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After an hour train ride, we arrived in Meknes, home to the impressive monuments of Moulay Ismail, Morocco's most ruthless sultan who killed 30,000 men himself. After multiple hotels in the Ville Nouvelle (new part of the city) told us they were full, we took a taxi (5DH/$0.63) to the medina and booked our cheapest hotel in Morocco yet -- 60DH/$7.50!! Woohoo!! Our guidebooks described the Hotel Nouveau as "helpful, basic facilities and no external windows" and "retiled and quite jolly." You be the judge -- see video.
Right down the street from the Hotel was Place el Hedim, Meknes's town square. On the edge of the square lay the remains of Moulay Ismail's imperial city and a collection of palaces, gardens, barracks, granaries, and stables. The entrance to Ismail's city, and the centerpiece of Place el Hedim, is the immense gateway known as Bab Mansour. Plastered on the wall next to the gate is King Muhammed VI.
From the main square, we wandered into the Souk Atriya. We observed locals selecting food from bins and bins of multicolored fruits and vegetables, men using ancient scales to measure spices, kids swatting at bees hovering over pastries stacked high like
pyramids, and butchers, oh the butchers, cleaning the blood from goat heads, cutting pieces of intestine and tossing the pieces to begging cats, and the chunks of meat just hanging from the ceiling. Entire animal carcasses were being cut and sold before our very eyes. And we saw an entire camel head (freshly severed) on the wall of the camel stall. Did we mention the smells? 😊
From this marketplace, we walked through the outside souks and past textile stalls, carpenters' workshops, carpet makers, basket makers, iron smiths, music instrument makers, and clothing shops. We entered a few craft stores where they explained how silver damascine is made (in a series of steps they put hair-thin silver strings in steel plates, jugs, and other decorative items.) Because most tourists ignore Meknes, the city is amazingly free of the usual hassles, including arm grabbing by shop owners and unreasonable bartering. In fact, Meknes was the only place in Morocco where David paid the suggested retail price of a Fanta.
For lunch we "tried" McDonald's! The modern building housing the McDonald's had beautiful artwork on it -- Arabian men wearing turbans riding camels, but other than that, it was basically
the same set-up as in America. David had the McArabia meal and Laure got the Gambas burger (97DH/$12.13). The McArabia consisted of a grilled beef patty infused with middle eastern spices, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and garlic mayo wrapped in pita bread. The Gambas burger was made out of spiced shrimps arranged in a concentric circle, lettuce, and mayo.
After a brief afternoon nap (note: Laure slept on top of David as she did not want any part of her body touching the bed sheets), we visited the souks again and thought that we had seen most of Meknes. Then David decided we should follow a group of Russian tourists and sure enough, they led us to something new-- Moulay Ismail's Mausoleum, one of three active Moroccan shrines in Morocco that non-Muslims can enter. The sanctuary consists of a series of chambers and beautiful zellij and stucco work. Outside the mausoleum, the Russians boarded their tour bus and continued on their way. Convinced that they were going somewhere important, and near, David talked Laure into walking (a mere two kilometers) past massive walls hiding Ismail's palaces. We saw the Heri es Souani (granaries) and the Rouah (the stables for Ismail's
McGambas and McArabia
After 8 days in Morocco, David made us look for a McDonald's. Located in the Ville Nouvelle of Meknes, it was interesting to see what type of people could afford to eat there. Not many unfortunately... Prices were as high as in the States :(
army's 12,000 horses). Afterward, we took a carriage ride (100DH/$12.50) back to the main square while our unibrow driver pointed out other monuments and told us about the history of the area.
Once back at the square, we got a front-row table at one of the many restaurants surrounding the square and watched people. We saw a man pulling a full-grown monkey out of a tiny grocery bag in front of a large crowd of people. He hit and beat the monkey until it flipped and growled and got the mob to contribute money. Disgusting. Another crowd began to gather around a man beating on a drum while a woman dressed in a high school graduation uniform (?!) gyrated her body in awkward ways. We shared a chicken panini, fries, water, and two mint teas for 80DH/$10.00. At some point, and to our amazement, our waiter moved the table behind us in front of us, blocking our view, and began to go into the crowd to recruit people to sit there! HA!
After an entertaining dinner, we again strolled through the souk. It seemed more alive at night and the street food was delicious: fresh sugar donut (1DH/$0.13),
ice cream cone (1DH/$0.13), 100 grams of sugar-coated peanuts (2DH/$0.25), and a pack of playing cards (1,5DH/$0.19)! We leisurely went back to the hotel room and got a good night's sleep. But alas, all good things must come to an end, and the next morning we took a taxi to the train station (8DH/$1.00), took the train to Casablanca (35DH/$4.38 per person), and entered the airport. Unfortunately they scan your bags upon entrance to the airport, and David was transporting a dagger. Security stopped him and questioned him extensively about, and made him remove, the... dagger? NO!! The Fatima hand! WHAT? I know. Despite clearly being a metal hand, and the most famous of all trinkets from Morocco, the security guard needed to see it. After showing him that it was exactly the same thing he saw in the x-ray, they let us through. Ha!
Our Moroccan adventure came to an end and the rest is all memories and souvenirs....
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