goldie and 3 other cars!  Even then we had to drive on to the lower deck, up to the middle deck and then back down to the lower deck to stop for the trip!

Arriving in Tangier was straight forward (immigration was on the ferry so people all done before hand) and car details were simple.  Just that my passport is noted that I came with a car and I cannot leave without it. I guess this is an example of Morocco’s enthusiasm to be friendly with Europe (plus 300 years of history).

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We were met by our guide for Tangier, Mohmand, who escorted us to the Villa de France hotel, a grand old hotel in the ‘French Quarter’ just outside the gates of the souk and medina.

We then set off on foot for a tour.  First stop the English Church!  So we needed a history lesson: Tangier was once an international city, managed by the French, Spanish, English and Moroccans. Consequently each nationality had there own quarters including religion and law. This occurred as these three countries were happily dealing with the Moroccans in their own way until the German Kaiser turned up in 1905 wanting his share.  An international treaty was then agreed with the France and Spain taking control of the rest of Morocco and Tangier set up as a international city.  When Morocco ‘gained independence’ in 1956 Tangier became part of the country.

A lasting effect on the country is the significant use of French as a second language (after Arabic or Berber): the hotel staff booked dinner for us using French!

The church is interesting as it had a blend of typical English country side Anglian aspects plus Arabic / Muslim features.  The graveyard is filled with English names who had lived and died here.

Of interest is the historical presence of Henri Matisse: we followed a path that enabled us to take photos of the sights he painted.

Wandering around we saw lots:

Down then into the medina via the Place 9 April 1947 (we’ll come to that date later in Fes). We went via the American Legation: apparently the only US building of significance outside the US and of importance because Morocco was one of the first countries to recognise the US.  A relative simple medina to move around: photos follow.

And the markets

We have also found out where old Mercedes go not to die but to live on for years.  Remember your dad’s 1980 220E (diesel of course) he was so proud of: bought it because he said it would last him out: well it’s still going strong here in Morocco living life as a set route taxi.  Four passengers in the back and two in front with the driver and off they go to set destinations and they do not go unless there are a full compliment of 6 passengers.  All very orderly with a line of cars waiting (all queues go down hill so the driver can just roll to the head of the line) and no jumping ahead. Every panel has a dent and rust and some of the doors are a bit iffy, but they keep rolling along.

Some down time in the afternoon around the pool

and then out at night to an unpretentious café on Place 9 April 1947.

 

Next morning a market had sprung up next to us:

Jerez de la Frontera

We left Seville early to reach Jerez de la Frontera by noon with time queue to get tickets for the Tuesday exhibition show put on by the Real Escuela de Arte Ecuestre, the equestrian school where the famous Andalusian horses are trained. And yes, we did get tickets and what an amazing treat this exhibition was to watch. The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art is an institution dedicated to the preservation of the equestrian arts in the Spanish tradition. It is one of the four most prestigious classical riding academies in the world.

Set in lush grounds with mature trees and housed in a beautiful old building, the rectangular display rink (about 2 bowling greens in size), with rounded corners, has tiered seating on all sides. The seats we were allocated were on a corner which turned out to be fantastic as you could see the horses perfectly when they crossed the arena at an angle.