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Morocco

Moroccan Outliers

Off the beaten track in Volubilis and Moulay-Idriss

sunny 24 °C

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Volubilis near Meknes is listed as a World Heritage Site for being an exceptionally well preserved Roman city, but it looked to us as though the place has been left to rack and ruin. It is, of course, nearly two thousand years old, but that’s no excuse for leaving the beautiful mosaic floors exposed to the elements…
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The city was abandoned by the Romans but remained inhabited by Berbers for nearly 800 years until Mohammed’s grandson, Idriss, set up home nearby and arranged for the original building materials to be carted away to build a new city. Some of it, like this triumphal archway…
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and the Forum…
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have been restored…But much of the ancient roman city of Volubilis ended up in the houses of nearby cities and all that’s left is a pile of rubble overgrown with weeds. The nearby city of Moulay-Idriss on the other hand is well preserved and much venerated as the resting place of Idriss, the first Arab Sultan of Morocco, who seized power in 788 AD….
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The city is draped over the top of a dome shaped mountain and Idriss’s mausoleum is in the green roofed mosque in the centre of the town. The mausoleum is one of Islam’s most revered sights and is a truly wondrous thing, but heathens like us are strictly forbidden from seeing it – only god knows why. We did, however, get to see plenty of donkeys…

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Donkeys and mules are still a very common form of transport in Morocco, even in the major cities – just as they were two thousand years ago when the Romans ruled this land. These donkeys were transporting rubble from a building site apparently without anyone telling them where to go…
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Next time - a wander through the narrow souks of Fes, where donkeys reign supreme.

Posted by Hawkson 23:38 Archived in Morocco Comments (3)

Meknes – Fit for a King

sunny 21 °C

“The King is coming…. The King is coming…” You can almost hear the chants ring out in Meknes today as the Royal Palace is spruced up. There are guardsmen on every corner, the flags fly and mature palm trees have suddenly sprouted on patches of derelict land near the King’s Palace. But no one knows when he will arrive so we pretend to be royalty and ride in a horse-drawn caleche to the palace gates…
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The palace guards didn’t believe us so we were sent to the royal prison where, in the past, thousands of unfortunates were incarcerated in more than 7 kilometeres of underground dungeons. We’d love to show you, but it was too dark for photos, so here’s a photo of the royal granary – a massive building capable of storing food for thousands of the king’s subjects in the 15th century…
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Time for a touch of imperial history - Morocco, (or parts of it) has been ruled by Sultans from the time of Idriss in 788 and, since 1957, they have been known as kings, The incumbent is King Mohammed VI, a fifty year old ruler who was crowned on the death of his father in 1999.
Past rulers of Morocco were often despotic megalomaniacs, but Mohammed likes to be thought of as a man of the people and, apart from the fact that he owns a handful of palaces, drives an Aston Martin and has a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet as his private plane, he is much like the average Moroccan.

Meknes is a vibrant and interesting city that is surely the tagine capital of Morocco – just look at this lot in the market square…
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The market is a fascinating place full of artistic displays of spices, olives and dried fruits…
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The souks surrounding the market are a warren of shops where sharp salesman lurk to catch the unwary. Here’s our friend Christine getting the hard sell from a couple of carpet sharks…
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Meknes’s medina (the city within the walls) has magnificent historic buildings with ornate embellishment and beautiful old doors…
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But this Bou-Inania medersa (Islamic school), dating from the 14th century takes the cake when it comes to decorations…
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Sadly we now have to leave Meknes and the kind folk at Riad Lahboul, but stay tuned for further adventures in Morocco.

Posted by Hawkson 11:14 Archived in Morocco Comments (4)

Riad Lahboul - Fit for a Sultan

sunny 25 °C

We visit wonderful and interesting places throughout the world and spend our days marvelling at magnificent buildings and artefacts while imbibing the ambience of exotic civilisations. But, by necessity, half of our time is spent in hotels and restaurants.
In this Tripadvisor internet world we have a pretty good idea of what to expect when we arrive at a hotel and rarely have reason to complain about the accommodation or service. However, very occasionally, we are so completely blown away by the experience that we want to tell the world about it. So, dear blog reader wherever you are, we want to tell you about our stay at the Riad Lahboul in Meknes in the Middle Atlas region of Morocco.
First – meet the owners, Simon and Mouna,
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This delightful young couple with British, French and Moroccan roots began their venture five years ago and have created a truly magical Moroccan oasis in the heart of Meknes. Staying in their riad is to live in a mini sultan’s palace…
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We’ve stayed in some pretty exotic places in our travels, but not for us the ritzy five star joints devoid of local character. We want to experience the culture, not just look at it from the outside, and Simon and Mouna made that happen for us in their beautiful riad. Just take a look at our romantic bedroom…
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And our private sitting room...
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And the fabulous dining room…
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And the many rooftop terraces with oranges and hibiscus…
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But decorations and furnishings alone are insufficient to create a memory that will last a lifetime. The food is also important and every meal at the riad was exceptional. We had many local dishes, including tagines, all cooked in the street’s communal stove, (the traditional method where dishes are prepared at home then baked alongside everyone else’s in a wood fired oven for just a few cents per item). We also had the best French baguettes for breakfast that we have ever experienced. Here is Senna, our waitress, sous chef and general factotum working in the kitchen…
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However, at the end of the day, no matter how beautiful the establishment and how good the food, it is the service that matters most to us. And the service we received from Simon, Mouna and their staff was absolutely outstanding. Not only did they make our stay exceptionally pleasant they even entertained us. They are extremely talented musicians and singers and after dinner they performed traditional Moroccan songs – fantastic.
You too can have a taste of this experience if you go to Youtube - Riad Lahboul
We loved our time at the riad so much that we guarantee that if you stay with Simon and Mouna and you don’t have an experience to treasure for the rest of your life then we will happily pay the bill for you. But please don’t all come at once – they only have six beautiful suites.

Posted by Hawkson 09:07 Archived in Morocco Comments (8)

Chefchaouen’s Got The Blues

sunny 26 °C

Chefchaouen’s Got The Blues

Try these words to the tune of that well known Arabian number, “Moroccan baby blues.”

When your neighbour shades his doorway blue…
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And the steps to the mosque have an indigo hue…
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When the streets of your town have a sapphire sheen…
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And the doors of your stores are toned cerulean…
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When the slope up the hill is tinted azure…
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But the little boy blue isn’t gloomy at all…
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When someone tinges your whole town navy…
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And you think that it is great, and not just plain crazy…
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You’ve got the Moroccan baby blues – Oh yeah!

Chefchaouen, Morocco - Where you can paint your house any colour you want as long as it's blue.

Posted by Hawkson 11:06 Archived in Morocco Comments (3)

Tangier – The Doorway to Africa

sunny 25 °C

The days are racing away as we begin our Moroccan odyssey. We have already visited Tangier, Chefchaouen and Tetouan and have yet to relate tales of our last few days in Spain where we explored the ancient sherry cities of Puerto de Santa Maria and Jerez de la Frontera with our friends, Sharon and Gidon. Here we are enjoying some fine sherries in the centre of Jerez…
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But sherry has had its time in the sun and many of the centuries old bodegas (the enormous warehouses where the sherry is blended and stored during maturation) are sadly falling to ruins. This is just one of the many beautiful bodegas that have been abandoned…
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This bodega and associated buildings (and other similar ones) occupies an entire city block and can be bought for a song today – if you have a few million euros available to fix it up. The bullring in Puerto, on the other hand, is in great condition and bullfighting as popular as ever…
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Photo courtesy of Sharon Minkoff Photography

So now – to Africa…
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Last week we visited the most southwesterly point of Europe in Portugal. Now we are at the most northwesterly point of Africa. Just fifteen miles separates the two continents yet in many ways it could be fifteen thousand. Tangier is a very modern city in parts, (it certainly has more traffic than is good for it), but in the ancient city centre life goes on much as it has done since medieval times. This man is buying a live chicken from a couple of Berber market women…
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While this colourful lady is hoping to sell her mint…
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An army of artisans labour in tiny shops in the labyrinthine souks making all kinds of carpets, clothing, leatherware and jewellery. And here is one of the many bakers…

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The interesting buildings of old Tangier are difficult to photograph because of the narrowness of the souks, but the doorways are fascinating…
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We are staying in a riad, a traditional house in the very centre of the Medina, and around us the markets, bazaars and cafes bustle with noisy life until late each evening. And then, when we’re sound asleep at 4.30 am, we are serenaded with half an hour of high octane chanting by at least a dozen discordant muezzins in the minarets of the surrounding mosques – life is exciting here, but it isn’t peaceful.
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Next time on Blissful Adventures – the incredibly blue city of Chefchaouen.

Posted by Hawkson 12:32 Archived in Morocco Comments (4)

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