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 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: On the Road from Erfoud to Ouarzazate

On March 29th we left Erfoud and hit the road to Ouarzazate.

This area is very rich in fossils and they are everywhere on sale, on display, used as decor.  I got this photo as we drove by.Dinosaurs

There were several spots with T-Rex mock-ups.  Most of the actual fossils I saw were ammonites and other lower orders.

These mounds are abandoned wells and there were miles of them.

Abandoned water wells

We stopped at a roadside shop (that’s it behind the camel) and display of Bedouin culture.  The camel is a yearling and was very sweet.  I’ve decided I love camels.

After Erfoud

We stopped overlooking the Dades Valley which was spectacular.

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Dades Valley

It was a challenge to get my photos taken without people walking into the shot or vendors getting in my way trying to sell me something!  But I managed most of the time.

We then drove on and stopped at the Todra Gorge… really impressive and so overrun with tourists that I could not get a shot without them in it!

Todra Gorge

We then went to lunch at a hotel which was very picturesque!  The Hotel Kasbah Lamrani.

We ate seated around the pool on the patio which was a beautiful setting.

We then continued on the road towards Ouarzazate.

On the way we stopped to visit with an Imam and had tea with him and his wife.  They had a beautiful kasbah which had been in the family for three generations.  He taught religion and his students live there while studying. His  brother is creating a Berber museum on the premises too.  We were told there were 15 family members who lived there.

The interior was the original building which is 185 years old and the outer had just recently been added – I think they said 2005.  This is the original door on the old building.

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The Imam’s wife made us traditional mint tea, which was the nicest I had while there.

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We all then had a chance to ask them questions. He explained, with Najib translating, the five pillars of Islam.  It was very interesting and was a very nice visit.

Imam and wife

We arrived in Ouarzazate late afternoon and checked into the Berber Palace which is a quite spectacular hotel.

My room is straight ahead, in the low building, right there – the closest to the main building.

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We had a couple of hours to relax before dinner so I commandeered a lounge by the pool and dozed for a bit.

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Ouarzazate is considered the movie capital of Morocco with several movie studios and lots of purpose-built sets in the area.  The hotel was themed with lots of movie props decorating the lobby, old posters, etc. heavy on the Egyptian theme.

This was the only hotel, or restaurant, that had pork! There was parma ham at dinner and for breakfast pork sausages and very pathetic looking bacon – it appeared to be boiled. I wasn’t expecting to see any at all so having it was a nice treat (didn’t try the bacon…)

Next post will cover the drive to Marrakech.

 

 

 

 

 


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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!