Shannon Fennell's Blog

My life, cooking, make-up, travel, the joy of home ownership and the occasional rant!


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My Moroccan Adventure: Final Post

Morocco was a place I had always wanted to see.  I was looking through my high school yearbook and saw that I had said I would be in Morocco! So I decided I had better get on that so, if there is a 50 year reunion, I could say, “Yes, I went to Morocco.  Why? Didn’t you become Prime Minister?”

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This was my second tour with Insight Vacations and I would go with them again. This tour covered pretty much everything about Morocco and we got to see the highlights, geography and many historic locations.  Our guide was knowledgeable, multilingual and very conscientious.  He also arranged extra things that weren’t part of the planned itinerary – like the camel ride and tour in Essaouira, which I REALLY appreciated as they turned out to be my personal favourites!

This tour was Insight Vacations Best of Morocco and this was the itinerary:

Tour Map Insight

There were a few things that could have used more attention: like assisting us in and out of the bus as that last step was difficult and most of us weren’t, ahem, spring chickens. But most of those things were minor compared to the overall trip.

I am a planner. Ahead of time I thought about what I wanted to buy myself while there and made a list. I wanted to get myself a tunic or kaftan, I wanted a ceramic tile to frame, I wanted a fossil and I wanted an ornament suitable for my Christmas tree.  I got all of those and a few more.  And I kept it all within my spending limit too!

Here are the purchases I planned for:

The blouse I bought at the hotel gift shop in Marrakech – my most expensive purchase at 1200 Dirham (about $250) but it is gorgeous and so finely made!  The tile was purchased at the ceramic cooperative we visited in Fes and I am going to have it framed to hang in my entry.  The little “fossil” dish is probably a fake – but it is still a souvenir from Erfoud! And the red tassel is, I think, a bookmark. I bought it at the airport in Casablanca when I was leaving – I had 57 dirham left that I wasn’t able to exchange (they only had Canadian $20s) it cost 56!  That will be my Christmas ornament.

The other items I bought:

A little stone camel to remember my camel ride!  A wooden bead and needlework bracelet that matches my blouse.  A ceramic bowl that I bought with the tile (it is microwave, dishwasher and oven safe.) And an original watercolour painting of the Dades Valley I found in a gallery in Essaouira.

I also bought this wooden box when we stopped at the Argon oil cooperative – it is very cool!  Spin the top and four compartments swing open.

When mom and I travelled she always would buy a wooden item – we have some sort of wood from most places we visited.  A mahogany trunk, inlaid wood boxes, urns, small carvings, Tiki idols, etc.  So this continues that tradition.

My biggest goal was to get photos of the exotic places and things of Morocco and I managed that to my great satisfaction!  I used my 15-year-old Sony Cybershot.  I carried the camera in my pocket all the time and snapped my shots quickly.  It also took some great photos through the bus windows while we were moving.  I can’t be bothered with “fancy” cameras.  I did have a bit of a scare though – the sand on the Sahara was blowing and got into the shutter mechanism.  I used the blow dryer in the bathroom to blow out any loose sand and played with the shutter a bit as it was sticking.  But it got back to normal after a bit, thank goodness!

Of all the photos I took I think these are my favourites:

My flights were booked at the time I booked the tour.  I requested special meals from the selection offered and not one… NOT ONE… of the six flights had the meals.  They didn’t even have a vegetarian option available.  On the way there I packed myself food (I’m used to not being able to eat the offered meals) but on the way back that wasn’t an easy option.  I did buy cheese and nuts at the airports.

On the way home I had to stay overnight in Amsterdam and was having issues with my ankle and leg, so I checked into upgrading when I got to the gate.  As they were overbooked in Economy it was less than half the usual price!  So I flew home First Class!

Look – a padded seat belt!  Did you know you get an entire overhead luggage compartment to yourself and can bring more luggage?  Still wasn’t able to eat most of the food offered at the meals but managed some fish, and I was able to eat the snacks, and the purser found a veggie tray for me!  And I had my cheese and nuts to supplement.

First class selfie

Somewhere over Canada… and the Calgary descent.

My Moroccan Adventure was a once in a lifetime experience!  I am so glad I had the opportunity to go and to see it.  It is a lovely country and people were very welcoming.

My next trip is booked for 2018! A Transatlantic Cruise.  Then… I think, Ireland the year after.

 


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My Moroccan Adventure: On the Road from Marrakech to Essaouira

We left Marrakech on April 1st on the way to Essaouira.  It wasn’t a long drive which was nice.

Our first rest stop was a cafe that had a beautiful garden and a very large shop full of large displays of local arts and crafts, fossils, etc.  Just the photo opportunity that I had been waiting for!  I hit the mother lode photo wise.

Display of glazed tangines (cooking pot) with a background of plants.

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And some plain, unglazed, tangines.

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Nice display of ceramics.  They had rooms full of ceramics.

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The also had a massive collection of fossils, geodes and crystal clusters.  That first ammonite was huge and really striking.  If only I’d had the money to buy it!

They had lanterns and baskets too.  As well there were shoes and clothing, other typical “cheap” souvenir things, postcards, t-shirts, etc.

The garden display was also nice – I love bougainvillea and take photos of it when I see it. I wish I could grow it here but we are about eight climate zones away from ideal for it.

They had roses but obviously the end of the season.

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The also had the largest geraniums I’d ever seen!  And prickly pear was pretty common – saw a lot of it being deliberately planted as a natural fence in the southern part of the country.

I think this one is my favourite photo from that stop.  I got so many, but this was how the place felt to me.

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We then continued on … and the next stop was for…

Goats in Trees!

Goat Tree

Completely staged… the goats DO NOT climb the trees to eat.  They are trained to stand on little platforms, for four hours at a time. There were three trees along the highway. They were so still some people thought they were fake.  So I “baaaa-d” and a couple turned their heads.  You can see the platform below – woven out of tree branches so it blended into the tree pretty well.  But they do not do this voluntarily.

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These were argon trees – where the nuts that argon oil comes from.  They were growing all over this area.

Argon trees

Our next stop was at an argon oil co-operative, all female (this was stressed repeatedly by our guide,) who produced argon oil.  They had a working display, samples, a store – we were given a tour and demonstration, then samples of both the cosmetic and edible versions of the oil.  Cosmetic is from the raw nuts, edible is from the roasted nuts.

The first lady is shelling the nuts – by hand with a rock.  And the second is grinding the roasted nuts by hand on a stone with a wooden handle.

They had some hibiscus blooming out front.

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After that we continued on to Essaouira, with a stop overlooking the city.  It was very hazy so I didn’t bother with a photo of the city, but there was a pinto camel there! I’ve never seen a pinto camel before.

Pinto Camel

Next post will be my impressions of the tour overall, the hotels, food and other thoughts.

 

 


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My Moroccan Adventure: On the Road from Ouarzazate to Marrakech

We left Ouarzazate at 7:30 a.m. March 30 to hit the road to Marrakech.  We passed through some towns and then through the mountains eventually down to the plains where Marrakech is.

Our first stop was off our main route, we turned off (we didn’t realize at the time) and headed to Aït Benhaddou for a photo stop… Now THIS is the scene I wanted to see!  I actually did a watercolour of it last year from a photo I found on the internet.

This is my watercolour…

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And this was reality!  Different angle.  Absolutely stunning!

Aït Benhaddou

Aït Benhaddou is a Ksar – a fortified village along the old caravan route – and is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This was the closest we got.  Then back on the bus.

We then went back the way we came, to the main highway.

We drove through the High Atlas Mountains, through the Tizi n’Tichka Pass.  Parts of this were pretty harrowing!  High winding mountain roads going up above the tree line, then back down.  There was a lot of road construction going on – widening and making better snow barriers, etc.  In some spots it was tricky with the bus on the hairpin turns!

We went high enough my ears were popping!

We had a rest stop on the other side and there were nice views from there.  The valley was fertile and small villages and farms were popping up with more regularity.

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I always like to see the geology – sedimentary layers fascinate me for some reason.

Tizi n'Tichka Pass

Caught this shot through the bus window of the comparison of transportation methods!   Cars, bikes, scooters and camels!  Didn’t get a donkey in this one.  I was desperately trying to get a good donkey shot but they were usually trotting along the curb and too close to the bus for me to get a good clear angle on them.

Transport old and new

Once out of the mountains we were on a flat plain of very modern agriculture – fruit production, newer houses, large estates… then it morphed into golf courses… and eventually Marrakech.

Next I am going to cover the drive from Marrakech to Essaouira!  Stay tuned for Goat Trees!

 

 

 


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My Moroccan Adventure: Bahlil & Ceramics Co-op

On March 27 after we had toured Fes and had lunch many of us went on an optional tour to Bahlil and a stop at a ceramic school and co-operative.

There are orange trees, full of fruit everywhere – they line the streets and highways throughout the whole country. Najib told us they were bitter oranges and no one eats them… okay, but what a waste!

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Bahlil is a village where many still live in dwellings carved into the rock (i.e. caves.) We were able to visit one and chat with the family – they have lived in this cave for 12 generations! The mother of this lady (in the blue scarf) just died recently at the age of 105.

Bhalil cave dwelling

After visiting, we walked down through the village to meet up with our bus.

Bhalil river

Looking back up from the bottom.

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It was a very interesting place.  We also saw ladies making buttons for traditional clothing – using needles and thread they basically crochet tiny buttons like those below. They gave us samples of the work they were doing so I have three small grey buttons to do something with!

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We then went to a ceramic co-operative and school and were given a tour and shown the whole process from making the clay (large pool of water where they soak it), to processing, throwing on the wheel, glazing and firing.

We also got to watch them cutting pieces for mosaics and actually laying the mosaics. They do them in reverse so don’t actually see the pattern – they have to LEARN and remember the patterns in order to do them right every time.

Mosaic products

The Co-op had a large retail area and also does custom orders – ceramics, mosaics, tiles, etc.

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I bought a tile (to frame) and a bowl.  The bowl is oven, dishwasher and microwave safe. They fire their ceramics twice which makes them very durable.  The tile appealed to me as it has a watercolour look and I am currently learning and practing painting with watercolours.

I didn’t note the name of the co-op and the receipt for the purchase isn’t legible.  Oh well…

It was a very enjoyable afternoon.

Next I’ll post about our 8-hour drive from Fes to Erfoud and all the stops and sites along the way.


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My Moroccan Adventure: Rabat & Meknes

We left Casablanca on March 26 and headed out on the road to Rabat, Meknes and on to Fes.  I have to admit to being a bit surprised by how lush the countryside was.  Just a misconception perpetrated by the movie Casablanca – where Louis refers to Casablanca being in the desert I guess.

I mean… LOOK… A canola field!  Our canola at home hasn’t sprouted yet.

Canola field

And these beautiful roadside flowers (which also filled fields!)

Rabat is the capital city of Morocco. The old walls are still up and are being restored where they need it.

Rabat wall

And the newer parts are really cosmopolitan (this is a postcard I bought.)

Rabat

We stopped to see the Mausoleum of King Mohammed V – another stunning complex! There were Royal Guards on duty who were very friendly and chatty – had a nice conversation with the one on a horse at the gate. They do 20 minute shifts with the horses, under an awning, standing in a sand pit.

The Mausoleum complex is beautiful. The columns were from a Roman city nearby, and the minaret used to be taller but the top came of in an earthquake. Many of the columns were destroyed in the same earthquake.

The building containing the King’s remains was absolutely amazing.

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After this stop we continued on to Meknes.

We stopped to see the Bab el-Mansour – this magnificent gate!  In front of it, where we parked was the Place El-Hedim which had a market going on.

Meknes Bab el-Mansour

There were stalls of goods, snake charmers, and horses and ponies available for photo ops.  This Arabian horse looked great from the distance (I zoomed in!)

Meknes

We then continued on to Fes. If you missed my post of Fes, you can read it here.

 


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My Moroccan Adventure: Essaouira

On April 1st we left Marrakech for Essaouira (previously it was known as Mogador which kept making me think of Lord of the Rings for some reason) which is a coastal fishing town/beach resort.  We arrived around 11 a.m. but were able to get into our rooms right away.  My room was on the ground floor and took me two minutes to walk to from the lobby… but it was definitely worth it! It opened up onto the courtyard and I had a table and chairs out there – sat out there for a fair amount of time as it was so pleasant and peaceful.

We were going to go on a tour later, but I had some time so I walked across the road to the seawalk – it is a beautiful spot, if a bit on the windy side. Lots of para-sailing and windsurfing. The hotel was directly across the street. You can tell the direction of the prevailing winds from the lean in those poor trees.

We took the bus around to the entrance to the old Jewish quarter, which is in the Medina in Essaouira. It wasn’t actually too far from the hotel. Outside the entrance was a sign – Najib said that they are doing some restoration of the Medina.

Essaouira Medina Entrance

Of the three Medinas we visited this was my favourite by far. It was busy with locals shopping, the streets were wider for the most part, it wasn’t as tourist oriented, and finally found real artisan workshops and art galleries where I could browse and NOT be harassed.

Buildings and the shops were bigger on the main streets, and along the alleyways were similar to the other Medinas in size.

And the food stalls were there too – I photographed a butcher and an olive merchant. It is very strange to see the meat and food all out in the open like this – with flies all over it. I will assume (hope) the hotel bought their olives elsewhere…

We were able to go into a woodworking shop to watch them and then through a showroom. And not once were we harassed to buy something. The work was beautiful.

It was also great to find actual art galleries with unique items. I ended up buying a watercolour painting of the Dades Valley in one gallery. The horse made out of spoons was really interesting and the folkart elephant was fun!

There were, of course, cats. There must have been something REALLY interesting in that sewer!

Some of the more interesting shop displays were of dyes and natural herbs and substances – note the sign for “Viagra Turbo pour Homme”… ?!

Najib then led us out of the Medina into a large square of more obvious European influence. This area was occupied by the Portuguese and the French at different times.

We then walked through another large square open to the waterfront and out onto the fortification Skala de la Kasbah built to protect the city. There are large cannons in place and the fishing boats harbour within the ramparts.

There was a hole in the wall of the fortification that frames the old town – they had steps so you could stand on them to get a photo. Of course I did.

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There were stalls set up along the waterfront selling shells and fruit.

We could see our hotel from where we were and the seawalk went all the way along, but the bus was there so we loaded up for the brief ride back.

We were on our own for dinner that evening so quite a few of the group ended up at a waterfront seafood restaurant just a short walk down the beach. I ordered a smoked salmon salad and sea bream. The salad was good but I was disappointed with the bream – way too many bones AND scales!

I enjoyed the visit here a lot and I think Essaouira would be a nice place to stay for more than one night.


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My Moroccan Adventure: Marrakech, Part 1

I’m not posting about my trip in chronological order, so bear with me! Marrakech involved a lot of photos so I will break it into two parts.

The parts of Marrakech I saw while travelling on the bus were quite beautiful, clean and modern. In the Medina we saw the traditional, original parts of the old town.

We got to Marrakech on March 30 for a two-night stay.  We arrived at the hotel around 1 p.m. and were able to check into our rooms. The room is nice with a balcony but way too hot to sit out there! I took the time to take a selfie – I’m on the top floor.

Our optional tour/dinner wasn’t leaving until 6:45 so I had time to relax and explore the hotel. This hotel had a very nice gift shop, a beautiful courtyard and open lobby areas to relax in. I sat in a shady corner, had a cup of tea and wrote in my journal while listening to many different kinds of birds and the sound of the water in the fountains.

The optional evening consisted of a short tour of the Medina at night – which is quite different from the day! The square fills with people, locals and tourists, roaming vendors trying to sell you crap, snake charmers, henna artists, pickpockets (they hit our group but didn’t get anything)… I didn’t enjoy that part of it.  We were led around the square with short stops for photo ops (after having the police station pointed out to us – in case we got separated!) I didn’t take any photos as I wasn’t that impressed; I bought a postcard instead! The guy in the colourful outfit is a traditional water seller. There were a few of them there that our guide arranged to pose for photos.

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The end of the walk around the square was at the restaurant where we were having dinner. We were greeted by drummers and dancers, and they took photos as we entered with staff in traditional dress – the photos were available to purchase, of course.  I bought it (only 20 dirham) – focus isn’t great but it is a memento.  Joyce (my assigned seat mate) and I entered together.

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It was very nice inside, live entertainment and a massive amount of food.

After dinner we rode back to the hotel in open horse-drawn carriages.  It was a beautiful night for a carriage ride.  I tried to get a photo of the Koutoubia Mosque at night which turned out to be more of a light painting, but cool.

The next morning we went on our tour – starting with the Koutoubia Mosque which is in a beautiful garden setting with fountains.  No buildings are allowed to be built higher than the mosque so you can see it from everywhere.

Marrakesh Koutoubia Mosque

Our local guide, Abdul, then led us to the Palais de la Bahia which was built in the late 19th century.  What a beautiful complex!

These next photos are the harem – where the concubines had their rooms.  The wives had different, larger more elaborate quarters.

And the stained glass was so beautiful with the sunlight coming in and lighting up the room!

The art and craftsmanship involved in these buildings is simply awe-inspiring – there is no detail overlooked, everything no matter what the function is, is built with infinite attention to detail.

I will cover roaming the Medina and the rest of the day in Marrakech in my next post.