Saturday, 12 November 2011

Rabat, Meknès and onto Fes!

The train ride from Marrakesh to Rabat was interesting due to the “scenery” (but hot!!) as we went through many of the poverty stricken suburbs/slums which all seemed to be equipped with TV satellite dishes.  Rabat was surprisingly a great city with plenty to do, very cheap accommodation and great food. We actually ate at the same place for 4 meals and it cost about 3CHF for us both each time!  We ended up staying two full days and checked out all the major sights: the Kasbah of the Oudaias, Hassan Tower, the Royal Mausoleum of Mohammed V, Old Medina and the Chellah.

6178253719_59e910ca9d_bThe Hassan Tower and the Royal Mausoleum were both worthy of a visit, but we found out the hard way that the Mausoleum is closed on Friday (as this is their holy day), so we had to make a revisit the next day, which was definitely worth it. Strangely, the Hassan Tower looks ‘small’ close up, especially for something that was set to be the worlds tallest (it was never completed), but it did always look impressive when viewed from a distance…

The next day we were  up early and on another train to Maknès.  Our hotel, Hotel Majestic, was very close to the station but unfortunately a bit of a hike  into the Medina. It was basically down then up a big hill (which required a mint tea break halfway) until you eventually find yourself outside the Bab Mansour.

The medina was pretty small with a few touts who didn’t seem to bother harassing you much, and overall the major sights could be seen within a day by walking, including the Agdal reservoir on the outskirts of the town (which we got into for free pretending to be part of a large tour group :P).

IMG_1383.CR2Next was a short train ride to what most people consider to be the best city in Morocco – Fes.  We opted to stay in Hotel Kairouan, whose concierge was a friendly guy who kept asking us if we were really sure that we did want to stay there.  We thought that was very strange until when we actually got back at night and discovered that the unassuming backyard across the road turned into a raging night club which lasted until 4am.  Needless to say the next day we decided to abandon our hotel of choice and checked into another! Besides this, Fes lived up to the hype and we had a fantastic time.  The medina was much easier to navigate than Marrakesh, and you didn’t have to dive out of the way of speeding motorcyclists every 2 minutes.  We decided to brave the notoriously bad odours of the tanneries, which (thanks to a liberal application of Vick’s Vaporrub under our noses) was actually not too bad! Getting to see the tanneries was a little diffcult as the places was FULL of touts who were offering ‘directions’ and tours for a fee. 

There is actually a way to see the Tanneries for free without going into someone’s shop – when you arrive at the main entrance from the Medina, there is a sign and a stairwell to the left that says “Free viewing balcony”, if you walk up those stairs  all the way to the top, passing by some rancid toilets (do not go in any doors, even if instructed to, they’re shops), you’ll have a viewing platform over all the tanneries without anyone trying to sell you their leather goods.  As we learnt early in Morocco, never trust anyone who approaches you to offer directions.  In fact, you should usually go in the opposite direction to what they advise…

We also decided to splurge and do a cooking course – the most interesting part (or disturbing, depending on your POV) was going to the markets and sourcing all the ingredients.  This involved choosing live chickens which obviously weren’t so alive when they were added to our shopping basket, learning about all the spices and fruits and observing how much cheaper it is for locals to purchase the food than when we did it!

Dave had chosen to cook a Kefta tagine, which our teacher explained is the easiest tagine to make and as such is the bachelors choice, like our version of doing baked beans on toast :) Surprisingly it was probably the tastiest of all the dishes! We also discovered the secret to Moroccan cooking – 2 cups of oil to one cup of ingredients…  which doesn’t really make the tagines a healthy lunch choice.

6196362916_b8658ed4fe_bThe other guy doing the course with us had chosen to make a pigeon pastilla (which later was substituted for chicken due to an (eatable) pigeon shortage).

  This turned out to be a time consuming but great choice as we all went on a little excursion to the bakery to cook it.  To get to the baker, we had to walk several blocks through the Medina as apparently no one has an oven in  their homes because its too expensive, so instead every couple blocks you’ll find the ‘baker’ and you  simply drop your bread or plate of food off and come back later to  pay and collect.  The ‘bakery’ is situated a couple of metres below the ground and is essentially a massive pizza oven with one guy and a huge paddle shoving the food in, around and out.  It’s a very hot and tough job and not too well paid (and disturbingly the fuel for the fire was old varnished furniture, so I guess they don’t know about poisonous vapours??) .

It was easy to draw comparisons from these ‘modern’ bakeries to the bakeries seen in ancient roman ruins throughout Europe, it was amazing to see how some things remain the same over thousands of years.

Once the cooking was all done, we feasted on our dishes and then rolled out of there and headed to the bus station to book our overnight tickets to Merzouga in the desert.  This was our first overnight bus experience, and it turns out that it was an experience that we won’t forget any time soon!!

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