Magnificent Morocco: Part 2


I concluded Part 1 of this story explaining how my next stop was to the city of Meknes, mainly because of the ancient Roman ruins in nearby Volubilis.  As a history enthusiast, this was definitely a high point of the trip for me. While the city of Meknes has its own medina and mosques to visit, there isn’t that much there for the average tourist. But with the help of the front desk I was provided with a driver to take me out to the Roman ruins for a fairly decent price. I can’t remember exactly how long the drive took, but it was probably around an hour through the countryside.

It wasn’t the most picturesque of drives, but once we arrived both my eyes and my camera had plenty to look at! Unfortunately, I have not been to many other ancient Roman ruins, so I cannot compare these very well. But I thought they were amazing. The combination of still standing archways, pillars (which often had large birds nests on the top of them, with equally large birds living in them), and tile mosaic floors allowed my imagination to go wild. I pictured armies walking through the city gates and down the main road. I pictured people living in the houses and taking baths in the elaborately decorated bathhouses. I pictured people walking around in togas enjoying daily life, or what I imagined daily life in an ancient Roman city to look like anyway.

The scenery around the area was beautifully green and it made for amazing photographs. While there was the option of getting a private tour guide to show me the sights, I opted to just wander around and explore on my own. My favorite thing was the tile mosaic of the 12 Labors of Hercules that someone had in the floor of their home. I wanted to take it and put it into my (at that time) non-existent house! But I am extremely thankful that no one had done this already, so others and I could enjoy its beauty and history.

Another thing I enjoy about travelling is the sights, smells, and sounds that often bring you back to a specific time and place from an earlier journey. My trip back from the ruins gave me one of these experiences, as the visions of Roman ruins swirled around in my head, driving past sheep grazing, suddenly the Black Eyed Peas “Pump It” came on the radio and it was almost like being in a movie. I still cannot hear that song without being automatically taken back to that exact moment in time.

An indoor market.

The next stop on my trip was Rabat, which is the capital city of Morocco. Rabat was the only time where I had a problem with my hotels. In every other city I had booked a room in an Ibis hotel, which I have enjoyed staying in around the world. While they are definitely not luxury hotels, they are always clean, well-maintained and good value for money. They are often found close to major transportation points (i.e. train stations and airports), making them quite convenient for weary travelers.

For some reason (possibly there wasn’t an Ibis in Rabat at that time…I can’t remember) I did not choose an Ibis hotel there, but instead booked somewhere through a booking website (i.e. Travelocity, Orbitz, etc.). To my great displeasure though, after arriving at my hotel fairly late in the evening, I was told that the hotel was fully booked and they did not have my reservation. I showed the manager the printed out confirmation from the booking agency, but his only response was that he had never heard of the agency (which was a blatant lie, as the people I spoke with at the agency said they had used the hotel multiple times in the past) and there wasn’t anything he could do. I stood there arguing for a while (as bus loads of tourists came and went) and was allowed to use their house phone to call the agency (at greatly inflated long distance charges that did not help my credit card bill…) to try to come up with a solution.

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This is where I will tell you that using a reputable agency can really help you out sometimes when you are in trouble. They checked around the city and found another hotel that did have a room, booked it for me, and sent me over to it. It was a much nicer (and more expensive) hotel than the one I had originally booked, but they took care of everything and I didn’t have to pay any more than my original booking price. I was greatly relieved, after a long day and fairly late and frustrating evening, and dropped into my bed with plans to visit the medina the next morning.

As with the other hotels, I was able to speak with someone at the front desk and within a short period of time have a guide who would show me around the winding maze of the local medina. While I wouldn’t say that this sort of thing was absolutely mandatory, it definitely made it easier to navigate around the labyrinth and see specific shops (of course, they were shops of his “cousins”) and find my way back out again.

After speaking with a friend who had lived in Casablanca previously, I decided to skip it. He told me the main mosque there was quite impressive, but besides that, it was just a large, dirty city that did not have any of the romance associated with the movie that has made it such a famous location. Instead, I went straight to the second most desired stop on my Moroccan adventure (after the Roman ruins), the city of Marrakesh. This was a city whose name was almost mythical to me, just like Timbuktu, Zanzibar and Kashgar.

While I was a little bit worried that because of its fame, it would be overly touristy, I have to say that it wasn’t too bad in this respect. Again, I stayed in the Ibis Hotel right next to the train station, and it ended up being a convenient location. I was also extremely impressed with the breakfast served there, with some of the best fresh orange juice I have ever tasted and lovely croissants! While it was a decent walk to get to the main sights, the weather was good and it did not seem like too much work to get to the main market area and medina. And you get to pass by orange trees everywhere you look, helping to explain the fresh orange juice being served for breakfast.

Of course, you could also take a taxi as well, which I did to get to some of the locations the guidebook recommended. My favorite of these was the Jardine Majorelle, which is one of the most beautiful places I think I have ever been. The colors from both the vegetation and the electric blue and sunshine yellow painted buildings made for stunning scenery and photographs. I also enjoyed the main market place, Djemaa El-Fna, as it came alive in the evenings with stalls selling all manner of food and other knick-knacks to go along with the stalls both surrounding the square and the medina just behind it as well.

I ate dinner here each evening and enjoyed speaking with both the locals working in the stalls and the other tourists visiting as well. While I wasn’t as impressed with the magicians, storytellers, and snake charmers that inhabit the square during the daytime, they also have their place in the grand scheme of things.

When my time in Morocco finally came to an end after a week’s worth of travels, I was quite sad. I wished I had spent more time there, as there were so many other places I wanted to see. I had never heard of Essaouira before planning my trip, and it is a destination I would really like to go back to and visit. Going out into the Atlas Mountains and searching for Bedouins is another adventure that tickles my fancy.   Getting away from the convenient, but not so locally authentic hotels I was staying in and trying out some of the places in the medinas that I have read about so often since my trip sounds lovely.

I often daydream about returning to Morocco and hope to do so again sooner rather than later. But now with a wife and young child, as well as mortgages and other responsibilities, I am not sure how soon it will be. Oh the days of carefree (and financially destroying) youth! I will admit, that if and when my next Moroccan adventure takes place, it will probably not include the extra side trips that this one did. But the memories were well worth the price!

Next: Senoia, Georgia, Home of The Walking Dead

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