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Africa » Morocco » Grand Casablanca » Casablanca June 29th 2019

Today was our final day in Morocco! We had to fly home from Casablanca (per our flight arrangements by Explorica), so we made the most of visiting this place, which at first glance was an ugly city with a traffic problem. However, it's famous for two things we were sure not to miss: the Hassan II mosque and Rick's Cafe. Hassan II was the former king (father of the current king, Mohammed V) and the mosque built in his honor in Casablanca has the tallest minaret in the world. It's also the only mosque open to non-Muslims. And what a stunning interior! Built in just 6 years, the intricate tiles, soaring pillars, and gaudy chandeliers commanded quiet and respect. We were told to remove our shoes for our tour, and I was surprised to discover a ... read more
Hassan II mosque
Inside
Fun with geometry


It was our final day in Marrakech today, and we were sad to leave the friendly staff of our riad! But before catching our train, we scheduled a hammam experience, which is a traditional spa originating in the Ottoman Empire and widely used throughout the Islamic world. I'm sure the experience varies by spa location, but in a word, here's what it was like for us: Intense! The spa room itself was quaint, accommodating only two people at once. Two platforms joined in an L, so Sean took one and I took the other. It was steamy and smelled of oranges. Our hammam technician was swift and efficient! In limited English, she told us "Robe" and gestured for us to remove our terrycloth robes. Sean was in his swimming trunks, and she told me to remove ... read more
If we were Arabs
Freshly-dyed silk threads
One of the monkey men

Africa » Morocco June 27th 2019

In the morning, everything was brighter and new again. We woke by 6 to explore the old palace of Ait-Benhaddou on our own before the heat set in. And it was quite lovely in the morning light! Part palace, part neighborhood dwelling for the original settlers of the desert, the Berbers, Ait-Benhaddou is comprised of red earthen structures on a hillside. Only one or two families still reside there, so most is abandoned and free for the exploration, or has been turned into little artisan shops selling jewelry or paintings or leather. We climbed through the old streets, ducking into former homes, and winding our way up to the top of the kasbah to view the river bottom and green palm trees. This time of year, no water runs in the riverbed, but in the spring, ... read more
Desert oasis
Inside Ait-Benhaddou
Giving a ride to this Berber woman

Africa » Morocco June 26th 2019

Today was the weirdest day! But with punctuations of awesomeness. Before leaving home, I had arranged an excursion to the ancient kasbah (castle) and city of Ait-Benhaddou. We wanted to experience where original Berber people lived, and maybe also see where a few episodes of Game of Thrones had been filmed--maybe! As planned, we met our driver Youssef at 9 a.m. and headed for the edge of the Sahara desert...or as close as we would come on this trip. Youssef was friendly enough, but a little boring, and didn't readily offer information about things we were seeing. Surely some of this was due in part to the language barrier. For instance, he didn't understand what Sean meant when he suggested people must enjoy catching up on socializing with friends at the market. "Yes, you can talk ... read more
The High Atlas Mountains
Got that wind in my hair!
Views for days!

Africa » Morocco June 25th 2019

A little bleary-eyed and bed-headed, we met our Idaho group in the lobby at 3:45 a.m. to wish them well on their flight back to America. But once they were all accounted for and safely on the bus bound for the airport, Sean and I were grateful to head back to sleep! Especially since he had been sick in the night. Poor Sean. Africa apparently wreaks havoc on his sensitive tummy! This morning we took the 3-hour train to Marrakech to begin phase two of our adventure. Almost immediately, the landscape changed from the modern, urban development of Casablanca, to rolling red desert dotted with scrub brush. The city itself was so much more inviting! A quick cab ride from the train station to the Jemaa El Fna square at the heart of the city delivered ... read more
We had three hours on a train. So we took selfies.
Welcome tea and cookies at Riad Jemaa El Fna
Tiny, beautiful pool

Africa » Morocco June 24th 2019

6.24.19 Just as soon as it began, the trip was already winding to a close. Today was our last full day together. We left Fez for the long push to Casablanca via Volubilis, where some of the best preserved Roman ruins can be found. It was a hot afternoon, but wandering among the vaulted arches, sunken baths, and tiled floors as lovely as they were in their day was completely with it! Then we visited the capitol city of Rabat and the Hassan I mosque (father of the current king, Hassan II). It was comprised of a sprawling courtyard of white sandstone with a minaret at one end and a shrine at the other. Non-Muslims are permitted to enter the shrine, so we bypassed the two guards on horseback, climbed the wide staircase, and entered the ... read more
Such beautiful tiles!
Archway
Compass looking good!

Africa » Morocco » Fès-Boulemane June 23rd 2019

(Get ready...this one's long!) Today was our first full day in Morocco and many of our group agreed it was the best day yet! Our hotel Diana Park had a wonderful breakfast spread, including watermelon, sliced meats, hard boiled eggs, assorted pastries and croissants, and hot mint tea. While we ate, we all enjoyed watching the male and female peacock with their 3 young ones strutting around the garden. And we looked forward to swimming in the cool blue pool later that afternoon! Mohamed was an exceptional guide throughout the day, always eager to share his love of Morocco, insights into Islam, and information about history or architecture. We started at one of the many palaces where the king and princes stay when they visit Fez. Viewed from the front, we could see all seven golden ... read more
Explorica group! Visiting the secondary school of theological studies
Inside the UNESCO world heritage site for rug merchant demo
Beautiful rugs!

Africa » Morocco June 22nd 2019

It was quite an early morning, as we had many miles to go before we would sleep again. We grabbed our sack breakfasts and loaded the bus under a still-dark sky. Most of our group, along with our Texas and Arizona fellow travelers, went right back to sleep. But a few stayed awake to catch the creamy orange sunrise surrounding the Rock of Gibraltar. Once we reached the port an hour later, we took the ferry into Morocco, receiving a passport stamp in Arabic while still on board the boat. Joe taught us some important words to get us by during our time here: La=No (useful in the Medina to turn away salesmen), shukraun=thank you, salam=hello. The crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar was choppy and blue, passing through veils of mist, and arriving on the ... read more
Arrival in Tangier, Morocco after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar
Walking tour of Tangier
Viewpoint

Africa » Morocco May 5th 2019

April 30th. As our train to Ronda left at 6:45am, it was an early departure from the apartment. Kelly considerately carried his wheelie bag on the 10 minute walk down to Plaza Nueva as it would have been so noisy on the cobblestones otherwise - and the rest of the neighbourhood was still sleeping. Taxis are at the Plaza 24/7 and the short ride to the train station was a lot cheaper than expected - according to the internet, a premium is charged before 7am. Once at the station, it turned out there actually is NO train service from Granada, so instead we travelled by “rail bus”. An hour after departure we reached the isolated train station of Antequera where anyone heading to Madrid did get a train while the rest of us transferred to another ... read more
our room at Ryad Boustane
Ryad Boustane Central courtyard




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