The thought of Morocco conjures up many striking images: Colorful markets teaming with spices, textiles and pottery; steaming fragrant food served in clay tagines; Berbers on camels in the desert. I had wanted to visit Morocco FOREVER and finally had the opportunity. I had eight days to spend and wanted to see as much as possible without trying to do too much. You know, the usual. Morocco is a small country but incredibly diverse geographically with fabulous cities, stunning coastlines, striking mountains and a sprawling desert.
I saw six cities in eight days and had 1000 laughs.
We arrived in the morning and rented a car. This was an experience unto itself. Mohammed the charismatic and slightly shady Enterprise associate that we dealt with basically convinced us to get tons of insurance and a GPS and after lots of debate (thankfully Jasmine speaks fluent French) we had a car. If you don’t drive manual, perhaps learn prior to trip because an automatic is literally double the cost.
Also, before you leave the airport, go to a telecommunications store and purchase a SIM card and make sure to get cash from ATM or exchange money immediately. This will make your life easier!
A random man at the airport began putting our luggage in the trunk and we assumed he was an Enterprise employee but apparently not. He tried obstructing our departure demanding a tip and sadly we had no local currency. He was not happy. Be prepared for this sort of thing!
We went to meet a local friend who lives in a beautiful villa. His mother had arranged a traditional home cooked meal; Friday couscous with vegetables. It was a wonderful welcome and the first of many delicious meals.
After lunch we went to see the Hassan II Mosque. It is the largest mosque in Morocco and Africa and the 7th largest in the world. Its minaret is the world’s tallest at 210 metres (689 ft) with a laser pointing to Mecca. We had read that this Mosque fits up to 105,000 worshippers (25,000 inside) and has a glass floor to view the ocean and a retractable roof! Only Muslims can visit inside unless you do a tour. Unfortunately we didn’t arrive at the right time for this and despite our best efforts, could not pass as Muslims. It was still worth seeing, a breathtakingly gorgeous Mosque.
We left the Mosque and drove 290 km to Fez (about 3hrs). We stopped at two different bank machines to get money and when both didn’t work, we gave up and drove. In our jet lagged haze we hadn’t planned for how we would pay the tolls on the expressway. Luckily they took our euros. It was actually humorous watching us dig through our change for every single coin we had left. Get local currency at airport and while at it…a SIM card!!
Our arrival in Fez is worth noting. The riad where we stayed was in the old city, which is basically a maze and no cars allowed inside. The hotel had emailed me the location where we should park as well as GPS coordinates. Unfortunately our GPS was a piece of crap. The maps were not detailed enough and we were lost and exhausted. After several conversations with hotel staff via cell phone we found our parking and a hotel employee was waiting with a cart for our luggage.
We were led through the maze and to our beautiful little oasis… Riad Laroussa. We were greeted by Karim, who got us settled and took us to the roof where the staff had prepared a delicious dinner for us… couscous AGAIN!
We had a lovely breakfast at the riad and checked out the beautiful terrace.
Karim had arranged a city tour for us since it is virtually impossible to get around in the maze of 9402 streets.
We had a lovely private guide named Farida that the hotel arranged.
She gave us a wonderful tour teaching us about the Imperial city and it’s history. Fez is the largest medina (old city) in the world. Built in 1808 by Moulay Idriss from Syria. There are 158 Mosques and is one of most spiritual areas in the world.
We also managed to do some shopping.
After a wonderful but exhausting day we had a nice quiet evening in our cozy suite by the fire. It is quite cool in northern Morocco in February, by the way.
We had heard about the fabled blue city of Chefchaouen and on the map it looked very close to Fez so we decided to make a day trip. The city is about 200 km north of Fez and was supposed to take 3 hours. I did mention the piece of crap GPS we had? The GPS took us on the “scenic” route through the countryside where we were lucky not to destroy our car on the horrible roads. Please stick to the highways!
This was a part of Morocco I hadn’t imagined. It looked kind of like Ireland…sort of.
This was a very frustrating moment yet we just burst out laughing.
We finally made it to a large highway after using old fashioned techniques such as tracking the sun in the sky to figure out west and east. Luckily the day was gorgeous with blue skies and beautiful scenery.
After almost 5 hours…yes we were really lost…we arrived! I’m will just show you this cool, unique, and beautiful city.
So that’s the blue city. I couldn’t find an authoritative source on the city’s blue origins but the most prevalent story is that Chefchaouen was originally established in 1472 when Moorish and Jewish refugees came here after fleeing from the Reconquista of Spain. In Judaism, blue represents the sky as well as the heavens, reminding everyone to live a life full of spiritual awareness.
Now I will tell you about Djellabas. They are these distinctive pointy hooded robes that Moroccan men wear all over the country. In the cool North, they are made of heavy wool.
The wool djellabas were for sale all over Chefchaouen and we were freezing and…well they looked really warm!
We gave the shopkeepers and the locals a good laugh since women don’t usually wear these…especially foreign women! Shopping for them was hilarious. At one store we asked the proprietor for one like she was wearing and when her brother and co-owner couldn’t find one he said something to her in Arabic; we didn’t need to be fluent to understand that he told her to take hers off and sell it to us. We all had a good laugh and she gave her brother a death look!
We call this “Djellaba time”
We spent the day and then drove back to Fez. We left super early the next day to head to the desert!