Feasting on Moroccan food and soaking in Moroccan rain

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Africa » Morocco » Rabat-Salé-Zemmour-Zaer
December 7th 2010
Published: December 11th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

Inside the MausoleumInside the MausoleumInside the Mausoleum

Still in Rabat.

Spices, Spices, Spices!!!

From Dakhla we took a late night flight to Casablanca. As we only got there around midnight and were planning to move further right away early next morning, we decided to spend the night at the airport. We found a quiet spot hidden from the herds of travellers, layed down our multi-purpose Air Pacific blankets and happily fell asleep.

Next morning we got on a train early to Rabat (trains, trains, we love them so much and the last time we used a train was in Myanmar. That is 9 months ago). But we realised that the weather in Morocco is not what we expected. At least at this part of the year. Pouring rain all day, heavy winds and cold. We got a nice room in a cosy family hotel next to the central market and took a good nap under 3 layers of thick blankets (there is no heating in most of the places) before doing anything else. Our first souvenir was a really good and useful investment: a nice big red umbrella.

Later on we realised how well we got positioned in Rabat as the central market had all the goodness
What a carving work...What a carving work...What a carving work...

Morocco is full with these beautiful decorations.
we needed. Strong coffee and mint tea, delicious olives with different spicings, cheese, soft Arabic bread, nuts, cakes and lovely Moroccan wines. So no complaints. We had our first Tajines in the afternoon in a small, local restaurant. And it tasted lovely. I really don't understand how it's possible that Morocco is loaded with herbs and spices, but the countries right South of it hardly even bother to season the meals. And in case you doit, then it's often the same everywhere... The Malians and Mauritanians import green tea from China, why don't they buy some spicy stuff from their neighbours? It makes such a difference.

We also realised that we are off the tourist season. Which is good! But we also realised why there are no tourists: the weather is horrible! In some moments of "no/less rain times" we explored though the city. Beautiful colonial buildings in excellent shape, nice views from the Kasbah quarter and beautiful mosques. The whole city feeling was nice, not too big, not too small, you can walk it around easily. We also wondered around in the local Medina, a nice place to shop or just for the pleasure of the eyes, especially

One of the water sources decorated with typical Moroccan zellij at the Mohammed V Mausoleum in Rabat.
as we were not harrassed by touts and eager vendors. And the street food was lovely too. We tried the herby snail soup which they sell on the street in tiny earthware bowls. Yummie! So we kept on trying these snails,and they kept on being approved.

But after 3 days we decided to move on as the weather did not really get better. So we took a train to Meknés, a bit touristier town than Rabat, but still pretty OK. Got a cheap room in a hotel, but by the time we were ready for sight seeing it started to rain again... Damn! But we still went for it, getting lost in the partially covered medina.

♪♫♪♫♪ And it's raining again ♪♫♪♫♪

Next day we took a bus to Moulay Idriss, a little town on the edge of the Middle Atlas mountains, an hour away from Meknés. Here it was also raining hard frequently, but we decided to ignore the weather and headed to see the famous Roman ruins of Volubilis. Based on the knowledge learnt through excavations, Volubilis was annexed to the Roman Empire in about AD 40, with population of approx 20,000. The ancient city
Le Tour HassanLe Tour HassanLe Tour Hassan

If it ever got finished, this mosque would have been the 2nd largest one in the world after Samarra in Iran, but the sultan died before it was finished... Pity.
has amazing monuments, including the triumphal arch, capitol, baths, basilica, lots of Roman columns and beautiful mosaics in good state. The Berber tribes chased away the Romans in around AD 280, but the remaining inhabitants continued to speak Latin until the arrival of Islam. The place was inhabited till the 18th century, when an earthquake shook it and since then it's abandoned. Really nice and large site to walk around, unless you are annoyed by the rain. So we made it short, took some photos, which seem to be quite ghostly with the grey sky and grouping clouds.

As there was no car available, we had to walk back to Moulay Idriss. Only 4 kms, so an easy walk. By the time we got back to the hotel we got soaked again, so decided to warm up a bit. Unfortunately Chris warmed up a bit too much and had a fever of 39.8. Auch!!! So he took a large dose of Paracetamol and decided to stay in bed.

I was fine so went for an adventure: the famous Moroccan hammam experience. The hotel owner told me I only needed to bring a towel and some money with me
A quick peek...A quick peek...A quick peek...

The inside of the mosque next to the Mausoleum. Beautiful. We were not allowed to enter, but this picture was allowed.
so I went for it. Hammams in Morocco are not signposted at all (or if they are, then only in Arabic, so basically this means no useful signposting for us), hence you have to ask the locals where it is. Every town has a public hammam, mostly because most of the houses still don't have running water. While walking in town earlier we peeped through a door and saw a few men in a room making fire inside. Then we learnt that they were heating the communal hammam!

The afternoon was reserved for the ladies for getting clean, so I was warmly welcome. One local lady volunteered to give me the experience for some nice pocket money: so I stripped down to underwear and we went inside the steam room... Very simple, people sit down on the floor, get a few buckets of hot water from the common water source and start sweating.

My lady used a soap on my body made of olives. It renews the skin, helps to remove the dead skin. Well, loads of dead skin came off from me when she started rubbing with a rough glove all over me. The lady who helped
Bab el-BouibaBab el-BouibaBab el-Bouiba

Night scene at one of the gates of Rabat's Medina.
me was surprised by the amount of dead skine. Locals go to the hammam twice or once a week. For me it was the first time... But it was good, really good. Afterwards I had the skin of a baby ☺

The imperial city of Fès

The following day Chris was OK again, so we decided to go to one of the main touristical towns in Morocco: the imperial city of Fès. Up to now we hardy saw any toursits in Morocco. Ok here and there a few, but not really a lot. The locals were also nice and not pushy, but that changed once we arrived in Fès. Beautiful town with a huge walled Medina. We arrived there in the early afternoon. And a big surprise: The big touristy Medina deserted and all small vending shops were closed. The answer is simple: the Friday prayers are the most important ones of the week, so all was closed. But we enjoyed it. We strolled around, had some nice easy views and took our time, unharrassed. For example there are more than 200 mosques in the Medina only and plenty of mausoleums around, so nice, interesting old buildings are
Off-tourist season...Off-tourist season...Off-tourist season...

A nice little cafe in the Kasbah of Rabat. Heavy rain, off season: I guess the business is plummeting.
really sprinkled around. Only until after 5pm things came back to life and this was pretty interesting to see. The quiet, calm corridors became buzzing streets with vendors getting their supplies with push carts and donkeys. Really nice.

The following day again exploring the Medina, this time with a guide. Crossing the Medina through streets where the average tourists don't go was actually the most interesting part. Ok, he brought us also the 'artisanal quarters', but after seeing 3 different kinds he took off with the pre-arranged fee and a very grumpy face. We didn't buy anything at the carpetmaker, not at the leather tannery and looked only semi-interested at the 'traditional herb-shop', so probably he didn't get his commissions...

But the leather tanneries were interesting and indeed very primitive. Sheep skin being cleaned, scrapped, washed, dyed and dried in very poor conditions. Interesting to see, but happy that we don't make our living with this. And the 'traditional herb-shop', well sorry, that was really a shame: a modern shop with a few tupperware boxes on fancy displays. Nope, we had already seen better in the Medina. Agi actually asked there for the price for the typical hammam

In other worlds the old Jewish quarter of Rabat. Beautiful white-blue bildings and curving narrow streets.
'mud' ghassoul 30 dirham for approx 200 gramms. Later she bought it on the street for 4 dirham... same stuff....

A (too) long stay in the imperial city of Fès

But then Chris got sick again, and this time he stayed sick. During the day he slept with a fever running from 38.6 to 39.7 degrees, so after 2 days of this it was decided that a visit to a hopital was needed. Going to the first nearby hospital didn't work out, as we couldn't make ourselves understood, so we headed to a second one, out of the centre, but huge and modern. There all became clear. Chris didn't get a proper fever in Moulay Idriss due to the rain, but a lovely malaria mosquito left its markings... Apparently he got it somewhere in Senegal or Mali, but it was 'dormant' since then. So after a day of checks, Chris got checked in the hospital on Monday and stayed there till Friday. Ok, the treatment was good. One of the best hospital foods ever (tasty, but a bit boring after a while), but the communication was difficult. We really don't think it was our French knowledge, but simply
Herbal snail soup... yummie!Herbal snail soup... yummie!Herbal snail soup... yummie!

A typical street food in Morocco, it tastes really good, just have to find the way to get the beasts out of their shelter.
the lack of communication from their side. He was basically bound to his bed (permanently bags with intravenous supplements made it hard to walk), while Agi was basically bound between internet shops (talking to the families and the insurance company) and hospital visits. But all in all, it worked out and all is ok. We had up to now an almost uneventful trip (from the medical point of view), so we guess that something like this was just bound to happen. We're just happy that it appeared in a city like Fès and not in one of the many shit-hole places (with all due respect of course) where we've been before... At least all the facilities were there for the both of us.

Our next plan is still a bit blurry. We want to be in Holland/Hungary by Christmas, to visit friends and family. But the road to get there is not really clear. We guess Spain, or ... We'll see.

Additional photos below
Photos: 36, Displayed: 29


Volubilis in the rainVolubilis in the rain
Volubilis in the rain

No, we did not really enjoy this visit. Pouring rain all day...
Ancient bathroom??Ancient bathroom??
Ancient bathroom??

A tilework at Volubilis, the ancient Roman city close to Moulay Idriss.
This is a color photo!This is a color photo!
This is a color photo!

Clouds gathering above the Basilica of Volubilis.
Wanna Hammam?Wanna Hammam?
Wanna Hammam?

The non-descript entrance of the public hammam in Moulay Idriss. Really nice place to relax and get scrubbed...
Moulay IdrissMoulay Idriss
Moulay Idriss

Next day we were blessed with blue sky.
Fatima's handFatima's hand
Fatima's hand

The local superstition to bring good fortune to the people living behind the door. FYI, Fatima was the daughter of Prophet Mohammed.
Street in the Fès MedinaStreet in the Fès Medina
Street in the Fès Medina

It is indeed narrow, sometimes you have to walk facing the wall...
Is this safe?Is this safe?
Is this safe?

Wooden construction to keep the walls from falling. So far it works...
Muslim WindowMuslim Window
Muslim Window

The lady can see the entrance of her house when a visitor comes without showing her face. Nice trick!
Inside the Moqri RiadInside the Moqri Riad
Inside the Moqri Riad

We got a quick tour inside this historical building, which used to belong to one of the rich families of Fès.
Hammam technicsHammam technics
Hammam technics

They heat the hammam by fueling this huge oven. It has huge water containers on the top. The steam enters the hammam and tadaaa!
Could't skip it!Could't skip it!
Could't skip it!

A carpet shop in the Fès Medina. It's part of each tour with hard selling. But we managed to leave without buying anything...

14th December 2010

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