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Published: June 29th 2009
The Palin money shot
High above the tanneries in Fes. The iconic sight we came to see didnt let us down
A brief update. 750 days after our engagement
in Peru and chilled2thecore are no longer simply Matt and Carla but the new Mr and Mrs Parry.
I won’t bore you with the details, this is a travel blog after all, photographic evidence can be found if you search
hard enough, but this amazing event did mean one thing. A Honeymoon. The chance to explore. And the chance to travel.
Since returning from our RTW adventure nearly 2 years ago we have been lucky enough to attend two weddings abroad, one in Spain and one in Italy, as well as visit my parents in France. All good trips but our honeymoon would be our first trip away alone and we wanted an adventure into the unknown. So where to go?
Being right back in the rat race meant restrictions on time away from work and after 5 days for the wedding itself we were left with just 10 days.....10 measly days.
Morocco is a 3 hour flight away and we think (because nobody really seems to know or care if it’s adopted BST) the exact same time zone as London. I seem to remember my N.B.F. Michael Palin quite
liked it (he now lives down the road and I managed to accost him in a local bistro) and ever since watching an episode where he visited the ancient city of Fes I have always wanted to go. So with my new Wife’s agreement (of course) we reloaded our backpacks, boarded a plane and decided to document what happened, as we did at every stage of our last big adventure, right here on Travelblog.
Fes - Where the streets have no name
If you fancy an easy job, I would suggest air hostess on Royal Air Maroc airlines. OK our flight was half empty and had less passengers than our wedding had guests - most of whom were returning home and had brought their own food onboard - but when I went in search of a butty and a beer I found our 3 flight attendants asleep and a little put out when my forced cough woke them.
By 4pm we had landed, collected our bags and arrived via taxi on the outskirts of the medina. Here our host Didier, a French man who managed our riad, escorted us to Dar Roumana where we freshened up before heading
May the force be with you
Marrakesh deffinately has a star wars feel when you get of the beaten track
out to explore.
Fes is amazing and quite simply the most untouched city we have both ever visited. None of the typical trappings of modern capitalism are found in the medina. No advertising hoards, no working ATM, no chain stores or restaurants, no cars, no mopeds, no neon, not even any street names or road signs exist within the 16km perimeter wall that is home to nearly 400,000 people who call themselves the Fassis.
It is honestly like no other place we have ever been. The narrow streets, community spirit and completely confused layout reminds us of a favela; but it is a safe and religious city and after accepting that as a tourist you stick out like a sore thumb, you quickly grow to trust the locals who prove to be warm and friendly but mostly just polite and willing to help (for a small fee of course).
This lack of pretence means that none of the public spaces are gaudy, spectacular or over the top. The only grandeur is behind the wooden door of the riads which remain private spaces. Even the largest mosques are simple in construction, although most are just windowless rooms covered in prayer
Sunset in Essaouira
The wife takes a stroll
mats and absolutely none are open to tourists or non-practicing muslims.
This is our first experience of a truly Islamic city and with 35 mosques within a stone’s throw of our riad the call to prayer from each separate one echoes across the city at 4 set times throughout the day and night. It is an amazing sound, especially at 3.45am and is part haunting melody and part argument in a donkey sanctuary - but however described it only adds to the mysticism of a truly amazing place.
We visit the tanneries, the main attraction, and my main memory from Palin’s visit and they don’t disappoint. Climbing up onto the rooftops of the surrounding leather sellers you get a bird’s eye view of the artist’s palette of dyes used to colour the leather that Morocco is famous for. A stubbornness to stick to tradition means that pigeon shit and cow piss are still used, so it absolutely stinks especially in 42° dry desert heat - the sprig of mint they hand you to hold under your nose does absolutely nothing but add a minty edge to the stench - but boy is it worth it for the view.
dayglo at daysend
sunset in Essaouira is a laid back and pretty fashionable time of day, even the burka seems to become a fashion item.
Fact: Getting from A to B In Fes is impossible without getting lost. As far as we can work out only 2 streets have any sort of name and as soon as you turn off one of them into the souqs you’re lost within seconds. At this point you can do one of 3 things: 1 - Get pissed off because you are a bloke who a) hates getting lost and b) hates asking for directions, 2 - Just go with it and keep wandering around until you get back to one of the main streets or 3 - Befriend a local 10 year old boy called Haffid who for 50p will get you back to where you want to be. During our 3 days in Fes I try all three and would strongly suggest that options 2 and 3 are the best, and I’m sure the wife would agree.
Our status as honeymooners means we had upgraded to a swanky boutique riad run by Dider, his Kiwi girlfriend Justine, a local boy called Mohammed and tortoise called Eddie. And what a place it is, 5 rooms painstakingly restored with traditional mosaic and wood carving, beautiful lighting and lavish furnishings
Wooly hat time
45 degrees in Fes
- a complete oasis hidden away from the heat and the madness of the medina. Plus it is one of the only places to get a cold beer in a city that ‘officially’ remains dry.
The Fassi’s refusal to give in to the tourist means that restaurant options are limited, but Didier is a trained chef so on our second night he agrees to cook for us in the riad’s beautiful candlelit courtyard. He heads off to a local souq to get a chicken slaughtered and grabs whichever ingredients look freshest and produces one of the best meals we have both ever tasted - at least since the local B’sara soup we had enjoyed in the middle of the souq served from a large cauldron stirred with a wooden oar and delivered through a hole in the wall earlier that day.
Other less successful culinary delights included Air Maroc’s so called ‘chicken’ sandwich and a local delicacy called a pastille - basically an Eccles cake filled with shredded meat....mmmmmmmmm
We left Fes feeling equally amazed and bewildered, ready to move on but lucky enough to have experienced such a truly unique place. Next stop Marrakesh.
8 hours on a train upon which the entertainment came mainly from the array of passengers who came and went from our carriage, and we arrived at a swanky station that would put even Euston or Paddington to shame. We expected Marrakesh to be more commercial and even before we left the station we passed a KFC and a McDonalds - although thankfully they looked empty (McTagine anyone?).
Our introduction to Marrakesh was a difficult one - an angry taxi driver who had no idea where he was going ended up dropping us off somewhere near our riad before arranging for 3 menacingly ugly youths to take us the final few minutes on foot (who then sneered when I tipped them an amount that the kids in Fes would have been delighted with - cheeky bastards).
P’tit Habibi riad again proved to be a wonderful barrier to the madness beyond its generic wooden front door. Only 4 rooms, yet another tortoise and an altogether more hip, shabby chic feel with an added touch of Ikea for good measure. A quick freshen up, yet another mint tea (my pee is starting to smell like Wrigley’s by now) and
Eddie racing across the mosaic
Tortoise #1 of our trip. It is believed they bring health to the families who own them, although it hasnt been to healthy for Morocco's tortoise population.
off we went to continue our difficult introduction to the city outside. That evening it rained, kids swore at us, taxi drivers got lost (again) then we got lost so had to pay menacingly ugly kids to help us find our way (again). It rained some more and we generally wished we had stayed in Fes......the only advantage was that getting hold of a beer (to calm the nerves) proved to be a whole lot easier....and after sinking a few we headed off to bed feeling a little pissedand travel worn but hopeful for the following day.
It’s easy to compare two places when visited one after another; it’s also easy to judge one against another, but after waking up to sunshine Marrakesh seemed a much more welcoming place. OK the ancient untouched feel of Fes isn’t apparent in most of Marrakesh and cars replace donkeys, sneers replace smiles (most of the time), thousands of satellite dishes, like sunflowers pointing towards the sun, dominate the roof terraces and the wind is more hand dryer than hairdryer. But it’s as equally fascinating a place and after getting our bearings, we clearly started to exude much more certainty and confidence and
Reflections of Fes
Deep in the souqs, probably lost again
the locals seemed to read this and backed off looking for the next new arrivals and actually became much more welcoming and jovial. The Moroccans are a deeply religious people, so most are just trying to make a living and not trying to fleece or rob you - and it appears the more trusting and interested in them you are, the more welcoming they are in return.
We end a lovely first day with a terribly, terribly middle class evening with 2 trainee surgeons (plastics and orthopaedics) in one of Marrakesh’s trendy but expensive restaurants overlooking the storks that nest in the walls of the medina.....me and the wife are on honeymoon after all.
By the time we are preparing to leave Marrakesh the locals seem much more accepting of our visit, all except one menacingly ugly kid
who remains my nemesis throughout the whole three days (he claims his English isn’t very good, but seems to understand the phrase ‘little f*cker’).
On our last evening we pass through the grounds of the mosque close to our riad, there are a large number of blind folk who live within the grounds due to a donation given to the mosque
Medersa bou inania
The buildings in Fes may not be spectacular but the mosiac even in the toilets makes a great photo. This mosaic is on the internal courtyard of the medersa, which unlike the mosques does let sweaty tourists inside.
years ago specifically for the blind. When we give some money to one of them he takes us over to where the main group sit, get us to join hands and they all sing a blessing to us both. After this we head off to the main square to take in the madness of the food stalls, snake charmers and acrobats who gather after darkness falls.
The banter with the stall holders is hilarious and my lack of hairstyle gives them an easy excuse to grab my attention: ‘Bruce Willis, you want food?’
, or ‘Oi skinhead’
, but by far for the most original and well researched Heston Blumenthal, you hungry? We have snail porridge and egg ‘n’ bacon ice cream for you’
Essaouira (pronounced Essa Weerer apparently)
And relax......take a 3 hour bus journey to a small ancient white washed medina that when compared to Fes not even the wife can get lost in, with a long sweeping beach, cool sea breezes, clear blue skies, wonderful sunsets, quiet candlelit seafood restaurants, the most romantic boutique hotel room we have ever stayed in and you have the perfect location to unwind after 2 very
Tortoise number 2 in Marrakesh
Its amazing how much poo can come out of such a small animal
Madada Mogadar is a 6 room place with another French manager, another helpful local named Mohammed (but no tortoise)a breakfast terrace overlooking the ocean and a huge colonial style room complete with Bose sound system and a bath tub that could quite easily fit the majority of people staying in the hotel - never mind just me, Carla and a whole load of rose petals (honeymoon don’t forget).
We settle immediately and arriving at lunchtime head straight to the port where a few savvy fishermen have set up makeshift places that will BBQ any of the day’s catch you fancy at a reasonable price. All very Heath Robinson but fresh sardines, king prawns, octopus and squid hit the spot and set the tone for what proves to be fantastic food throughout our whole stay.
Apparently Essaouira and nearby Diabet are the only places that Hendrix ‘holidayed’ in his 27 years and he seems to have left behind the 60’s bohemian feel which has recently been revived by the French riad and restaurant owners as well as the local dope sellers and patisserie boys (who as well as cream buns sell moon/happy/space cakes).
It’s still really Moroccan
Sunset in Essaouira
A great memory from our last night in morocco
but so much more laid back than both Fes and Marrakesh - we get more noise and hassle from the seagulls than the stall holders, who add Fabien Barthez to my list of lookalikes, but who mainly leave us alone to wander along the narrow streets. It really is just the sort of place that you ‘saunter’ in absolutely no hurry whatsoever and needless to say we both like it almost immediately.
As well as the medina, Essaouira has a beach. And a very long beach at that, which we walk along as far as the tide will allow us on our first day. We make the same walk on Sunday, when the place transforms into something similar to the beaches in Rio. Families flock en masse, teenagers play keepy uppy, the speakers designed to usually make the call to prayer instead (and for some unknown reason) blast out R&B ballads while the local youngsters strut their stuff to Usher and Akon. There’s not quite the same level of posing and raciness as in Rio but we do see a couple of fellas holding hands and although the women don’t opt for thong bikinis they do a decent line in
Trying to blend in
Head scarf..check. Henna tatoo....check. Trying too hard......check
Come dusk there’s a sort of Ibizan feel to the place, mainly as the sunsets are so spectacular and although the booze is still not ‘flowing’ there are a few terrace bars that seem to have the full box set of ‘Cafe del Mar’ CD’s on loop and if it wasn’t for the whiff of mint tea you could almost be on the white isle during the sunset hour.
The whole alcohol thing is strange. For a place that doesn’t allow or certainly condone alcohol consumption, Morocco produces its own wine and beer, which are both very nice - although for obvious reasons a tad expensive. We discover in Essaouira a sort of prohibition style Victoria Wines - a much cheaper, hidden away back alley place located behind a non-descript blue door which although we think is legal (its mentioned in our guide) seems a bit nudge, nudge, wink, wink especially when all of your individual purchases are wrapped in newspaper and its staff always seem on edge when taking your money. I find this place quite exciting and make a visit at about 5pm every day so that I can sink a few cold ones at our
riad before we head out to a restaurant where any booze is a good 4 times more expensive and probably even bought from the same place.
During our 5 days by the sea we do very little in the way of activities beyond eating, sleeping, walking, drinking and reading. We do consider visiting a hammam (a sort of local sauna cum wash house) but after realising that men and women have to go at different times throughout the day and remembering Palin’s visit where he was slapped around by a half naked, hairy fat local guy - we decided to give it a miss. We do however decide a camel ride along the beach may be worth the effort/cost and on our third (or maybe fourth) day head off in search of camels at the far end of the beach.
We choose our camel man based on his big smile, but mainly because he has the Arabic version of my name.
Majoob then puts us on the back of two camels one called Sultan and the other I am not sure of as every time I ask Majoob its name he replies with a deep throaty noise that I
Visit the tanneries in the morning for the best colours
can’t decipher - so let’s just call him hungry.
We walk along the beach, across a pretty treacherous river, past a castle made of sand, over some sand dunes, past some ancient ruins before passing through a building site that apparently (and I am guessing in about 300 years) will become a luxury resort and golf course. We eventually, after what seems like hours, make it back to the beach and it’s only at this point, after my inner thighs ache so much that they start to spasm that Majoob tells me it’s OK to ride side saddle for the last 100m (I am still bow legged writing this). But it was worth it just to see Carla bonding with yet another large, smelly and slightly disobedient animal.
As already mentioned Essaouira has some great restaurants and we decide we will try 4 different places revisiting our favourite on the last night. The winning restaurant is found on the fourth night, called Elizir its run by a local guy who loves his food and spent some time in Italy. Its a really funky place, almost like eating in a Camden retro furniture shop and the Sea Bass is quite
The newly weds
Hanging out in Marrakesh
simply the best looking and tasting fish we have ever eaten. The only reason we don’t return on our final night is that asking so many questions about the food and decor the owner seems to think we are some sort of critics and gives us free deserts and asks us to write down the name of the guidebook our review will appear in (we give him the blog address and feel to embarrassed to return the final night)
Back to normality
I sit writing this final paragraph under a warm blue sky waiting for a large blue taxi to collect us and return us to Marrakesh where our flight back to the UK awaits. They say the travel bug gets you and although this is our first taste of travel in any similar format to that which we experienced during our RTW trip (OK we splashed out on accommodation and food but essentially this hasn’t been a typical honeymoon) we both feel ready to move on - but if we are honest not to move on back to the UK but to the next unknown location.....Casablanca, the Sahara, Central Africa...etc etc
But this time it’s
not to be and our new adventure, marriage awaits us back home (Carla is drawing up a marriage mandate as I write!)
Morocco has been fantastic. It’s not easy to warm to the Moroccans but after 10 days we both have. They are a proud religious nation, they can be loud, brash and a pain in the arse but they can be equally welcoming, warm and peaceful. Of course some of them are idiots but the majority are not.
But what stands out most is whether rich, poor, young, old, able or disabled they all seem to look out for each other ................. and I like that!!
aka the Parrys
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