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Truth be told, I don’t remember much about Morocco. Morocco was the last stop after a particularly long stretch of travel, the most continuous travelling I’ve ever done in my life. I had just toured the UK for just over a week with a friend, joined a 3 week Contiki Europe tour, then spent about 2 months driving all over Spain, Greece and Ireland with another group of friends, followed by 2 weeks in Italy with yet another friend, then 2 weeks in Egypt on my own, culminating in my trip to Morocco. If you feel tired just reading all that, try being on the road living out of a backpack all that time. It was also the height of summer, and I don’t know about you, but travelling in the summer time always feels more draining to me. I’d even had nasty food poisoning from a bad batch of paella in Spain, resulting in me possibly being the only person in the whole world who wasn’t entirely impressed with the Alhambra in Granada. In reality, I probably saw more of the restrooms than I did of the Alhambra itself. But if you’ve been there before, you’d know that tickets have to be purchased in advance, entries are timed, and if I hadn’t forced myself to go, I’d have never seen the Alhambra at all.
But I digress.
The point is, by the time I got to Morocco, I was feeling quite travel weary. It would have to be quite something in order for me to remember anything at all. And the fact that I do have fond memories of some of the places I saw is testament to the fact that Morocco has plenty to offer.
1. Medina of Fes
A medina is an ancient walled Arab city. Founded in the 9th century and laying claim to the oldest university in the world, Fes was once the political capital of Morocco. Though this title now goes to Rabat, Fes arguably remains the spiritual and cultural capital and has been recognised on the UNESCO World Heritage list as one of the best preserved historic towns in the Arab-Muslim world. Walking through the maze-like narrow alleyways of Fes is an assault on all your senses, with interesting, intense, vivid and pungent sights, sounds, colours and smells at every turn. It’s shocking. It’s bewildering. It’s exhausting. And it’s fantastic.
I think the guy on the right is making some sort of bready thing
2. Tanneries of Fes
Probably the most well known and impressive sight in Fes is to peer over the tanneries. From a height, they exude a certain beauty, like rows and rows of watercolour pots. You can also visit them at ground level, but if you choose to do so, remember to bring a scarf to wrap around yourself as the smell is equally impressive.
3. Camel trek in the Sahara
It’s not a particularly comfortable thing to do, what with camels having an unusual gait, a strong smell and a penchant for spitting, not to mention the tendency to sink into the sand with every step. But this is the largest hot desert in the world and an experience that just shouldn’t be missed while you’re there.
4. Staying in a kasbah or riad
By definition according to wiki, a kasbah is “an Islamic fortress or citadel”. How that differs from a medina I’m not sure. A riad, on the other hand, is defined by wiki as “a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard.” This pretty much sounds like Kasbah Tizimi, where I stayed for a couple of nights in Erfoud, yet they’ve called themselves a kasbah. But this is all just semantics. Whatever they’re called, do try and book yourself into one of these rustic but charming, comfortable and peaceful traditional style lodgings. I especially love the low light and pretty patterns cast against the walls and surroundings by the Moroccan lamps at night time.
5. Atlas Mountains
You can go trekking or just enjoy the views overlooking Berber villages and the exhilarating switchbacks of the Tizi n’ Tichka Pass.
Camel enjoying the scenery
6. Todra Gorge
Todra Gorge is a deep canyon in the eastern part of the High Atlas Mountains. With sheer rock walls up to 160m high, it is popular with rock climbers. If you’re after something a little more sedate, a simple hike is equally rewarding as the scenery is spectacular. Stop for lunch at Yasmina Hotel Restaurant and soak it all in while you eat. Bliss!
7. Djemma el Fna, Marrakech
This public square in the heart of Marrakech lies alongside its souk, offering plenty of diversions for those who need to take a break from haggling. The atmosphere is like one large open air circus. Early in the day, the square is dominated by snake charmers and orange juice stalls. Towards late afternoon, the square becomes more crowded with dancers, musicians, storytellers and street magicians. By night, the square becomes packed with numerous food stalls.
8. Bargain hunting in the souks
Time to put those haggling tips into action and hone those skills of yours. Morocco abounds with all sorts of crafts and great souvenirs to take home with you, for instance leather goods, colourful slippers, copperware, cheerful tagine dishes and pottery, teapots and glass teacups, sheesha pipes, spices, lamps in all hues of the rainbow, and more!
9. Sheesha and mint tea
I’m not a smoker. In fact, I have terrible coughing fits if surrounded by too much cigarette smoke. But there’s something soothing about apple flavoured sheesha pipes. I don’t recommend indulging too much, but it’s a fun thing to try while you’re there. Enjoy with plenty of fresh mint tea. Actually, the mint tea goes with just about any meal.
Casablanca is more modern than the other cities, boasting a distinctive architectural style known as Mauresque, which is a blend of traditional with French Art Deco. As a fan of Art Deco, I find this rather appealing.
Can you explain the difference between a medina, kasbah and riad to me? Did you nab a good bargain in the souks?
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