Page 2 of steve_hoge Travel Blog Posts

Africa » Morocco » Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz » Essaouira January 26th 2008

We were looking forward to a long layover in Essaouira, a place that had been given a universal thumbs-up from everyone we'd talked to about Morocco. Essaouira has morphed from its original incarnation as a picturesque fishing town into a hippie hangout (Jimi Hendrix made a fabled visit here in the 60s), an enclave for Moroccan and European artists (picking up annual cultural, music and film festivals along the way), a windsurfing mecca, and then, inevitably, a hot real estate market for European expats and vacationers. Along the way it's developed a tolerant attitude towards foreign influences and mores, and a very comfortable infrastructure that lulls the visitor into sticking around and spending lots of money, which is pretty much what we did. We decided that, unlike most other Moroccan cities we've visited, we really wanted ... read more
Main mosque, Essaouira
Walls of the medina, Essaouira
Oxana and Dima

Africa » Morocco » Doukkala-Abda » El Jadida January 17th 2008

After a few days of "taking care of business" in Casablanca, we were looking forward to heading south along what we anticipated would be the really scenic portion of Morocco's Atlantic coastline. The only big cities we expected to encounter along the way were Safi and Agadir, although we weren't sure just how far we would go past Agadir; the desert outposts along the coast seemed to diminish in appeal the farther south we looked on the map. Our first day's ride out of Casablanca to Azemmour started out less than auspiciously: besides getting a late start, we got thoroughly lost, since it wasn't as easy as we thought to "just take the coast road south" out of a vast sprawling city of 3 million people. While we somewhat enjoyed cruising through Casablanca's very affluent southern ... read more
Riding south towards El Jadida
El Jadida beachfront with Cite Portugaise beyond
The Portuguese Cistern, El Jadida

Africa » Morocco » Grand Casablanca » Casablanca January 4th 2008

Rabat and Casablanca got placed on our agenda not so much because we wanted to see them as much as they were in our way, their positions on the Atlantic making them unavoidable if we wanted to follow the coast road south. Both turned out to have their own interest (or are we simply interestable?) making them worth the few days we spent in each. Rabat was the logical place to meet the coast on way west from Meknes, especially since we'd timed our arrival to coincide with a big storm blowing in off the Atlantic. We arrived ready to hunker down at the Hotel Splendide, picked from the Lonely Planet as a good compromise between its location in the downtown area and its proximity to the medina - plus the price, natch', which yielded a ... read more
Atlantic lighthouse, Rabat
Tour Hassan, Rabat
Hassan II Mausoleum, Rabat

Africa » Morocco » Fès-Boulemane » Fes December 25th 2007

Founded as a imperial capital in 800 AD, Fes's primary attraction is its ancient medina, a walled city with a millenium of history that's famous for it's rug and antiquities merchants, leather and other handicraft workshops, and a thousand-year old Islamic university that is still in operation, a point of pride that will be mentioned to you by all the Fassis you meet. The Fes medina is also notorious for swallowing tourists alive in its labrynthine depths, and during a couple of days of exploration we certainly got lost our own share of the time. (Recognizing this, the official map issued by the tourist authorities in Fes now outlines color-coded walking routes, a Disneyesque touch that produces clots of tourists craning their necks to identify the similarly-colored emblems marking important intersections.) Having arrived by bus on ... read more
Haircut in Fes
Lunch with the ladies at the carpet emproium
Fes Tannery

Africa » Morocco December 21st 2007

The main attraction of Larache turned out to be the very cheap (280dh) and very comfortable Hotel Espana, where we had a newly renovated room with good beds, lots of hot water, sat TV, a balcony overlooking the main square (with brand-new double-glazed French doors to keep out the din) and - not least - free wifi! But once we'd walked the corniche, dodging the garbage piles, and eaten a couple of times in the ocean-view Balcon Atlantico, we'd pretty much "done the town." Larache is a industrial fishing city with a big commercial anchovy and squid fleet, a seriously engineered rivermouth breakwater, and an impressive lighthouse (easily mistaken for a minaret) that helps guide the boats back from their nighttime fishing trips. To be fair, we did visit the one site worth seeing near Larache, ... read more
The Roman ruins of Lixus
The medina seawall at Asilah
Wall murals at Asilah

Africa December 20th 2007

Chefchaouen (translated: "look at the peaks") is an extremely picturesque Berber mountain town perched on the western flanks of a 1800m peak (the same one whose eastern visage taunted us all the way up on the climb from Oeud Laou.) It represents the first gateway into the Rif Mountains as the highway heads south from Tetuan along the spine of the range into the heart of kif country. Kif, a comestible halfway between pot and hash, is ubiquitously cultivated by Berber peasants all across the Rif, and tacitly tolerated by the authorities as long as it doesn't show up in trafficable quantities. Chefchaouen has pretty well integrated itself into the tourist and expat culture, being a standard stop for kif-smoking backpackers, artists and rich Europeans who have bought and renovated many of the old houses in ... read more
The blue streets of Chefchaouen
A day hike in the Rif
Goats and their shepherd dog share a drink

Africa » Morocco December 12th 2007

Our next stop after Gibraltar was technically North Africa, but still not exactly Morocco: the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. Ceuta is a vestigial holdover from the time that Spain claimed all of northern Morocco as a colonial possession (dividing the imperial spoils with the French) but only Ceuta, Melilla and a few insignificant Mediterranean rock outcrops are left. Ceuta and Melilla are close analogues of Gibraltar, foreign enclaves isolated on strategic peninsulas, and their retention by Spain make its perennial demands for the return of Gibraltar ring ironically hollow. Nominally, we chose Ceuta as our next destination because it allowed us to bypass Tangier, whose notorious reputation as a European day-tripper's hellhole put us off (think: African Tijuana), and because we could then start our tour of Morocco by cycling along the Mediterranean coast, eventually turning ... read more
Medieval walls of Ceuta
Sunset over Morocco
Lunch with the tourists in Tangier

Europe » Gibraltar » Gibraltar December 1st 2007

The weather was good and we probably could have ridden up to the historic town of Ronda from Granada, but there wasn't much to interest us between the two destinations, so we took another of Spain's efficient and comfortable trains to get to our next cycling point. Ronda turns out to have historical interest due to its strategic location on top of impregnably shear cliffs at the edge of a roaring river gorge, and current interest because the Rondianos are playing it up for all its worth, charging admission fees to the most mundane of attractions. I did pony-up ?6 to see their bullfighting museum, as Ronda's Romero dynasty of matadors holds the claim to having developed the "modern" technique and style of bullfighting, which made an arena sport out of what had previously been the ... read more
Gaucin, Spain
Gibraltar view, 60km to the south
The Rock of Gibraltar

Europe » Spain » Andalusia » Granada November 24th 2007

A funny thing happened on the way to Ronda...we were sitting on the comfortable "fast train" from Seville to our next cycling point in the hill town of Ronda, and Kate idley pulled out the LP guide and started paging through the section on Granada. "Oh, too bad we're not going to see Granada and the famous Alhambra castle. It sounds beautiful, right at the base of the Sierra Nevada." A few minues of discussion ensued, and so rather than transferring to the Granada-Ronda train, we instead transferred to the Ronda-Granada train going the opposite direction, and that's how we ended up spending a couple of days in in the beautiful city of Granada. And we did indeed see the Alhambra Palace, made famous (apparently - I didn't focus much on literature...) by Washington Irving's "Tales ... read more
Bathing pool, the Alhambra
Door detail, The Alhambra
Generalife Gardens, The Alhanbra

Europe » Spain » Andalusia » Seville November 20th 2007

Seville, a somewhat serendipitous stop on our tour, has turned out to be a compelling destination, a large, truly sophistcated European city with much of its two millenium history exposed to the curious tourist. The parts of the city with the most obvious historic interest are fully as touristically-oriented as Malaga, but this place has much more of its own life independent of foreign visitors. We ditched our first pension after one night (literally "any port in a storm") and moved into a much more charming place, Pensione Las Cruces, on a plaza just down the way and still within the labrynth of the old city. First order of business was laundry, and this place sported a nice roof deck perfect for drying clothes and which also turned out to be a nice spot for several ... read more
Plaza de Las Cruces
Alcazar Palace entry gate
Doorway detail, the Alcazar palace

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