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: On the Road from Fes to Erfoud

On March 28 we left Fes to drive to Erfoud.  This was the longest drive of the tour – approximately 8 hours with stops and lunch along the way.

Tour Map Insight

As we left Fes we drove past olive groves.  I loved the olives in Morocco – I ate assorted olives at every single meal.  So different than what we get at home in cans and jars!

Olive groves

And this… guess what it is?

Moroccan Cell Tower

Did you guess?  It is a cell tower!  All over Morocco they are disguised as palm trees. Very tall palm trees.

A lot of the photos from this part of the tour were taken through the bus windows while moving, so that is why some have strange spots in them or reflections.

Our first rest stop was in Ifrane which is a ski resort.  I was completely surprised with it – not that I wasn’t aware there was snow in Morocco, I was, but that they had a ski resort that looked and felt like you were in the Swiss or German Alps!

IfraneIfrane street

The air was cool and crisp and it was very pretty in that area – lots of chalets and rental properties.

We continued on and the next stop was to see some Barbary Apes – the same type that are in Gibraltar.  Najib had a bag of bananas and fed them.  I didn’t bother getting out.  I saw the apes in Gibraltar and they were nasty, so I thought staying in the bus was a better idea.  They steal things.  I took a photo of the sign at the stop – not sure what it is saying but liked that it was French and Arabic.

There was a fair amount of snow left at the higher elevations.  What I found really interesting is that they have permanent snow fences build out of concrete!  They were all along this section of highway on the plateau.

Moroccan Snow Fence

There were lots, and lots, and lots of sheep.  All the flocks had at least one person (shepherd) with them – none were enclosed in fences.  Come to think of it, there were very few fences in Morocco.

After the apes before the forest

We then drove through cedar, pine and oak forests.  Some of the cedars were pretty big! We were told Morocco was known for its cedar – I did not know that.

Moroccan Cedar

We were treated to a view of the High Atlas Mountains in the distance.

Atlas Mountains

We stopped for lunch in Midelt which was a very nice town.  I didn’t take any photos there – the bus parked outside the restaurant, we ate, pit stop, then left.

After the forest

Some of the roads were a bit high and winding… and those gaps were disconcerting! Someone obviously smashed through them… there were a lot of gaps.

We then started to go through the Ziz Gorges – the Ziz is a river.  This was the first stop we made along it.  We stopped at a lookout on the highway.  Such a contrast of landscapes.

I call this shot “Midday at the Oasis” – one of only a few taken of me by someone else.

Midday at the Oasis

We continued on and stopped again over the gorge near Errachidia.  This valley was full of date palms.  Najib said these were the top grade of dates – Majoul.

Errachidia

This abandoned house was overlooking the above view.  Apparently families will leave a house, but often the children or grandchildren will eventually go back and start using it again.  The property stays with the families.

Errachidia

We continued along the Ziz Valley, then were driving along a dry plateau, which got drier as we went along… And then… we got our first glimpse of the dunes of the Sahara off in the distance!

First glimpse of the Sahara

To continue this day’s adventures the first post of My Moroccan Adventure: The Sahara Desert covers it here!


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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.

Bhalil

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: Casablanca

Casablanca was my arrival and departure city for the tour I was on – “Best of Morocco” by Insight Vacations – and as such, we didn’t really spend much time exploring it.  That was a shame, really.  I mean, how often does one get to Casablanca?

I arrived at my hotel around 5 p.m. on March 25. That evening we met up for a drink and dinner with our tour director and found out details of the tour and departure times for the next morning.

Casablanca

My room was a suite on the 12th floor and I had a clear view of the Hassan II Mosque and could hear the calls to prayer. That was very cool.

Casablance view

We were told Casablanca is the third largest city in Africa, after Cairo and Nairobi.  It is big and the parts we saw while driving through were quite European in feel.

And with palm trees… a little bit less European! And McDonalds is huge in Morocco – there were billboards and signs everywhere.

On the morning of March 26 we did a tour on the bus before we headed out on the highway towards Rabat, Meknes and Fes.

We stopped at the Hassan II Mosque and had a half hour to wander and take photos. That is the most stunning building – the detail work of the mosaics and marble is beautiful.  It was a glorious clear sunny day.

Cassablanca Hassan II Mosque

The mosque is built right on the beach and they used materials that can resist salt – like titanium for the doors.

Casablanca mosque

The Moroccan flag was very much on display everywhere – this display was at the Mosque. They were along the highways too.

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We then drove along the beachfront which is called the Corniche – there are restaurants and private beaches, etc. along there. The next photo is looking back towards the Mosque.

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Some photos from along the Corniche – the prices in Morocco were very low. The exchange rate was around 7.15 Moroccan Dirham to a Canadian Dollar – so the breakfast for 40 dirham would only be $5.60. Not bad.

We then left Casablanca to head out on the tour.

We arrived back in Casablanca on April 2 in the early afternoon.

Road sign Casablanca

We had free time until the Farewell Dinner. I emptied out my bags and repacked for leaving in the morning and enjoyed a proper cup of tea as this was the only hotel on the tour that had a kettle in the room!

The Farewell Dinner was at Rick’s Cafe. Now I know, and YOU know, that the movie Casablanca was fiction and the place, Rick’s Cafe, does not exist. However, some enterprising woman bought a house near the Navy base and converted it into a restaurant called… Rick’s Cafe. And obviously is doing very well based on the number of tour buses off-loading tourists for dinner.

It bore absolutely no resemblance to the movie version at all – I didn’t even hear “As Time Goes By” being played from where I was seated. The food was adequate but not great, the service was very good. I was told that the lemon tart for dessert was excellent – it looked good. They have little souvenir menus for you to keep and hand out postcards as you leave.

We left there around 9 p.m. as one family on the tour had to leave for their flights at 10 p.m. And the rest of us were leaving at different times in the morning, starting around 4:30 a.m. so we mostly said our goodbyes when we got back to the hotel.

I’ll cover the optional tours, other sites and short stops over the whole tour in my next posts!


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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.

Essaouira 3

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 2

After we toured the Palais de la Bahia (please see Part 1 about Marrakech), our local guide, Abdul, led us through parts of the old town back to the main area of shopping in the Medina.  There were regular stores in this part – pharmacies, offices, etc.

Our guide, Najib, then explained that we now had free time to explore on our own. He pointed out where he would be with the bus to pick us up in two-hours, and again in four-hours.  Otherwise we would have to make our own way back to the hotel.

I figured two-hours to explore was plenty as I wasn’t really interested in shopping.  The haggling that is expected is not something I enjoy at all.  I was interested in getting photos of traditional products on display, and just having a look around.

Joyce (my seatmate) and I went together and roamed around the alleyways.  This medina was much more spacious than Fes, and more heavily tourist oriented.  Lots of turns and multiple levels – upstairs, downstairs – then you came out in the main square and then down another alley.  It was still early and many of the stalls were just starting to open.

It was interesting but I really don’t like the constant harassment from the vendors.  You couldn’t stop to admire something without them starting in on you to buy it.  This was the worst of the three Medinas we saw for that.   There many stalls that were “local” market type where the residents were buying their groceries and supplies, but the majority here were geared to tourists.

I did get the photos I wanted – even though every time I paused to take one someone tried to sell me something.  The guys selling t-shirts were the most annoying and aggressive – dude, I am NOT interested in an FC Barcelona t-shirt from Morocco, honestly!

So, here are the shots I got – I was going for “artistic” to show off the goods on display.  I don’t have a lot of interest in taking photos of people so crop them out if they end up in my photos.

First photo is Dried Fruit.

Marrakesh Medina 1

Dates and nuts

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Spices (bottom left is ground henna powder.)

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A different spice merchant – the middle bag in the front is rose buds.

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Olives and preserves.  I loved the olives in Morocco – had them at every meal.

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Fresh and dried mint.

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Ladies clothing – notice the black and gold one in the middle… look at the skirt.  Makes me think of a loose diaper?

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Shoes… lots and lots of shoes.

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Glassware – this was a gorgeous, sparkling display of silver-worked glassware.

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Brass lamps.

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Ceramics.

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Outer edge of the Medina open to the main square – notice the t-shirts?

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Fruit sellers out in the main square.  The fruit looked amazing – super-sized and fresh, no wax shine on the oranges, the avocados were the size of spaghetti squash, and the strawberries were massive.Marrakesh Medina 13

And a garden stall in the square selling bedding plants.

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We roamed over to the other side closer to the main road – was much quieter and the only people bothering us were trying to sell us tours to the Atlas Mountains (which we’d already done.)

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Joyce and I then went and sat in the park to wait for the bus and others from the group. The horse-drawn carriages were all around waiting for customers.  It was pretty warm as it was noon but I still wasn’t breaking a sweat, even wearing my coat, but I felt bad for the horses as I didn’t notice any water for them.

Marrakesh square

We were back to the hotel by 1 p.m. and the rest of the day was on our own.  I joined three other ladies for a nice lunch in the hotel courtyard by the pool – my first salad of the trip.  A caesar salad with fresh anchovies which was very different from what we have at home. It was excellent and very refreshing.  Such a great setting for a meal, don’t you think?

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After lunch I sat in one of the reception rooms off the lobby and sketched the pillars and their shadows.  It was nice to just chill in a cool room for a bit.  Then I went upstairs to shower and ended up napping for an hour or so.

Joyce and I met up at 7 p.m. to go find somewhere for dinner.  The hotel was just off the main boulevard and there were several restaurants along there.  It was a heart pounding experience – there are crosswalks, LOTS of marked crosswalks, but no walk signals or stop lights.  OMG… that was intense trying to cross!  No one… NO ONE, stops voluntarily so you have to walk out into traffic or you will wait forever.  We went across to check out a row of restaurants on the other side – none of which were that appealing due to my diet.  Then had to cross back!

We walked maybe 10 blocks in total and found a Lebanese restaurant which sounded good – Restaurant Mandaloun.

Things start-up late in Morocco – this restaurant was open but we were the only customers.  The waiter was great – fluently multilingual.  There was a combo meal for one on their menu and he said he would give it to us for two for the price of one, and bring a little extra, as we were the first customers of the day.  A multi-course meal (there were 9 different things!) for 300 dirhams for two people?  Wow – prices in Morocco are really low when you convert it – that works out to $40, so $20 per person.

It was an EXCELLENT meal – frankly, the best meal I had in Morocco.  Many courses, the best hummus I’ve ever had!  He told us they blend mayonnaise into it which made it so creamy.  I had a very tasty salad, spicy chicken kabab, babaganoush, ate the filling of a couple of savoury pastries.  I just didn’t eat the bread or beef that came in the courses, and skipped the desert.

By the time we were done it was pretty dark but the streets were hopping!  Families out walking, lots of traffic.  We had a nice stroll back to the hotel.  It is very pleasant at night in Marrakech.

 

 

 

 

 


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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.