Becoming familiar with the Moscow Metro

I managed to get the airport train, and metro with two changes to arrive at my accommodation only to discover I didn’t have my wallet; just a minor issue!  All I could think was that when I was flustered trying to communicate with the ‘english speaking’ metro ticket officer I must have left it on the bench. So, back I went retracing my steps only to have the ‘English speaking’ ticket officer not understand me again and try and sell me another ticket …  I’d kept my calm to that point but with a lack of sleep I felt myself start to waiver.

Thankfully, a young Pakistani international student came to my rescue, took me to the police and explained my situation. They looked at me blankly and then a metro worker came over and when the student explained he mumbled something, threw his hands in the air and walked off. That was it, I was convinced I’d just lost $500 cash and was in for a world of hurt cancelling and getting new travel and credit cards.

Then the student turns to me and says “I think they have your wallet, we are to wait”. The worker returns and the student translates a description of the wallet. The worker then hands it to me and proudly indicates to check it. I do and every bit is there!  I give my first kisses in Russia and make their day with a generous reward. Couldn’t believe I’d been so careless and so lucky within a couple of hours of each other. I knew from that point I was going to love the Russians!

A new day…must say I felt a little out of place without rollers in my hair while using the hostel kitchen!  I’d noticed while strolling last night how smartly the Moscovites dressed. I’d arrived on City Day – Moscow’s weekend of celebrating its birthday and thought it was just the formality of the events but obviously not!

I ventured out mid morning to find the streets reasonably empty. I was surprised given the weekend celebrations. Then I realised the bridge was closed and then a motorcade with a black limo zoomed into the Kremlin. Mr Putin is in the house.

I wandered along part of the Kremlin fortress wall through the lovely Alexander Garden passing the shrine of the unknown soldier and into the Red Square where there were thousands of tourists!

The buildings in Moscow are very grand and none more so than here. The GUM department store was beautiful, housing all the high fashion labels. Thankfully, no tolerance for carrying a new handbag yet!

I had my eye on the wonderfully colourful Cathedral of St Vasily the Blessed (St Basil’s Cathedral). It was lovely inside and out. The mixed colourful onion domes dominating the exterior and the interior full of Icon paintings surrounded by lovely folk art adorned walls. Just lovely.

I made my way toward the river where I came across the very modern Zaryadye Park, which showcases the four climates of Russia.  Being a bit of a cold frog I passed on the ice cave!

The boats were luring me next so I jumped on for a couple of hours round trip. We travelled along Gorky Park, which is like Southbank on steroids and turned just after the gondolas that take people from the stadium to the other side.

The Moscow metro carries 7 million people a day and is the size of New York and Paris metros combined…in other words it is huge!  It is also known for its beautiful stations so, not scared off by my earlier metro experience, I ventured off with my list of the best stations to visit. From bronze statues lining each column to stained glass window columns and ornate mosaic pieces on the ceiling.  A fantastic way to spend a couple of hours for five dollars!

Jet lag was still affecting me but it works well to be up exercising before fellow guests are occupying the spaces. Fed and watered it was off to the Kremlin.

The four main features of the Kremlin that can be visited are the Armoury, the Cathedral Architectural Square, the Ivan the Great Belltower and the Diamond Fund. I was up for all.

The Armoury was amazing with its incredible display of gold and silverware, armour (even the horses’ stirrups were bejeweled), carriages, thrones and the amazing gowns of former priests and royalty. It was spectacular.

The Cathedral Square didn’t disappoint either – the interiors of the Cathedrals (rearing place for numerous czars and other dignitaries) were like nothing I’d seen in the world yet. They were stunning. The climb up the Ivan the Great Bell tower was worth it for the fantastic view of the square.

Finally I got to ogle at the diamonds in the Diamond Fund. You were essentially ushered into a safe – it was just amazing.

With the Kremlin done I decided to wander up to the Bolshoi Theatre and the Metropole Hotel. En-route I was approached by a couple of dapper looking older gentlemen who introduced themselves and asked if I’d like to join them for a drink or a coffee.  While I was impressed by the qualifying their linen suits I politely declined.

My feet and legs were killing me from all the walking. My room mate, Angela from The Netherlands, was feeling the same so we ventured off to a nearby local cuisine restaurant that’s part of a chain. It was a bit of a laugh being adorned with the oversized costume headwear and quite a surprise to see what we would be served. Thankfully my herring salad prices a winner!

Last day to just wander. The Cathedral of Christ the Savior was around the corner from my accommodation so I started there. As the main Cathedral of Moscow it was even more impressive than those in the Kremlin. I took the roof terraces option for a birds eye view of Moscow. It had a lift up to the offices located st the very top of the Cathedral but of course they opted to make visitors walk.

Next I got to the queue in Red Square for a viewing of Lenin in the Mausoleum only to be told the person in front of me was the last who’d be allowed in for the day. I’d tried to get there twice before to find it closed so obviously wasn’t meant to visit!

By now I was feeling a little hungry so jumped on the metro to visit a recommended restaurant in the well heeled district of the Patriarch Ponds (noting there’s actually only one pond!). My first borscht experience and it didn’t disappoint.

I spent the early evening sitting by the river in a lovely park watching the locals walking and thinking about how different Moscow had been to my imagination. There are few remnants of communist Russia here instead there’s a real air of wealth and affluence from what seems, at least on the surface, a prospering capitalist society.

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My hood for a few days

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Red Square (red meaning beauty)

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The grand GUM department store

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I couldn’t work out the significance of the watermelon and bread loaves!

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St Basil’s Cathedral

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A Kremlin gate

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Interior of St Basil’s

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Zaryadye Park

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River cruising

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Back in Red Square

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The beautiful metro stations

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Kremlin Ivan the Great Bell Tower complex

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The biggest bell in the world but never rung

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Assumption Cathedral

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Annunciation Cathedral

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Dressing the part at a traditional restaurant…channeling Frida!

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Cathedral of Christ the Savior

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Peter the Great statue

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Tomb of the unknown soldier

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The Bolshoi Theatre – closed for performances at the moment – lucky I caught the ballet in Brisbane!

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The lovely old Metropole Hotel

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Borscht at Mari Vanna

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Patriach Ponds

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Swingers in the city!

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Memories made in Marrakech…

Arriving into Marrakech, the red city (so named for the Medina’s pink walls) was quite an experience. Our driver was having a little trouble finding the right spot but came through, dropping us in a car park and pointing. Thankfully we had the maps app to assist us to navigate our way to our hotel without the need for one of the hundred locals offering their services to show us the way. 

Arriving at BE Rhiad was like arriving into an oasis. The place was stunning with its two pools, beautifully tiled interior, lovely furnishings and rooftop terrace. As nice as it was it didn’t take us long to get settled, quizz Mehdi for the key sights and embark on the souqs. 

Before going too far we decided we needed food to sustain us for our shopping so settled into Cafe Arabe – one of the stylish bar/cafe/restaurants of the old city. We then shopped and shopped wondering if we’d ever find our way home from the maze we’d entered. We all gasped as Leigh proceeded to help with an “eeniminiminiemo” rendition but thankfully all ended well!

We’d planned a tour the next day but I’d been sick all night so the girls graciously agreed to delay it a day. We stuck reasonably close to home and shopped.

We had lunch/dinner at the hip Nomad, just off the main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa. Nomad had a really lovely vibe but unfortunately it’s pretension came with pretty poor service and average food but was still good to experience being on the rooftop near the square. Leigh finally gave up on the shopping – not surprisingly; she’d been an awesome passive shopper!

Tan and I continued on….like I could ever get bored of shopping?!?!  Turned out Tan had my shopping stamina!

The initial focus was on shoes for Tan. One of the guys must have noticed I was a bit of a passenger on this one and said “no problem I have big ones”. I replied “what, to match my mouth?” But he didn’t quite get it. 

Next stop carpets. It wasn’t intentional; I’d gone in to look at their leather ottomans only for us to find ourselves surrounded by beautiful rugs. After a bit of hard bargaining we each walked out with a small hall runner. Tick!

The next morning we had our tour with Yussef. He showed us a pit area that doubles as the fire to heat the adjoining hammam and an oven to cook up the offel so loved by the Moroccans. There was certainly little wastage in this culture. 

Next stop was the secret garden – a riad with two beautiful gardens (an exotic and an Islamic) fed by an ancient underground hydraulic system. The water is a real focus  because of the significance that water plays in the Islamic faith, evidenced by the ablution rituals. 

The garden had fallen into ruin in the 1930s after a relative of the chamberlain of the sultan started to divide it up. Thankfully some Moroccan entrepreneurs had recognised its value and so had gone through the process of buying back the parcels of land to restore it back to its former glory and magnificent it was today. 

We then ventured into the square which was bustling with sellers, monkey tamers and snake charmers. We glimpsed a guy having a snake put around his neck because he wasn’t prepared to pay for the photo he’d just taken of it. Those who know me will appreciate that I was staying well away from that action!

Once yussef realised the serious phobias in the group he made sure we skirted that area of the square ensuring no unexpected encounters. 

El Baldi Palais (the Baldi Palace) was next on the agenda with its ruins giving some impression of the former structure with its sunken gardens and pools. It was said to once be embellished with precious metals and stones, which were later looted by invading forces. 

The Palais Bahia was quite a contrast; beautiful (which it’s name reflects) with elaborate parquetry panelling, wood carving, tiles and painting. The gardens were also lovely. We only saw the front of the eight hectare property and what we saw was really impressive. 

Yussef offered to take us to the ‘only place he would recommend for genuine Argan oil’ and assured us he would give us back the discount that he would otherwise get in commission. As it turned out, we got the oil …he got the commission!

After a bit more shopping we were done and ready to hit the town. Tan, Leigh and I took up the option of going into the new city to check out the nightlife. Karen was keen to just hang and enjoy the Riad. Destination Arkech rooftop bar!  What a hoot we had. We started on the rooftop bar with our own table fire, some tapas and local beers and wines. Leigh was so distraught by our neighbouring table not eating their meal that as they left she couldn’t help herself from muttering  (rather loudly) “could we have your burger?”. Hilarious. 

The waiter from the bar below kept coming and asking if we’d like to go downstairs to enjoy the live music. All obviously trying to get enough patronage to secure their employment. Feeling the pressure we ventured downstairs. I got up for a little Colombian salsa while Tan entertained Anass (the Moroccan model who’d come home from Paris to look after his sister after his mother’s death 2 years ago…he certainly had the looks for it but we were a little dubious of the tale). We drank cocktails and we went off to Best of You by the Foo Fighters thanks to a bit of requesting by Leigh. They’d obviously never seen anything quite like it as even the chef came out when he could hear all the clapping. We were just lucky the bar was empty or it could have been a tad embarrassing!  

With Tan’s suggestion of a third cocktail we knew it was time to go!

The next day we were having another treat in a Moroccan spa. This time Tan, Leigh and I had opted for a 2 hr package and Karen for a massage. The Hammam was a completely different experience to what we’d had in Chefchaouen. For one, our scrubber was fully clothed even if we weren’t and secondly the Hammam was set up so that we were washed with the running water from the trough. It was pretty hot and a little disconcerting when we tried to open the door only to find we’d been locked in. Luckily after only a few knocks our scrubber appeared with some cold waters for us.  The whole package was divine. Tan and I shared a room for the massage and it was pretty funny to hear my tummy gurgling at the same time as Tan’s snoring!

We headed back to the riad with plans for Tan and I to visit the Marjorelle gardens and the Yves-Saint-Laurent museum. On the way out we encountered a guy with animal heads on the front of his bicycle. He obviously picked up my confused face and so turned around and muttered an “oink oink”. We didn’t think pigs were on the menu for Muslims but maybe we were wrong. 

Both the gardens and the museum were a lovely visit despite the intermittent downpours of rain. YSL had spent a lot of time designing and living in Marrakech and it was evident in the designs. Might have inspired my later leather purchases in the neighboring streets!

We got a recommendation to visit Dar Marjana, just a little down from us and the food proved to be delicious; although giving me two cones of ice cream when I asked for two scoops of ice cream left me feeling a little glutinous!

There were still a few things on my shopping hit list so Tan generously agreed to accompany me for a late whirlwind tour of the closing shops. The main square was absolutely buzzing; it had such a good vibe. We were intrigued when we saw a few cooked goats heads and then got invited to sit for a feed of tongue, breasts and brain..ahh, no thanks!

Our morning of departure was a bit of a shamozzle. We’d woken early enough for our bootcamp but hadn’t anticipated that the government had decided in the preceding days to keep daylight saving through winter. Was a little rushed for everyone to get their stuff packed when our driver came a knocking!  Nonetheless we pulled it together and were on our way to Casablanca only 15 minutes behind schedule. 

Our lovely Casablanca Airbnb host, Myriam, checked us in and gave us some tips for dinner and then we were off again. We went via the mosque but unfortunately the tours were finished for the day. Next stop Ric’s Cafe (Casablanca was filmed entirely in the US but this cafe was reputed to replicate the famous bar in the film) it we were too early for it. Turns out we wouldn’t have got in anyway with the advertised dress code prohibiting sports shoes! 

While we stood on the steps of Rick’s we were showered with a hail storm – we’d seen it all this holiday!

We missed the Medina and instead headed for Myriam’s recommended restaurant with water views. It was a little further than anticipated and while we got a little wet and windswept along the way we managed to miss the cyclonic weather that hit a couple of minutes after we walked through the doors of La Cabestan. 

The view were lovely – think Icebergs!  Unfortunately the service didn’t match Icebergs. Turned out it was the haunt of the wealthy gulf Arabs – they obviously have lower expectations despite their Cayenne car choices. Nonetheless we enjoyed a meal and our Casablancas in Casablanca before negotiating for a 3 seater taxi to take the four of us back home!

Up early for our last bootcamp…I really will not miss the pushups!   

I was keen to see the inside of the world’s third largest mosque (Hassan II – built to commentate the former King’s 60th birthday) and so took a taxi to the mosque for the first tour of the day. It was one impressive building. The mezzanine with its ornate carved balustrade was for the women and there were glass tiles embedded into the floor to allow glimpses of the ablutions below.  The interior of the mosque can accommodate 20 000 people and is embellished with Moroccan marble and wood while the chandeliers are from Murano, Venice. 

I was keen to get back to the apartment as quickly as possible given our airport transfer was arriving at 11am. I started to get a little worried when at the end of a one way street we encountered a rubbish truck bin that had spilled its contents onto our road but in traditional Moroccan style a number of people just lifted the bin to allow my taxi driver to drive over the rubbish they were trying to collect. Classic!

All went well with the transfer to Casablanca airport and so we were on our way home. 

What a trip!  We had laughed together, shopped together, screamed together, danced together but best of all together we had gained an appreciation of a culture so different to ours. I had certainly had a hoot and had a feeling I might be traveling with these girls again sometime into the future. 

My final note, as they say in the souqs, “You’re welcome, thankyou”.

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Home – BE Marrakech

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Nomad…minutes before the rain hit

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Home – on the roof terrace

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Doubling the uses of the Hammam

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The secret garden

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El Baldi Palais

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The prison cells

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Palais Bahia

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Terrific personal protective wear

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Rollerblader doing some impressive manoeuvres throughout the traffic 

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Bliss in the day spa

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Mroccan bruschetta???

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Tough decision – they were all so beautiful!

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Marjorelle garden

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Two scoops in a cone…

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Jamaa El-fnaa

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Hassan II mosque – visible from most of the city

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La Cabestan

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We were unable to resist a Casablanca in Casablanca!

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Main prayer hall of the mosque

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The women’s mezzanine level

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Glass floor inserts allowing sight to ablutions below

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The ablutions hall

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Farewelling our brief stay in Casablanca

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We did it!

 

 

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Saucy souqs in search of sardines!

This was it – the day we were to face Tizi Tichka!  When planning this section of our trip we had contemplated the options of either hiring a car and driving ourselves or hiring a car and driver. We had ended up with the latter because we’d been scared off by what we’d read about Tizi Tichka – the pass through the High Atlas Mountains that had claimed many a lives. So to prepare ourselves we asked Abdul to let us know when we were starting on the pass. We also sat strategically to minimise distress to those of us with a fear of heights. 

The road was certainly full of plenty of hairpins and reached about 2 200m but it was well paved with good edge protection so not nearly as perilous as some travellers had made out. We had a few stops along the way as dozers perched about 100m about us scraped the side of the mountain and the graders on our level cleared the road of the fallen rocks for us to pass. 

We passed through some lovely little towns aside running rivers before we reached our destination of Imlil. This lovely little village is a base for serious mountain climbing. We figured we’d been doing boot camp religiously every morning  so wouldn’t be necessary to do anything as crazy as mountain climbing!

We wandered around and then just sat back and enjoyed the views of the snowcapped mountains before taking in yet another tagine (we were pretty much over them by now). I also made the mistake of sharing with the girls that while they were getting money out that day Abdul had asked if I was married and then made the very generous offer for me to stay with him in Morocco.  The girls were shocked that I’d declined and of course went on to totally overuse the humour of the scenario for the duration of the trip. 

From Imlil we started our trek across to Essaouira, skirting Marrakech in the process. 

Along the way we stopped to get a photo of some goats in an Argan tree. They hang out in the trees in the Argan forests chewing the nuts. Given the forests aren’t accessible to the public the entrepreneurial locals had found a way to capitalise on the quirky habit of these goats. Payment of a small tip and we were on our way again.  

We called into an Argan cooperative (they’re run only by women) with the hope of buying some Argan oil. The process of obtaining the oil is all done by hand – cracking and grinding Argan nuts to produce the oil (no surprise it wasn’t an attractive occupation for men). Alas, no purchases again. The labelling of the bottles all looked rather unprofessional and they didn’t display any of the info we’d read should be displayed to confirm it was legitimate Argan oil – none of us felt like paying AUD60 for a bottle of vegetable oil. 

We were dropped off to our lovely apartment in Essaouira where we farewelled Abdul. He thanked us for visiting his country – despite knowing he’d been picking up the usual commissions a guide gets for referrals to shops and restaurants he’d been a great driver – safe and always happy to answer our often bizarre questions. We were ready for our next phase of the adventure. 

Our apartment was right near the port so we headed out in search of chargrilled sardines. When we got to the gate of the old town we noticed there were film lights on elevating work platforms and when we got to the marina we were stopped from entering because filming was occurring. Turned out John Wick 3 was being shot – our hearts skipped a beat at the prospect of meeting Keanu!

Karen wasn’t digging the look of the fish market and isn’t a seafood eater so headed into town for a bite to eat while Tan, Leigh and I selected some sardines, fish, prawns and calamari and the staff dutifully cooked it up for us on the charcoal bbqs. It was all delicious and we marvelled at how far Tan had come since we arrived to now – sitting eating from a place where they were hosing the floor under us as we ate seafood that was sitting out on the street’s walkway by the cats, birds and flies. 

We managed to still be in the Medina when a storm blew in – it was a very wet run home!

The next morning Tan and Leigh ventured off for a flash breakie and Karen went off for a spot of shopping in the Medina. I volunteered to take a taxi to the local supermarket to pick up some supplies for dinner and drinks on our terrace. The taxi ride was hilarious. I managed to hail one down and fix the price. There were two very old Berber women already in the taxi so I assumed they’d be getting out along the way. They kept smiling at me during the ride and as they got out one (with fingers half yellow from Henna) kept blowing me kisses – so sweet. 

I managed to make the supermarket purchases with a few bits thrown in to sample some unknown items; sticking to local wine given the price of imported!  

The day was spent wandering around the very hassle free Medina chatting to lots of  lovely locals, including Karim, a Rastafarian looking dude who recognised our accents and so shared his stories of living in Mackay and Airlie Beach. Turns out he was a yoga instructor – would have been lovely to have a sunset or sunrise practice on the terrace but didn’t think the bikini top would be enough to hold me in for down dog!

The night was spent enjoying the sunset from the terrace, sipping wine and eating tapas all the while impressed that the two ocean boulevard soccer fields remained full until well after midnight. 

Next stop Marrakech…

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En-route to the dreaded Tizi Tichka

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Karen surveyed the High Atlas for our pass through

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Admiring the snowcapped mountains of the High Atlas from our terrace in the lovely village of Imlil

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Chose your tea!

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A few little obstacles on the way to Essaouira

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Goats chilling in an Argan tree

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It’s the local stuff for us when Veuve is AUD120 a pop in the supermarket!

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The seagulls giving away the location of the trawlers

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I was tempted to show them how it’s done but held myself back

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These guys love their soccer – they played till after midnight

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Enjoying sunset from the terrace

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Getting our rocks on…

From the Sahara we made our way to Todra Gorge – the narrowest in Morocco. We got to enjoy the amazing rock formations but declined the option of rock climbing and a motorbike ride from some local guys hanging around the area. 

I managed to make my first touristic purchase – a stone bowl with fossils visible in the stone. I couldn’t resist making the purchase once I realised my salesperson was completely blind. He was so trusting – asking me what I had paid him and offering the money for me to take the right change. 

It was also along this stretch that we got a true appreciation of Leigh’s accent comprehension skills. Intrigued by why the traffic police continually pulled drivers over Leigh asked Abdul what they were checking. We all cracked up when he said “they are security”, to which Leigh then replied “ohh, cigarettes”. The comprehension of ‘Tracey?’ from ‘Taxi’ as we we were waiting for our driver had been gold but we all agreed that ‘cigarettes’  was our favourite to date. 

It was a real day for feasting the eyes on our surroundings. After we left the Todra Gorge we headed toward the Dades Valley, which was also spectacular not only for its amazing rock formations but for the wonderful meal we had at our lovely accommodation Chez Pierre. This was a real treat with our accommodation  perched on the side of a mountain overlooking the Valley. We couldn’t believe our ears when they indicated beetroot and feta salad and a duck l’orange was on offer….we were over the tagines already! 

We were sharing the hotel with a group of about 30 American motorcycle riders.  They obviously appreciated the noise of their presence as they generously offered us complimentary drinks wit our meals.  It certainly was a country perfect for long bike rides – must admit it whet my appetite a little.

The next day we made our way to Ouarzazate to check out the studios that had been used for Games of Thrones, Ben Hurr, Gladiator and a well known French comedy film scenes, among others. They were certainly impressive given they were in the middle of nowhere. It can’t have been easy for the actors in these conditions – it was very hot and dusty.

Once we realised there was no hope we’d  been spotted by a talent scout we moved on to Ait Ben Haddou. This was another amazing spot. The site is Unesco World Heritage listed. The walls of the Ksar (fortified village) were an amazing earthenware clay material – with extremely thick walls for thermal management. The Ksar had been used by the traders on the caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. 

After our visit we settled into our lovely Riad in the next town where we were served yet another tagine for dinner (although we actually rated this one) – his semolina cake with creamer brûlée topping was divine!

We were moving on with full bellies once again. 

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Todra Gorge

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Heading into the Dades Valey

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Our lovely surroundings in Chez Pierre

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Showcasing our acting skills at the Ourzazate film studios

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Ait Ben Haddou Ksar – on the caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech 

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Another great spot for happy hours 

 

 

 

 

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From the souqs to the Sahara…

It became apparent very quickly that we were about to eat our way to the desert. 

We had hired a 4WD and driver for the next six days to take us through the Middle Atlas, Sahara desert and High Atlas to finish on the Atlantic coast.  We were rather pleased to find our driver Abdul spoke reasonable English. He’d been a bus driver in the past so could pretty much guess the itinerary we had planned.  We were also hoping that his earnings from our trip my help to pay for the dental work he was clearly in need of. 

Our first stop was Ifrane, a rather surreal little place. It’s a lovely little ski village with swiss style chalets – obvious why it’s earned the reputation as ‘little Switzerland’. A brief walk around and coffee and we were happy to be back in the warm car. 

On our way out of Ifrane we spotted a couple of the Babarian apes that inhabit the surrounding forest. Abdul gave us an opportunity to walk along the road in the hope of spotting more but alas we were unsuccessful. 

We were now starting to spot the nomadic berbers. You’d generally see a shepherd with a flock of goats or sheep and not too far away a tent (generally covered in plastic sheets in a bid to keep out the rain). Abdul encourages us to stop at one to meet the family. Only the women and children were home in the extremely sparse accomodation. It was rather concerning to see one of the little girl’s hands and feet wrapped in fabric. It looked like they might have been to assist recovery from burns or infection but Abdul informed us that it was because she’d had them tattooed with henna. 

This driving business was making us hungry so we stopped in Zaida, a smoky town serving tagines from charcoal fires at the front of the cafes. You had the option of taking a tagine already cooking or having a chunk of meat rom the carcasses hanging behind the bbqs sliced off and bbqed. We went with the former. Our curiosity got the better off us so we felt compelled to ask about the piece hanging low from the carcass. The mention of viagra told us our intuition had been right. 

Back in the car and on through Midelt, the apple growing town, before arriving on the Ziz Valley. The scenery was amazing. Running through the valley between the gorges was a wonderful channel of date palms.  The prospect of staying amongst that was quite exciting. 

We were greeted at the Gite by the lovely host, Mohammed, who couldn’t do enough to please us. We were invited into the garden for tea and the most divine dates we had eaten on the trip – we found out the next day they’d been picked straight from the palms!  We retired to a salon with cushions that were draped with berber blankets. We’d had a few wines with our dinner so our giggles lured Abdul into the salon to join in the frivolity. 

Mohammed offered to take us on a tour of the mountain opposite the accommodation. It was a bit of a climb but we made it up with great views of the valley and the little fortresses that had been established by the various governing parties of the region to guard their ownership of the valley. Morocco exports its best dates but the local demand is so high they have to import them for local consumption. We tried a couple of ways down the mountain before we found one that wasn’t too hair raising and then had a brief walk through the Palmaraie for Mohammed to show us his palm climbing skills. Then we were back in the car ready for some traditional berber stuffed bread (like a calzone) in Rissani before finding our desert camp. 

Unfortunately a bit of a sand storm had whipped up by the time we arrived at the camp meeting spot so the host of the camp warned us we may not be able to get a camel trek in that afternoon but should be fine for the next morning. She also let us know that the best time for admiring the stars was 3am…ugghh!

After getting the rundown on how the camp worked we ventured off getting a few thrills as the driver launched the 4WD over the dunes – it was here we started to get an appreciation of Tania’s lung capacity. 

The camp was amazing. We each had our own bedroom with sitting area and allocated bathroom. There were seating areas dotted throughout the camp and an enclosed dining room for our meals. ..and there was weefi!

Not long after settling in we were told the camel ride was on!  We each chose our camels while we waited for the driver to arrive, Mussafer was my pick as he’d been eyeing me off since we arrived to them. Took Tan a moment to realise that wasn’t a guy arriving in an Uber but the guy who would lead our trek. Next step …riding the camel. There were plenty of squeals from all of us but there’s no points for guessing who’s was the loudest!

The trek was amazing, following the ridges of the dunes until we stopped to watch the sun setting. We didn’t last the whole sunset as the whipping sand was really challenging even with our desert scarfs. We were happy and contemplating another ride for sunrise. 

After dinner we were treated to some gnawa North African tribal music. We danced, we drank, we laughed, we drank until it was just Leigh, Tan and I left with the 10 musicians (who were also the cleaners, drivers, waiters, cook hands). I couldn’t resist and eventually nabbed the recorder to give a rendition of Wee Bonnie Boat. I thought it was pretty good but the staff all just stared at me no doubt wondering how I could create such an aweful noise from their precious instrument. 

We caught Leigh napping while surrounded by three of the musicians beating out their racket but she slipped back into consciousness just as we were lining up the camera for the shot of the trip!

And then there were two…  You know you’ve hit the jackpot with your travel buddies when the person who had set the ‘toilet door must be shut when in use’ rule finds it quite acceptable to clear her teeth in your private bathroom as you’re relieving yourself on the toilet. Just saying….

Karen woke us at 4am for a bit of star gazing. The stars really were amazing – you felt like you could reach out and touch them. But that lasted about 5 minutes before we all retreated back to our big beds doona laden beds. We all declined the sunrise camel ride in lieu of our comfortable beds. 

It had been a wonderful couple of days. It was now time to move away from the Algerian border and back in the direction of the coast. 

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Ifrane – little Switzerland

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Berber nomadic shepherd

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Berber camp

 

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Zaida – choose your cut…

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Ziz Valley

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Our gite in the Ziz Valley

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The fort overlooking the Valley

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Mohammed “Breathe and again…”

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Lovely fresh dates

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Rissani – gateway to the Moroccan stuffed pizza

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The Rissani pizza bread bakery

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Ali and Sara’s Desert Palace

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Look at brave Tania!

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Fatima joins the group…

Today we ventured across to Fes with plans to stop in Volubilis, Moulay Idriss and Meknes along the way. The walk around the 168 AD ruins of Volubulis was really interesting. The 42 hectare site included some wonderful mosaic tile flooring. The trip to Moulay Idriss (town named after the Arabic founder of Morocco) was somewhat brief before we ventured onto Meknes.  

Meknes is known for its wonderful Kasbah gate – Bab Mansour. It is said to marvel any in Morocco and it certainly was impressive. We’d arranged to be back to meet our driver in 45 minutes so when the circuit walk that the tourist centre had said would take 20 minutes was venturing onto 45 it was no surprise that when we got back to our driver it was clear he’d been making a few calls to find out what to do about lost passengers!  He looked very relieved when we made it back. 

Fes is renowned for getting lost and it seemed it was even going to be a challenge to get into the walls of the Medina to our accommodation but with umpteen calls between the driver and our accommodation host we finally got there. Our accommodation was quite a jewel (aptly named Petit du Bijou) with it’s traditional layout compete with 1000 stairs, mosaic tiles and fountain. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great so we didn’t get to take advantage of the rooftop terrace. 

The caretaker, Khalid, was a rather animated little man with a very loud and fast manner of speaking. He would not be convinced otherwise that Karen was not Arabic and so named her Fatima and so that’s who she became. 

What a day…we finished with dinner in a very ornate Medina restaurant – Dar Hatim. 

The next day was spent mainly with a guide touring the Medina, which included a short taxi trip to a bottle shop in the commercial centre (pretty seedy experience I must say).  The quoranic school (medrasa) and tanneries were a real highlight to see. 

Unfortunately there were some rather shady characters hanging around the streets near our accommodation so there was some reluctance to venture out too late into the night so we had a lovely afternoon stroll down one of the main streets of the Medina and an early dinner and felt content we’d had our fill of Fes – which could have been helped by the last minute purchase of nougat!

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The Roman ruins at Volubilis

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The flour mill

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The Baptistry

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Little tortoise wandering in the grounds…

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View of the village of Moulay Idriss – Arabic founder of Fes

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Arriving in Meknes

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Bab Mansour Kasbah gate – the oldest in Morocco

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Unfortunately we could only take the side gate!

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Making our way towards the Royal Palace

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Yep…it’s what you think it is!

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The Idriss Mausoleum

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Our Petit du Bijou

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A caravanserai

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One of the many beautiful miniarets of Fes

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Medrasa (quoranic school) in Fes

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One of the many beautiful mosques

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Not likely to be my next career change!

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Tan getting ready for the desert…but will this keep her quiet?!?!?

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The leather tannery …the handed out mint just didn’t make a dent on the smell!

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The oldest fountain in Fes

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The mellah (Jewish quarter) characterised by its balconies.

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Our back up plan if the morning exercises start to dwindle!

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Eating in Dar Hatim

 

 

 

 

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The souqs get saucier…

Akhmed’s joviality soon disappeared once he realised that our arrival in Chefchaouen was going to be the end of the line for our trips with him. The upside of this for us was the elimination of his desire to continue showing us photos in his phone while driving at the same time. 

Our arrival into Chefchaouen was very smooth with the instructions from the accomodation being very clear to what we all thought was a gingerbread house… a gorgeous restored house. 

Our room wasn’t ready straight away so we ventured off to explore. The town is a photographer’s paradise with its lovely hues of blue and colourful pots of plants. One of our first stops was lunch in a beautiful old house. Leigh was the adventurous of us, giving the goat tagine a go. 

We then went back onto the narrow streets to navigate between the small trucks and motorbikes with trailers trying to make their way up and down the Medina. 

Before hitting the sack we climbed our way up to mosque on the other side of the town to see the sun set over Chefchaouen. It was rather spectacular to see all of the city’s lights start to come on. 

We woke as usual for our morning boot camp but this time we got some insight into the challenges being faced by Leigh – seemed her idea of clockwise was a little different to ours. 

It was a little drizzly so we thought perfect weather for a Hammam experience. We got the low down from the accomodation hosts on where to go and what would be needed for an authentic (non-touristic) experience. We ventured off to check it out collecting some dried figs and nuts from the street carts along the way. 

We were approached by a rather insistent toothless man who thought we’d be even happier if we joined him for a hashish party that night. Tan was starting to get a little jaded that she hadn’t yet been approached directly with such attractive offers…obviously suffering from the time away from Andrew!

Unfortunately the host’s suggested Hammam was just a little too authentic for everyone so we settled for a more western version. It was pretty hilarious when our Hammam scrubber came into our Hammam wearing just her nickers and a big smile. She then proceeded to scrub off Tan’s fake tan leaving a lovely coating of skin on the floor for the rest of us who followed to lie in …and we too then added to the layers. 

An hour of scrubbing and rubbing and we emerged a little lighter …Hammam one done!

After having a young woman in a shop try and charge us 7 times the going price of some yoghurt and a pastry we thought we were safer within the Chefchaouen walls so finished the afternoon with some more  shopping. I’d only managed to buy pj bottoms to replace mine which had split during our morning workout – Karen and Tan on the other hand were well and truly into the shopping spirit.  

 

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