Shannon Fennell's Blog

My life, art, travel, make-up, cooking 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?”

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: The Overall Review, Part 2

If you have followed my blog or read back, you know I eat Low Carb High Fat to control my Type 2 Diabetes.  So I was spending a lot of time thinking about how I was going to manage eating on this tour.  I love North African and Middle Eastern food so I was planning to at least taste everything, regardless, and just monitor and adjust my medication accordingly.

I was really looking forward to tasting REAL Moroccan food, in Morocco.


I lost 10 pounds on this tour.  I am seriously considering putting out a diet plan based on it – “The Olive, Cheese and Powdered Egg” diet.

I was so disappointed.

I have a few theories:

  1. Everywhere we ate was cooking bland for the tourists who they think can’t handle spice/flavour
  2. My taste buds are ageing faster than I thought and I need MORE spice
  3. My expectations were too high and it is that bland

But… many of my travel companions also expressed the same disappointment in the food and flavours we were getting.  We all were expecting it to be spicier.

We had to ask for salt and pepper everywhere.  They did not put it on the tables.  And everything NEEDED salt, lots of salt.  I found that a little strange.

Two of the special dinners were in themed Moroccan restaurants and were promoted as “authentic” meals.  They were enjoyable evenings, but the food wasn’t what I was expecting.

Fes Signaure evening

At both of these dinners they started with what our guide called a “cook’s salad” which at one consisted of nine small bowls of different things – olives, pickles, dips of different types, cucumber pieces, etc. that you would eat with the local bread that was on the table. The other restaurant served a similar course but on a huge platter with a slightly different selection of items.  I ate what I could from those selections – mainly olives.

Marrakesh dinner (2)

The main course at both was a Tangine.  I was expecting so much more flavour.   I picked out the meat and olives to try when I could. The meat (I only tried chicken and lamb due to my beef allergy) tended to be tough. The flavours weren’t awful, but there was so little of them.

If you aren’t aware, a tangine is a ceramic cooking dish – a flat dish with a cone-shaped top as seen in the photo below – the dishes prepared in it are called the same.


I loved the olives – which was a very good thing as I pretty much ate them at every meal.

The meal in the Marrakech optional night out was more extensive and also served a couscous dish as the third course which was fairly decent according to the others.

The dessert that night was enjoyed by my table companions – a huge flaky pastry with icing.  In Fes dessert was fresh fruit.

Marrakesh dinner (3)

The hotel breakfast buffets blend together as they essentially were all the same.  There were a couple of variations though.

They all had machines that produced coffee… espresso, a double espresso, a cafe au lait, and cafe american.  You had to get your own.  And if you asked for cream they gave you hot milk.  Apparently there is NO cream in Morocco – I asked everywhere.  None.  I even asked our guide if he could find me some decaf coffee and cream – nope.  I wonder what they do with the cream they produce?  I should research that.

Now, that isn’t to say that the cafe au lait wasn’t good – it was!  I had many of them.  But I really wanted cream!

Breakfast was the meal I considered my most important – it was included each day of the tour so I knew I could eat well to carry me through the day in case I wasn’t able to partake of other offerings.  Due to the selections offered – which were many, no issue at all with the amount of selection offered to everyone  – I was stuck with sliced cheeses (all very bland), assorted olives (served at every meal in Morocco) and eggs.  And a couple of times sliced cucumbers or stewed peppers, and sometimes a plain yoghurt.

Now, those eggs.  That was … interesting.  The one hotel only served them hard-boiled in the shell, hot; the others had scrambled powdered eggs – you can tell because of the texture and the fact that the curds and liquid have separated (shudder); and thankfully three of the hotels had omelette stations where they made omelettes to order out of real eggs and you could ask for them fried too if you wanted.

One hotel served pork. I was very surprised as it is a Muslim country. But they had shaved parma ham on the salad table at dinner and pork sausages and bacon at breakfast.  I did not partake of the bacon – it appeared to have been boiled.

Most of the meats were tough at the hotel meals – mostly chicken and lamb in tangines.  I may also have tried goat but I don’t know for sure.  The dinner buffets were awkward for me as they had a lot of beef (I’m allergic) and there were a lot of sauces that I had to avoid due to potential inclusion of beef stock, etc.  And the mixed salads usually were combinations of fruit and vegetables and I don’t eat fruit, and the dressings were unknown ingredients.

One hotel had fresh calamari and roast lamb at the dinner buffet – I had both.  The calamari was lovely.

The dessert selections were epic – I could only watch as others enjoyed those. Pastries, cakes, fruit, etc.

Our guide was very conscientious about making sure there were options for me.  At the lunches where we stopped while on the road, he would have the restaurants make me a small tangine of vegetables and chicken kababs if the main course was beef.  There was always so much more than I could manage.

We were served mint tea several times – it varied from okay to very nice.

Mint tea and an ashtray.JPG

The best was the tea made from scratch for us by the Imam’s wife when we visited them.


A group of us had lunch at poolside on our own at the hotel in Marrakech, we all had the Caesar Salad which was excellent.  It was nothing like what we call a Caesar Salad here in North America though.  It was butter lettuce, cherry tomatoes, shaved parmesan, fresh anchovies and a very subtle and light dressing that did not coat everything.

The best meal I had in Morocco?  On our free evening in Marrakech my seatmate and I went out and found a Lebanese restaurant – it was fantastic, well seasoned and super good!  The hummus was to die for!  Restaurant Mandaloun was the name of it.

Best meal of the trip?  Holiday Inn Express – Schiphol, on my way home I had an overnight stay in Amsterdam.  Yes, Holiday Inn Express serves dinner – who knew?  I got there after 7 p.m. and there were only two other people in the dining room (aka “great room”).  They had a limited menu written on a table top blackboard.  There was a Dorado (aka Mahi-Mahi) fillet – so I went with that and asked for all vegetables, no starch.  The chef delivered the plate to the table himself – he had grilled up a whole bunch of different fresh vegetables for me.  OMG – the fish was crispy grilled on both sides and well-seasoned, the vegetables were perfect and there was also a small bowl of house made spicy pickles.  And I didn’t have to ask for salt!  I was very happy and told the chef it was the best meal of my trip.

I’ve got one more post after this, just to wrap up the overall review and my trip home!







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My Moroccan Adventure: The Overall Review, Part 1

Tour Map Insight

My tour was Insight Vacation’s Best of Morocco.  I booked it last May 2016 – the date was the only guaranteed departure – March 24, 2017.  This was an “11-Day Tour” but these are always counted including the day you leave home and the day you arrive home, so really it is only a 9-day tour.

And I arrived in Casablanca late afternoon Saturday, March 25th and left Casablanca on the morning of April 3rd… so, taking off March 25th too… that leaves an 8-Day tour, really. As the rest of those 11 days were in transit.

The visits to Fes and Marrakech were two-nights each which gave us time for nice tours, time to relax and enjoy local activities.  The one-night stay in Essaouira was good as we arrived early in the day so had time for a tour, roaming on our own, dinner out, etc.

But the nights in Erfoud and Ouarzazate were in and out.  We did the optional excursion to the Sahara (and camel ride!) to watch the sunset in Erfoud but that was right after we got there after 5 p.m. and we didn’t get back to the hotel and dinner until late – around 10 p.m. and had to leave early the next morning.

And Ouarzazate was pure in and out without any additional activity or tour.  It looked like a nice place too.  Quite modern and clean – being the movie capital of Morocco.

It would have been great if we had been able to stay two-nights in every spot – to give us time to see the area.  Seeing as we spent all that time getting there.

Also the bus trip from Fes to Erfoud was all-day, 8-hours and that was a bit much to handle.  We had several stops, and lunch on the way, but it was still a very long time to be on a bus with your legs unable to stretch!  That day I was in the front seat and there was NO spot for your feet.

Also the bus had no toilet – it wasn’t an issue for me personally, but several of the other passengers who were prone to motion sickness really could have used somewhere to, um… well, we had to do one unscheduled stop for someone.  Not sure why there was no toilet – it is actually mentioned in the brochure that there are no toilets on the buses in Morocco.

The hotels we stayed at were, with one exception, modern, comfortable, even luxurious. But the only one to have in-room coffee/tea/kettle was the Moevenpick in Casablanca.  I found that annoying as I couldn’t make myself a good cup of tea in my room on the rest of the trip.  They only had “hot” water in the dining rooms, not boiling.  I asked at the one in Fes if I could get a kettle to make tea and they told me to call housekeeping and they would bring me hot water – um, that wouldn’t be boiling water by the time it got to my room.

As a single booking all but one of my rooms had king or queen sized beds!  That was fun! The one in Marrakech had two doubles, which was fine – one was my lounging on top of the blankets to watch TV bed, the other was the sleeping bed.

In Marrakech I had a balcony on the top floor and in Essaouira I had a patio open onto the courtyard.

The one in Erfoud I found way too contrived for the tourist market – my room smelled like a camel barn, the floors were uneven slabs of stone and I tripped repeatedly in my room on the floor and the rough thick rugs scattered about. It was built of “traditional building materials” which obviously included mud mixed with manure.  I grew up on a farm – I know manure when I smell it.

And trying to find my room was a nightmare, I swear it was about a kilometre walk to the room across the pool, courtyard, through alleys… I actually got lost after dinner and had to find my way back to reception to get one of the staff to lead me to it.

I was so annoyed with the whole place I didn’t take any photos of the room – I really should have… the bed was almost a hammock as the mattress was so dipped in the middle, the “rustic” decor was beyond believable.  But I was too bloody tired.  I did sleep really well in that bed though.

The only plus was the shower room – yes, ROOM.  With a wooden door.  When you are covered with all the sand of the Sahara and camel snot, you need a very long shower. I was a little iffy about standing on the tile so I put a towel down on the floor. But lord, what a mess – the door was just a wooden door made out of planks – not water tight. The vanity counter was a slab of fossil embedded stone – nothing would stand up as it was so uneven.

If I hadn’t been so tired I might, maybe, have enjoyed the rustic-ness of it, but…  It was a suite – living room, dining area (there was a bowl of wrapped fruit on the table which I didn’t touch,) separate bedroom, bathroom the size of my living room at home that was three rooms in itself – the shower, the toilet and bidet, and the sink area that you could enter from both the living room and bedroom.  Ground level windows that were open onto common areas where there were people late into the evening that I heard every word they said – couldn’t understand them, but I heard them.

It was also the only hotel with an old-fashioned key – all the others were mag locks.  This one was really old style and the door was scary – I could NOT get the damn thing open. Took me about 7 minutes to finally get it open (and frankly, a good kick would have opened it) and then another 10 to get the freakin’ key out of the lock!  Then, no deadbolt or security lock inside the door.  I did not feel secure there at all.

The hotels we stayed in on the tour were:

Casablanca – Moevenpick Hotel

Fes – Palais Medina & Spa

Erfoud – Xaluca Kasbah Hotel

Ouarzazate – Le Berber Palace

Marrakech – Atlas Medina & Spa

Essaouira – Atlas Essaouira & Spa Hotel

Except as noted above, they all had high points – the kettle, complimentary bottled water and luxurious fittings in the Moevenpick, the Berber Palace was gorgeous (and had pork at dinner and breakfast,) the Atlas Marrakech was stunning and I was awed at how fast and well my laundry was done, and the courtyard patio attached to my room at the Atlas Essaouira was wonderful.

On my way home I had to stay overnight in Amsterdam – at the Holiday Inn Express -Schiphol.  It wins best shower of the trip… was lovely, shiny, walk-in with safety rails.  I think my shower lasted about half an hour…

Best shower of the trip Holiday Inn Express Amsterdam.JPG

I’ll cover more tour related things, and the food, in the next part as this one is getting a little long.









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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…


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.

Dades Valley 1Dades Valley 2

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.

Imam Home (4)

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


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.

Ouarzazate (8)

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

Ouarzazate (7)

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.


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.


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!


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.


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: 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 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.

Marrakesh Medina 14

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.


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.

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My Moroccan Adventure: Fes

I arrived in Casablanca on March 25th,  late afternoon, and the next morning we headed out to Fes, with some stops along the way which I will cover in another post.

This is the tour map from Insight Vacations – we stopped at all the noted towns and sites. The numbers in the red stars are the overnight stays, and the white circles are photo stops or lunch stops.  We had a few extra stops included.

Tour Map Insight

This map shows the whole country – we covered a lot, but not nearly all of it.


On the road!  Taken through the bus window from about halfway back! I tried to take photos of signs along the way but it proved difficult – managed two the whole trip.

Road sign Rabat Fes

Something I learned is that Fes with an ‘s’ is the name of the city and the word means pick-axe. Fez with a ‘z’ is a hat – they make them in Morocco but they were made for the Turks.

The evening we arrived in Fes we had a traditional dinner and folklore show at a restaurant in the Medina… we were dropped off and had to walk through narrow alleys to get to the restaurant which was the home of the family who turned it into a restaurant – it is a spectacular building.

These are the musicians who played during the evening. They are sitting in an alcove off the main room – just look at that mosaic work!

Fes restaurant (2)

This is the ceiling. The detail involved in every single fixture is stunning.

Fes restaurant (1)

Everywhere I looked was a feast for the eyes. From the outside you see nothing… just dark dirty alleys… then you walk in.

The entertainment including drummers and a belly dancer (which isn’t a Moroccan tradition, but left by the Turks.)

The next morning we had a local guide to take us to the Royal Palace and the Medina.

The Royal Palace “Dar el Makhzen” is where the King stays when he is in Fes. I think we were told it covers 80 acres. Absolutely spectacular. The decoration is mind-blowing.

After the palace we were taken to the Medina – the old town. We stopped at a look-out to get the whole picture before diving into the tour.


The walls of the old city and gates are still used.

We arrived fairly early to start our walking tour of the Medina… the garbage crews were still at work. As the “streets” of the Medina are narrow alleys donkeys are used. And they are completely focussed on their jobs! I got knocked out-of-the-way by one little guy intent on getting back on his route after unloading at the truck in the main square! They work in crews of three donkeys and one handler.

Fes - garbage donkeysFes - Garbage collection

Using donkeys is pretty green… although avoiding stepping in donkey poop was a major activity!

The first part of the Medina we toured was residences so no shops. Very narrow and dark.

Then we came out on the main square and went in the opposite side where the shops were. The Medina is home for a lot of people – our guide said “middle class” and they live, work and shop in the Medina.  There are schools, mosques, libraries, the world’s oldest university, butchers, bakers, grocers, candy shops, tailors, convenience stores, shoemakers, tanneries, carpet shops, coppersmiths, weavers, etc. Everything and anything all in these small alleys.

Below is the world’s oldest degree granting university, the University of Al-Karaouine – the guidebooks and the website said it was open to non-Muslims but our guide insisted it wasn’t so we could take photos from the doorway only.

The University of Al-Karaouine originally was founded in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri, a woman, as a mosque. It developed into one of the leading universities for natural sciences. In 1957 they added mathematics, physics, chemistry and foreign languages.

Fes University of Al-Karaouine

This is a photo of the inside of a home in the Medina – it is an example of the traditional architecture – it is a bookstore with apartments upstairs now.

Fes Medina (6)

And these photos are of different mosques that were in the Medina – such gorgeous tile and metal work!

The architecture in some areas was amazing, and there were restored parts as well – UNESCO is funding restoration.

Fes 5

Fes Medina 4

The photo below is of a section restored by UNESCO.

Fes medina 2

There are cats everywhere. It is the national animal of Morocco we were told. They aren’t pets – just everywhere you go, there they are!  Particularly around the butchers and fishmongers and the sewer grates (must have been rats down there.)

Fes Medina 9

We toured two other Medinas on this tour, in Marrakesh and Essaouira, which had significant differences to Fes.

After the walking tour, which was several hours (I really got a lot of exercise on this trip!) we went back to the hotel to do our own thing for lunch. After lunch we had our optional tour which I will cover in another post!

Took this photo of our bus from my room window – I was on the fifth floor.

Fes From my room