Monday, January 31, 2011

Morocco Part II: Chefchaouen

The blue doors of Chefchaouen.

After Marrakech, we bought train tickets to head north to into the mountains. I have to say, as far as overnight trains go, this one was very comfy.

Alex reading in his bunk.

The train was about 9.5 hours or so to Tangier, and then we got a taxi on to Chefchaouen. We tried to bargain for the taxi, but, as we really had no idea how else to get there, our bargaining power was rather limited. The odd thing about Morocco being that we paid more for a 2 hour taxi ride then staying over night in a hostel.

Once we got in the cab, our driver was super friendly, and the ride, although a little too curvy for my liking, was beautiful, through amazingly green rolling countryside.

Once we arrived in town, we wandered around to find a hotel, which is a little challening in Chef, as it's SUPER hilly. We ended up at a really nice place called Hotel Ouarzazate, which, just like Chefchaouen, was painted entirely in blue.

Alex and I both really loved Chefchaouen, it was just a nice change of pace from the craziness of Marrakech. The city has some tourism, but for the most part, is a pretty sleepy village. The streets are narrow and winding, and generally going uphill as the city is basically built into the mountainside. The most striking feature is the vibrant colors. Everything is awash in blue, from bright royal shades to the most delicate periwinkle. I felt for some reason like I was wandering on a Greek island, but then would look out and see mountain countryside instead of the ocean.

Streets in the village.

Lovely little doors.





Peppers at a street stall.

Tourist shop off the main square.

We spent most of the time just wandering about the city, enjoying good meals, exploring the kasbah in the center of town, and reading on the rooftop of our hotel.

Inside the Kasbah.




View from the tower.

Inside the tower. I love how this image turned out!

We also went for a great hike on our last day, up to a little mosque way above the city. Of course, there was a path leading to it, but Alex and I managed to find the more perilous route of scrambling up the hillside with mountain goats and an abandoned cemetery. I'll let you guess whose idea that was... The view from the top made it worth it though, and it did make for a good adventure.

Alex deciding the best way to climb up the "path" to the mosque.

Enjoying the view.

Crazy tree on the way up.

The mosque at the top!

The view!

Alex and I at the top!

The view on the way down.

As we made our way down, we passed perhaps the oldest blue door of all.

After enjoying our time in Chef, Alex and I headed back to Tangier and then flew to Madrid to spend an evening with our friend Oscar. Fun times had by all.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Morocco: Part I

I finally finished going through all my photos from our New Year's adventure in Morocco! Hurray! I'll be posting part two later this week, but if you're photo happy and want to see the whole set, you can find them here.

The medina at sunset. (I wish I had a tripod, but not to bad for hand-held!)

This NYE, rather then spend our time in the freezing cold of New York or Minnesota, Alex and I jetted across the Atlantic to meet up with Alex’s brother and fiancĂ© for an adventure in Morocco. Although once we arrived things were great, getting there, at least for me, was a bit of adventure.

You see, I was flying standby, which often, is awesome. However, in the days following the worst blizzard in NYC ever, getting on a flight standby was not happening anytime soon. Thus, desperate times call for desperate measures. In order to meet up with Alex, I ended up taking a 7am bus from NYC to DC, flying from DC to Atlanta, then Atlanta to Madrid, finally then flying from Madrid to Marrakech. Sheesh! A little much, but I was very glad to finally make it!

Although I missed out because of my airline troubles, Alex did get to spend one day in Casablanca enjoying the sites, primarily the Hassan II mosque on the coast, one of the largest in the world.

A few shots from his time in Casa:




On New Year’s Eve, I finally stumbled sleepily into Marrakech, and was so pleased to find it exactly how I remembered from my previous trip with Emily in 2006. A loud, crazy, colorful carnival of every possible stimulus. I was also happy that I still had my bearings and sort of semi knew where I was going. I promptly found our hostel and passed out while I waited for Alex to arrive. For anyone curious, we stayed at Hotel Imouzzer and it was great! 120 Dirham (about $14 a night) and clean and comfortable.

The view from our hotel rooftop terrace at night.

After Alex made it in and we had sufficiently napped enough to be semi conscious, we ventured out to meet Nick and Amber and find ourselves some dinner. I insisted on eating in the food stalls in the center of the medina, remembering awesome food for small prices.


The medina from above with the food stalls getting ready.

For those unfamiliar, the large square in the center of the medina of Marrakech is known as the Djemaa el Fnna. During the day it's filled with cart after cart of orange juice and dried fruit vendors; along with a carnival of snake charmers, drum bands, acrobats, and henna tattoo artists pulling on your sleeve trying to draw a tourist dollar one way or the other. It's an amazing sight, best observed while sipping a mint tea from one of the many rooftop terraces that surround the square.

Tons of delicious fresh squeezed orange juice!

Snake Charmers.


At night however, things come even more alive. Every evening, hundreds of barbecues and food stands are built from scratch and grills fire up to cook every sort of meat you could want. Sit down on a bench for a plate or just a bite or bowl of delicious harira, the signature Moroccan soup filled with lentils and chickpeas.

At night, even more performers come out and many locals gather in circles to hear story tellers spin their tales. One particularly popular activity involved “fishing” for soda bottles. Something Alex claimed would be too easy, kept him challenged for quite some time.

Fishing during the day.

Keeping Alex entertained at night.

The rest of our time in Marrakech was spent pretty evenly divided between eating tasty food, drinking mint tea, and of course shopping in the souks. The tiny streets that wind a maze through the souks, or market streets, are filled with vendors selling everything under the sun. As you wander the labyrinth you’ll find craftsman stitching leather shoes, men dying huge vats of fabrics, jars of vibrantly colored powders and spices from floor to ceiling, and the scent of freshly carved cedar wafting through the air. When I traveled here before I didn’t have the courage to take any photos, but this time, I did manage to snap a few. All of them from vendors we purchased things from, who then happily granted me permission.











Ok, not all of the vendors, but I couldn't help but take a photo of this plumbers sign!


Mosque entrance in the souks.

We also took an afternoon to wander out to some castle ruins.

Lovely orange trees in the gardens at the ruins.


Storks atop the castle.



Alex, in the prison below ground...:-)

On our last day, Alex and I also walked out to the main mosque right outside the medina and then down to the Majorelle Gardens which offered some fresh air and a little more peace and quiet then can be gotten from the circus inside the city.






Majorelle Gardens:






Up next, Chefchaouen, the beautiful blue city in the mountains!