Archive for the 'Morocco' Category

14
Mar
17

Morocco: The Blue City of Chaouen


Chefchaouen or simply Chaouen is Morocco’s stunning ‘Blue City’. Tucked away in Africa’s northernmost mountain range, the Rif Mountains, the otherworldly escape has the striking powder-blue buildings that mirror the usually cloudless Moroccan sky. The color choice was influenced by religious rather than artistic reasons. The Jews believed that by dyeing thread with an ancient natural blue dye and weaving it into prayer shawls, they would be reminded of God’s power. This tradition lives on in the regularly repainted blue buildings. Chaouen is currently a rich cultural combination of Berber tribes people, Jews and Muslims, together with descendants of the Moorish exiles from Spain who have lived there since the 1400s.

DSC_0089Chaouen is about three hours drive from Fez where we were based. We decided to spend a day tour in the “blue city” with a rented car and a hired driver based in Fez.

DSC_0091The three-hour journey took us back to the scenery of the medieval ages when camels were used as the main mode of transportation. A lone standing blue door along the main highway signaled us that we have finally entered the blue city.

DSC_0102A breathtaking view of the blue city suddenly emerged as we started to descend to the city center.

CHA2Oh yeah we definitely had to stop for that classic Chaouen shot!

CHA1Our driver was busy parking our car quite far from the lookout point as the parking rules were very strict so my wife and I took turns to have each of our photos taken.

CHA3Bienvenue a Bleuville!

DSC_0230Blue-colored cars, blue-painted buildings everywhere!

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DSC_0233Almost all buildings were painted with a palette of blue.

DSC_0120Any striking color would come alive amidst the blue and white combination of the surroundings.

DSC_0218Our tour started from Chaouen’s main square.

DSC_0155We started traversing Chaouen’s maze-like, winding alleys.

DSC_0162Every corner at every turn enticed me to click my camera.

DSC_0198I could not stop taking photos of those blue doors and windows.

DSC_0196The hues of blue still followed us, naturally.

CHA5Here I am just so glad to be in the blue city.

CSC_0186Here are more photos of me and my wife showcasing the inner part of the blue city.

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DSC_0133Those maze-like alleys were a challenge to our memories.

DSC_0163Next is the colorful scenery of Chaouen’s incredible street shops!

DSC_0219DSC_0220Leather and weaving workshops line Chaouen’s steep cobbled lanes.

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DSC_0205DSC_0197DSC_0200DSC_0202DSC_0190DSC_0191Dyes anyone?

DSC_0192Metal crafts!

DSC_0164It was a different experience roaming around the street shops.

DSC_0178We finally stopped to have our late lunch at one of the street side restaurants near the square with a colorful background and cozy ambiance.

DSC_0180DSC_0181Dining in Chaouen is incredibly inexpensive and a sure treat to the taste buds.

CHEFThe incredible main dish of fried fresh fish, probably from the coastal cities of east Morocco, satisfied our hungry stomachs.  I am a certified fish lover so I have stamped this fishy experience as one of my best.

DSC_0207DSC_0215As we prepared to leave Chaouen, my wife and I both had our parting shots in the blue city.

DSC_0124Oh wait, there is a bit of red in the blue city.  In the shady main square of Uta el Hammam is the red-walled casbah, a 15th-century fortress and dungeon with ethnographic and art exhibits. Be sure to explore it.

If you have been to Morocco’s blue city, what are your fondest memories there?  If you have not been there, what makes you want to go there?

08
Mar
17

Morocco: The Red City of Marrakesh


North central Morocco was where we have been based for the last few days touring the medieval city of Fez and nearby Chefchaouen, Meknes and Volubilis and we were mesmerized by each city’s unique character. To cap our Moroccan holiday, our last destination and our point of exit would be Marrakesh. We hired the same travel guide that took us around north central Morocco for our road trip to Marrakesh stopping for a night in steamy Casablanca. If Chefchaouen evokes the shade of blue, if Fez sparkles gold and if Casablanca emits its polluted gray, Marrakesh surely explodes brightly in red.

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We entered Marrakesh on a stunningly sunny day and we immediately understood why it is called the “Red City”. Almost every building we saw were built using the signature red bricks.

 

 

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Be it government or private buildings………

 

 

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…..the red bricks were a construction staple.

 

 

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It was red all over.

 

 

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Okay, I am exaggerating.  Probably except for the Royal Theater pictured here and a few other buildings, everything we saw were made of red bricks.

 

 

THE MOGADOR PALACE AGDAL

With so many excellent choices of hotels and riads in Marrakesh, from the ultra opulent to the less swanky, the Mogador Palace Agdal was our choice as base.  It is a very affordable yet a seemingly palatial choice.  This hotel is located in the center of the new tourist zone, and faces the Atlas Mountains, the ancient wall of the Royal Palace and Marrakesh’s Gardens of Agdal.

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One of the reasons we booked this hotel was its elaborately-decorated and exquisite lobby where we were welcomed with Moroccan tea and sweets. [photo of the lobby courtesy of hotel]

 

 

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Considering the vast layout of the hotel comprising of 750 rooms spread out in a sprawling complex,  we found it quite a long but interesting walk from the lobby to our room passing through intricately-designed hallways.

 

 

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Another reason we chose this hotel was its stunning pool views. We liked best the hotel room balcony overlooking  the pool.

 

 

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Yes, we had this amazing view from our room!

 

 

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We spent some time in and around the pool.

 

 

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My wife and I were actually 32 weeks pregnant so in a way our activities in Morocco were quite limited. In Marrakesh, our last leg of the tour, we were already content taking our selfie in this magnificent hotel by wrapping my DSRL’s strap around a palm tree and voila, we had our first wedding anniversary memoir. I stopped carrying my heavy professional camera stand a few years back.

 

 

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Here are more photos at the pool side.

 

 

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Myself at the amazing poolside.

 

 

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Another shot of myself at the amazing poolside.

 

 

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Relaxing at the hotel pool side feasting on some local food is one of the more relaxing activities we had in the red city.

 

 

JEMAA EL FNAA, THE MAIN SQUARE

One of the best things to do in Marrakesh is to experience the frenzy at its main square, Jemaa El Fnaa, from sunset to late.  You can still visit it during the day and there would be restaurants and other establishments that would be open but the square would be mostly empty.

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We arrived at the square less than an hour before sunset and the crowd was starting to fill in the huge square.

 

 

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We thought this would be an experience like we never had before.

 

 

 

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The Marrakesh International Film Festival was also ongoing and some activities in the square were related to the festival.

 

 

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We took selfies at the square while we waited for the sunset.

 

 

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As we watched one of the shows pictured, there would be someone who would go around with the tip box who would easily spot visitors and acknowledge their presence and then nicely but persistently ask for tips in return.

 

 

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Games abound and so do musical performances and acrobatics!

 

 

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As the sun had set for the day, the fruit stands and food kiosks started to entice both locals and visitors.

 

 

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Food anyone?

 

 

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When we left the square, it was really filled with a crazy combination of locals and tourists.  Many are saying that Jemaa El Fnaa is the happiest place in Morocco!

 

OTHER THINGS TO DO

 

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Other activities that are interesting to do in Marrakesh are camel trekking at the city’s palm grove or…….

 

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….visiting the newest mall in the area, Menara Mall, to rub shoulders with mostly locals which we did on our last day in Marrakesh or…….

 

 

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…..checking out if you know someone who is visiting the city too!  Through Facebook we learned that a friend from Portugal whom I previously met in the Philippines as we traveled to Palawan was staying just next to our hotel and we visited her and her boyfriend from Ireland. The world is indeed small.

 

 

 

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Surely, our stay in Marrakesh was limited and we would have loved to venture further to Essaouira too or come back again when the Atlas Mountains would be capped by snow.  As our Norwegian flight took off to bring us back to Oslo, we looked down and saw the red city (yes, fiery red) for one last time. We promised we would be back in a different time and in a different season.

 

 

06
Jul
16

Morocco: Medieval Fez


IMG_2038Arriving into Fez, Morocco from Barcelona, Spain was exhilarating with stunning top views of the Rif Mountains and its surrounding lakes.

 

 

IMG_2046The shadow of the Ryanair plane as we were about to land in Fez airport was so haunting against the nicely lined up olive trees.

 

WHERE WE STAYED

IMG_2054We were met at the airport by Mr. Abdel, whom we booked to be our guide and driver during our entire stay in Morocco (except until after he had sent us off to Marrakesh).  He brought us to the riad we booked called, Riad Rcif.

 

 

DSC_0964DSC_0967We were welcomed by the owner himself Mr. Hasish (not pictured) with complimentary Moroccan tea and sweets made by his mother.

 

 

IMG_2068This was the view of the receiving area/restaurant from the third floor of the riad.

 

 

IMG_2079Welcome to Morocco!

 

 

IMG_2074After a quick rest, we decided to have our lunch in the riad before we ventured into a city tour.

 

 

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We did the right thing! The food was sumptuous!

 

 

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This is Moroccan food at its best.  This truly stamped Riad Rcif as one of the best, if not the best restaurant in Fez. In my entire stay in Morocco the food here was the best I have tasted.

 

 

DSC_0027And on to our room.  My wife was 35 weeks pregnant and I failed to verify that the riad did not have an elevator so we had to walk 3 stories up to our room. We just considered it as an exercise and we found it worthwhile as it is the only room with stained glass windows and views of the city.

 

DSC_0036Could have I asked for a nicer bed?

 

DSC_0977There was a tiny nook with a small table and a couple of chairs.

 

DSC_0030 DSC_0029The bathroom gave us the experience of  medieval times.

 

 

image3Finally, up at the penthouse of Riad Rcif one can have the view of a part of the old walled city.

 

THE WORLD-RENOWNED POTTERY OF FEZ

DSC_1035As one of the city tour stops, our guide brought us to the famous pottery in Fez which is the biggest in Morocco.

 

 

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We were oriented on the entire process of ancient pottery.

 

 

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We were also briefed on how the intricate designs are prepared and meticulously carved out and put together.

 

 

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These are some of the outputs from the same pottery factory that are exported to all parts of the world.

 

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We also toured the area of those painting the designs on the ceramics.

 

 

Here are some of the the colorful finished products being sold inside the factory.

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We were so enticed we bought some to be brought back to the U.S.

 

 

MORE OF FEZ’S AMAZING CRAFTS

DSC_1056We were whisked off to a metal crafts store that’s selling magnificent metal lamps…..

 

 

DSC_1053….gleaming copper plates……

 

 

DSC_1052….with demonstrations of how intricate designs are etched on the plates….

 

 

DSC_1064…Berber jewelry…

 

DSC_1062….even ultra expensive dining set made of camel bones.

 

 

 

MORE BEAUTIFUL SITES AROUND FEZ

image2This is the area where we would be dropped off by our driver and picked up by the hotel staff to traverse the winding alleys of the old walled city as it is only accessible by foot and donkey. Somewhere up there is Riad Rcif, our base in Fez.

 

 

image1Yes, donkeys abound, nicely blending with modern cars and they are real mode of transportation mostly in the northern and eastern part of Morocco.

 

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Another beautiful place we visited was the Army Palace overlooking Fez.

 

 

DSC_1014At the mountain summit is a small palatial compound composed of just one squarish structure guarded by armed men.

 

 

DSC_1009 DSC_1010The sweeping views of Fez before sunset were overwhelming.  Yes a  walled city lies below with its ancient culture well preserved.

 

 

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We were not accompanied by our tour guide as we roamed around the palace and stopped at the lookout so we had to take a selfie instead as we were the only ones at the top as it was late afternoon already.

 

 

12314005_10208193219496769_8379035391630529412_nNext, the king’s palace was a sight to behold even from outside!

 

 

 

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DSC_1016More of the gates of Fez.

 

 

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DSC_1015And its walls.

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_0008As the sun went down the golden effect it had was captured on the city wall.

 

 

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We then visited a night market that was starting to come alive at twilight.

 

 

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DSC_1070The dramatic and imposing Blue Gate was one of the highlights of our tour of Fez.

 

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Our tour guide and driver, Abdel, also brought us to Fez’s version of the Champs Elysees.

 

 

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Here are some shots of the narrow, ascending and descending maze of alleys inside the  old walled city only accessible on foot and donkeys.

 

 

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Surely, Fez gave me and my beautiful wife a unique experience.

 

 

 




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