Morocco . . . Rough Around the Edges

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May 20th, 2013, 12:05 PM
  #21
 
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More great pix and writing - thanks!
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May 20th, 2013, 02:59 PM
  #22
Ian
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Well, thank you for reading.

Btw I blew the riad name for our camel jaunt. It is: Chez Le Pacha

And . . . it is Riad Jnane Ines not the other way around.

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May 21st, 2013, 03:51 AM
  #23
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Day 8

When I closed Day 7 with ‘we slept well’ I was chuckling thinking of the next morning. It was Friday & I was awoken just before 5am by a not-too-distant call to prayer. And 10 minutes later there was another call & so on & so on for an hour. Every 10 minutes. Now this was a new crinkle that I hadn’t experienced in any other Muslim community before. But it was Friday . . .

I surfed the net in the lobby, edited pictures & posted stuff to boards etc while I waited for the house to wake up. I was rewarded with a coffee when they did around 7:30.

We had breakfast outside on the wonderful patio between the pool & the garden which was really, really pleasant. The same stern man but a different color & pattern service.

This is a good time to do a minor rant about breakfasts in Morocco. Everywhere we went, every riad in every town served exactly the same breakfast. It is as if there is a Moroccan breakfast law that riads must follow. Coffee or tea. Fresh orange juice. There was always a basket of stale round bread cut it quarters or eighths. Fried flat square dough things. Very thin crumpet-like breads. Usually all plated separately. Accompanied by jams & honey to spread on all of the above. As a treat, yogurt was sometimes included & we had an egg option in one riad. Actually the stale round bread accompanied EVERY meal. Thankfully, the quality of bread took a major leap forward in Essaouira. But how are they all the same? A puzzler. We discussed this with other travelers & they were all as mystified as us. End rant.

After breakfast, Mustapha burst on the scene. A friendly high energy man, he was the owner & the riad is his labor of love. Once again, my French skills were put to the test with this very nice man. He showed us around describing the building of it, the Berber craftsman he hired to do all of the doors & woodwork especially the wooden ceiling of the front room off of the atrium which was his pride & joy & reminiscent of the wooden ceilings in Marrakech. He explained that all of the rooms were named after a family member & our suite – Mazza – was named after his grandmother. His kids & various family members made up the staff. His wife oversaw food preparation & 2 girls – nieces (?) helped serve & made up the rooms. Certainly a family affair.

I should make mention here that our hot water disappeared after my tepid shower in the morning. We told Mustapha & Fatima & they reassured us that a technician would have a look at it. By night, it had finally returned to the warmer side of tepid which is how it remained for our stay. They offered us use of the hot showers in the hammam downstairs if we wished. They also didn’t make up our room this day which was odd but I guess they assumed that since we were staying around the riad all day that we didn’t really care. We didn’t. And there was the empty Jacuzzi. These & other little things around Morocco in general spawned my subtitle: Rough Around the Edges.

The rest of the day we did . . . nothing. We lounged up in our private veranda. We had a nice lunch by the garden. Afterwards we lounged by the pool, took a dip, baked in the sun, watched the birds swoop in to drink from the pool etc. Between 1pm & 2pm, the mosque kicked in again with a one hour reading from the Koran or something similar. Other than that it was very peaceful & we appeared to have the whole riad to ourselves except for a skeletal staff present on their holy day.

In the evening the cool breeze kicked in again. Hmmm. Was this a pattern? I asked one of the porters (nephew, son-in-law???) if it was a regular occurrence. Just about every night was his answer . . .

Day 9

We had breakfast outside again. We felt sorry for the staff who have to lug all of the dishes back & forth. This day’s place setting was a repeat of our first dinner but it matched again - as did all yesterday.

We asked Fatima for a taxi into town. A beat up old ’82 240D Benz was our chariot. He drove us into a small square/intersection right near the big municipal souk – the Arab one - Souk Jnan Jamaa. Taroudant looks very cool from outside its walls that encircled the whole small town. Obviously due to their age, some walls are newer than others but they give a very neat appearance – totally at odds with what you find inside. It is not a pretty town. It makes the medina of Marrakech look pretty good. A carriage guy immediately hit on us – I think I was still paying the driver as he approached. In English. We said no. We set out into the nearby souk. It is a real disappointment unless you are shopping for cheap bags, Chinese clothes & household goods or foodstuffs. It is obviously a town souk with for every day shopping. And lo & behold, the carriage guy popped up in the souk to pitch us again. Twice. We hit a bank machine & then went into the nearby Berber souk. Its goods mirrored the municipal one with the addition of carpets, some leather goods & one place with metalwork – which ‘we’ were searching for. My wife wanted to come home with some Moroccan lanterns for our porch. We went in the metal shop.

What occurred next is one of those strange travel things that happen that you question afterwards. The shop was seriously smoky & we looked at the goods through a haze. The young owner appeared & his eyes were flame red from the smoke or . . . After 3 or 4 minutes of gasping in there we left. And we both swear that we were a bit high. I don’t know if it is just our imagination but maybe it wasn’t only incense that the metal guy had in the air. Maybe he had just flamed a huge pipe bowl before we walked in & we got the second-hand. He certainly looked high. Anyway, we hit the busy street outside the souk to wander somewhere/anywhere & there was the carriage guy again. Yes, really. 80dhs for a 1 1 /2 hour ride? Done! We walked to his carriage near the Arab souk & gratefully got in. He nattered on as we toured a bit of the city & went outside to go around the walls. It was actually really pleasant just sitting there enjoying the spectacle of Taroudant. And then he insisted that we needed to visit the old Jewish quarter. It was a seriously dump. The whole area was. We saw sheep & goats eating garbage. And there were piles of garbage heaped elsewhere. We stopped in a square with a small Berber market & it was seriously strange. Carriage guy suggested a Berber co-op, so we left the carriage & he led us through some alleys to a . . . carpet shop, of course. The owner was working a couple & gave us a little of his very abrupt time. After 5 minutes we left.

Back to the carriage we went, to find the guy’s young teen brother holding the horse. I don’t know where he came from. And he was coming along. OK? Well, not really. Despite the bright sunshine, our weird-out meters were in the red now due to our surroundings. But we cautiously said sure. We announced that we were hungry & what restaurant would he recommend? Moroccan or tourist? Tourist, we both answered simultaneously. We needed a teeny bit of security now. Thankfully our suspicions were probably nothing & we rode over to the main square where he pointed somewhat disdainfully to the tourist restaurant at the back. We settled with him & parted ways.

The staff, the menu & the washrooms were all pretty bleak but we had some other tourists around us now for comfort. They were all French. I had yet another chicken brochette & we both had fries. It was cheap & tasted it.

We had had enough.

The town was miserable or at least WE couldn’t find a speck of charm anywhere. And the shopping was a major dud from what we saw. And we both agreed that there was no way we would come in again at night for dinner. I had learned from the net & Fatima that cabs were acquired just outside the city walls by the Bab Zorgane Gate. Small white ones flitted around town but we needed a blue one or something. This taxi pen was a major holding area with white cabs, blue cabs & the green Big Taxis as well as a stack of tourist buses. We found it outside the gate & through a small decrepit field. The appearance of an ‘English’ created a stir & I was grateful that I had the hotel’s card with a map. A small crowd grew around me as supervisors & drivers studied the map. No one knew where it was or could figure out the map but a driver (blue taxi) finally gruffly agreed to drive us. A 240D again with no AC vents, no handles on the roll up windows & several big rock dings in the windshield. It was a really beat-up car. He warmed up immensely when he saw our riad & he pitched us to let him drive us anywhere we wanted to go later or the next day. Fat chance, I thought as I took his card.

We chilled by the pool for the rest of the afternoon. Today, the riad got somewhat busy as other guests checked in & wandered around. I surfed the net for a restaurant option that didn’t involve going into the town. This is one of the problems with staying at a semi-remote hotel - going anywhere involves effort. I chose another riad that seemed to have decent TA reviews & I asked Fatima if she would arrange a taxi. A little later she came back & said that taxis were too difficult & that Mustapha – the owner – would drive us & pick us up. To go to a competitor for dinner? Really?

And that is precisely what happened. He kindly drove us to the Riad Dar Zitoune for dinner. They were midway between the Jnane & the town. Seemingly a junket-like hotel that aimed squarely at the French tourist market. French-style menu & wine – with a cheese course offered. We had roasted lamb shoulder & a bottle of wine. A very nice change from tagines & brochettes. The pool & grounds looked quite good as well – and they had a bar - but I preferred the more intimate Jnane Ines from what I saw.

Mustapha arrived on cue to provide transport – a true gentleman.

Taroudant & Jnane Ines pictures

http://s67.photobucket.com/user/imca...occo/Taroudant

Slideshow

http://s67.photobucket.com/user/imca...occo/Taroudant

Next up: the drive to Essaouira

Ian
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May 21st, 2013, 05:52 AM
  #24
 
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Well your riad looks lovely even if Taroudant was in general disappointing.

Did you not have pancakes for breakfast anywhere? We had those at every riad along with the items you mentioned. Definitely thicker than crepes - I really loved them with honey.
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May 21st, 2013, 06:27 AM
  #25
Ian
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Yes, I guess what I refer to as: very thin crumpet-like breads were the pancakes.

I was glad we saw Taroudant - as an everyday essentially non-touristed Moroccan town - but I certainly wouldn't go back. And we were very happy at the Jnane. Fatima - the only English speaker - was a little odd & very abrupt & she took a bit of time to warm up to but I had her laughing at YouTube videos by the time we were leaving.

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May 21st, 2013, 06:27 AM
  #26
 
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Yes, I thought Taroudant was a little off the tourist trail.

By-the-way -- in your picture #21, The Stones Begin, the strange conical hill in the background looks like one that appears several times (in several different locales!) in the film Lawrence of Arabia.
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May 21st, 2013, 10:23 AM
  #27
Ian
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Our driver Said, comically called it: Tagine mountain. There was another similar one south of Tamegroute.

My wife & I were just saying that we'll have to watch Lawrence of Arabia again. In the film credits, it appears that they also filmed some bits at the Casa de Pilatos in Sevilla - which was one of our favorite sites there. Another reason to watch it again.

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May 22nd, 2013, 09:25 AM
  #28
Ian
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Day 10

It was time to move on once again. Our riad arranged transport for us. We didn’t want fuss or muss & the idea of squeezing into a Grand Taxi or bus & transferring to another in Agadir was really, really unappealing. So we booked one just for us. Not cheap since it was a one way 4 ½ hour drive. 110€ - was the quote Mustapha told me . . .

We said our goodbyes to Mustapha & the staff at Jnane Ines & we left around 9:30am. It was a straight run to Agadir where the driver had to check in at the main taxi terminal. This was busy & pretty grimy. From there we went straight up the coast through Agadir – passing the royal palace on the ocean – and then past all of the beach vacation-type areas to the north that stretched north from the city. It was Sunday, so they all were busy with the weekenders. Somehow, we thought that we had left the mountains behind us – but this was certainly not the case. After the coast the road ducks inland & up. And it keeps going up & down for much of the drive. It’s the High Atlas eroding into the Atlantic. Seemingly endless miles of argan spotted hills swept by as did numerous nameless villages & hamlets . We were getting tired of driving but the countryside was gorgeous nonetheless.

And then . . .

Somewhere in the vicinity of Lake Tinsekht, I spotted them! YES! Goats in trees. I asked the driver to stop & he backed up & we bailed out of the car with our cameras. I had read about this before the trip & we had kept a vigilant eye on the fields while we were driving in argan country. We had seen millions of trees. We had seen thousands of goats. But this was the only time that we saw the two together. We had also seen dozens & dozens of argan oil vendors who set up shop on the highway at the end of their lane to sell liters of oil. We had been warned not to stop because the purity of the oil was a question with unlicensed producers. Anyways, back to the REAL excitement - goats in trees . . .

The taxi driver thought we were crazy. The shepherd wandered over wondering why people were taking pictures of his mangy herd. After I said bonjour & handed him 20dhs, he walked away very pleased. We got our pictures & some fly bites. Everybody was happy.

The only other stop we made was at an argan co-op for a washroom break & to buy a few more sprays as gifts. They also had some of the most garish pottery we had ever seen. It was another gloriously sunny day with the same 30Cish temps that we had had since Marrakech. Never too hot & never too cold – just right for holidays.

We reached Essaouira in the early afternoon. The driver had some difficulty finding our hotel which was just inside one of the medina’s gates. The one with the Orson Wells memorial. We had a bit of a misunderstanding with the driver at the end. I thought Mustapha had told me 110€ but the driver insisted that it was 130€. Hmmm. He got his money but no tip. I don’t know if I was right or wrong but it was not a happy ending to the peaceful drive. But at least it was our last drive . . .

Needless to say we were happy to turn ourselves over to the welcoming staff at the Madada Mogadar which is actually on the 2nd floor & shares a street entrance with the Riad Mumtaz Mahal in an alley 2 doors inside the gate. Within five minutes we had dropped our luggage in our main floor room & we were ushered up to the terrace for coffee & to fill out the usual Moroccan hotel forms. Whew. We had done it. We had survived our trip to the High/Anti-Atlas & the desert. We had seen a wide swath of the southern part of Morocco & finally we had also seen goats in trees. Essaouira was now our base for 4 nights until we jetted back to Paris & our final weekend.

Hunger pangs were gnawing so we hit the street to find some eats. Way down a street – as opposed to an alley - near a north gate we stopped in a small local - as in non-tourist shop & I had a 15dh kefta sandwich with fries & my wife had the cheese sandwich for 12dh. It was small but the bread . . . ohhh . . . real French bread. The bread in this cheap & noisy restaurant - some Arabic Idol-like program was blaring on the TV – was better than any bread we had had on this trip! It was fresh. The crust was chewy. Wow!

We stepped out into the street after this delectable & cheap lunch & I was lighting a cigarette when a man came up & asked in French for a light. Then he flashed me a big chunk of Moroccan black hash that he had secreted in his hand. Hmmm. Non, merci. We had been in the town for less than an hour & I had a drug offer in broad daylight in the middle of a street. This certainly wasn’t Taroudant anymore.

The streets were filled with tourists & hawkers doing the dance. Lots of both with a healthy mix of locals shopping for dinner ingredients. A very laid back mini version of Marrakech. I breathed a sigh of relief & we went back to the Masada to unpack & unwind.

Of course, the first decision was upon us in no time: Dinner. We had a lot of choices again. And no, we didn’t want Moroccan. In fact I didn’t eat a brochette again for the whole time I was in Essaouira. We chose an Italian place called Ristorante Sylvestro. Good on TA. Recommended by our hotel girl. Reserved. Done. It was now time for a pre-dinner drink!

Dusk was just approaching as we left the hotel. I easily navigated us through the squares/gates/alleys that put us there in 10 minutes. It is on one of the ‘major’ cross streets of the medina. And it is Italian. Sylvestro is the owner & he cooks with a helper & helps his server as well – note the singular ‘server’ here for future reference. We were seated downstairs – which is actually upstairs just not up –upstairs. The menu is varied Italian pastas meats & seafood . . . yes, seafood appeared once more on the menu. In the Atlases seafood does not exist. And I ordered a bottle of Italian red wine – yes, Italian . . . another real treat. In every other restaurant along the way if I ordered anything but Moroccan wine, they were out of it. This was getting good.

And good it was. I had a calamari pasta appetizer & my spouse had the Parma ham. So, so good. I know holidays tend to exaggerate your appreciation of a meals – in both directions good & bad – but it was good. We were served by the sole waitress but Sylvestro stopped by for a brief bonjour at some point as well. I think he said he was from Milano originally. You can also dine up-upstairs in the open air – but with zero view. The mains were mixed – her pasta was ‘the best’ – my veal scaloppini was good but not great.

We wandered the spooky alleys of Essaouira back to our hotel.

High Atlas Coast Reprise Pictures

http://s67.photobucket.com/user/imca...gh_Atlas_Coast

Slideshow

http://s67.photobucket.com/user/imca...gh_Atlas_Coast

Next: Essaouira Cont’d

Ian
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May 22nd, 2013, 11:17 AM
  #29
 
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Ian - love the trip report... getting more and more excited about our September trip.
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May 23rd, 2013, 06:40 AM
  #30
 
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Glad you found your goats! Seeing pictures it's now more understandable - how the branches don't come out of the trunk from high up but branch out from ground level.

If you do watch Lawrence of Arabia again maybe try to find the restored version that was released in 2012 which is supposed to be beautiful. Per Sony:
"We wanted to return this film to as pristine a condition as possible to honor its anniversary release. The original negative was seriously damaged in a number of ways, some problems dating from the original release and some accumulated over the years. Until now, we did not have the tools available to address these issues. We think fans of the film will be as amazed as we are at the detail and resolution in the imagery captured by cinematographer Freddie Young to compliment David Lean’s immaculate direction."

Can't wait to hear more about Essaouira - we did not get there.
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May 24th, 2013, 11:03 AM
  #31
Ian
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Day 11

I should tell you a bit about our hotel, Madada Mogadar. Mogador is the old Portuguese name for Essaouira (which is a mutation of the Arabic as-Ṣawīra). The Madada comes from the owner’s name Christine Dadda. She told us that she was Monaco-born & a flight attendant with Air France for many years. Fourteen years ago she bought the property that makes up the hotel. She has slowly built the business which includes the restaurant next door – La Table – which is managed by her brother & it includes a cooking class next door called L’Atelier. She is currently working out plans for a pool & riding property just outside of town. Certainly an entrepreneur.

The Madada has some suites on the main floor with reception – actually the 2nd floor above the street – and more upstairs circled around the hotel’s veranda that overlooks the sea & the beach. The veranda is a great spot for breakfast or drinks etc. Be forewarned that the local bee populations have figured this out as well. Our suite was on the main lobby level – one of 3 that have a small private veranda with a sea view. There are 2 large friendly resident cats that come & go as they please. The older gray one has learned to knock on our door – yes, knock – not scratch – to gain access to the outside via our veranda that is attached to the city walls & its crenellations. She meows loudly on our veranda to be readmitted. Christine told us that this one adopted the hotel one day & has never left. Très cute.

You will notice I dipped into partial French. For all intents & purposes, Essaouira is a French vacation resort. There is a direct Air Maroc flight to Orly 3 days per week to feed the hotels & resorts around the town. Yes, some English vacationers slip in as well as other nationalities, but the vast majority of foreign bodies here are French & the businesses & vendors all default to French with English as a backup. Once again we got the: Where are you from? Canada. Montreal? response from dozens of them. If you speak to them in English you get: London? Menus are in French although they sometimes will have a modestly-used English one as well. I also heard German, Spanish & Italian speakers roaming around, not to forget the lady in the cooking class from Russia that I am about to talk about. She & her husband had driven down from Spain in a rental car.

Now about the L’Atelier cooking class . . . We decided that it might be fun to try one. I cook well so I didn’t really need a lesson & we had resisted classes up to this point on all of our trips, dismissing them as too . . . I don’t know . . . too something. But . . . since we were in Essaouira for several days, we felt that we could spare the time. They are held twice daily in a purpose-built kitchen that adjoins the restaurant on the street level. We had chosen chicken pastilla as the main dish with a pepper/tomato appetizer & because we were the first to book, that is what our whole group cooked. It is run by Mona, whose mother is the head chef at Marrakech’s hoity-toity Mamounia Hotel. The English translation was handled by the personable Allison an English expat who came & stayed. So we chopped & we diced & we cooked etc for 3 hours or so. There were 5 of us in total but I was the only man so of course, I became the butt of all of the jokes. Hey, I play that role well. There was an English couple from Paris (he observed but didn’t cook), a note-taking serious woman from France, the very pleasant woman from the Urals in Russia & my wife & I as participants. Pastilla is a very involved dish which is made with pigeon or chicken & it is wrapped in a phyllo-type pastry which was – thankfully – premade. While it was cooking, we took a walk to the souk with Allison for a visit to a spice shop. I found it interesting that he had individual popular spice blends for the common Moroccan dishes: chicken or meat brochette, chicken, meat or fish tagines etc. I guess that is why a lot of them tasted the same from place to place. We also found out the simple method to test the quality of saffron: one strand + wet finger + white paper = a bright yellow color. Muddy brown yellow is the cheap stuff – from Iran of course - wink, wink. The merchant got some business as the English couple from Paris bought a bunch of the blends & some of the perfume bars. We went back to La Table to eat our creations. After all the work, I found the pastilla a bit too savory for my taste but it was an enjoyable day.

It was time to get out in the sunshine. We meandered to the fishing port, which lies in front of the walled town – so only a 5 minute saunter from our hotel. We wanted to see the famous blue boats etc. It is important to remember that this is a working port. To the fisherman, boat crews, haulers & all and sundry, we are tourists & we are irritating. We get in the way & we take pictures – which is annoying at the best of times to Moroccans. But . . . we got our pictures. There is a dry dock with ongoing ship repairs, a number of large trawlers & a huge contingent of the smaller blue boats – rising & falling with the waves. It is bustling with activity with the deckhands & fisherman all in action & boats coming & going. Some of the small boat fisherman lay their catch out to sell to daily shoppers. The fish of the day was literally what was on display with some interesting things like the spiny crabs & strangely mottled yellow & brown moray eels laid out on tarps. And not to forget the multitude of skyrats – seagulls – spiraling above & squawking loudly for whatever scraps that they could grab. Let’s just say that the smell was . . . powerful.

Tired from the day’s exertions, we stopped for a coffee in one of the outdoor cafes that cluster in the open square at the entrance to the town. This is also bank machine central for Essaouira. Then it was back to the hotel to sort out dinner. We chose Tavas, which is just inside the walls next to the square. It seemed to be a happening spot for dinner & drinks – they advertised a full bar & live entertainment. As with many other restaurants, it was up several flights of stairs with a large outdoor patio boasting large propane heaters for the cooler nights. They had a patio even higher up that boasted a sea view - since it was over the height of the walls - but this also meant that it got cool winds directly from the Americas so only the foolhardy chose that high spot & they didn’t last long. The thugs at the door – bouncers – should have dissuaded us but we made the trek up the stairs to the patio. We were seated & ignored. Yes, the service was truly lousy. We found that service in Morocco in general is very laidback - to put it nicely – but this spot was really, really slow. Our section was worked by 2 servers who were always running – but always running to a different table it seemed. A couple beside us – an upscale yuppie duo from France by the look – were menu’d, served, fed & finished – all far more rapidly than us despite their later arrival. Of course, they had the other waiter. A live band played reggae music but thankfully not too loud as is usually the case. Anyways, the grub was good – simple salads, GOOD French bread & filet steaks that were cooked perfectly. The menu was touting a package meal with dessert – like most restaurants in Morocco – but you can go a la carte if you wish as we did. I ordered a bottle of French wine but they were out of it – but who wasn’t? Only Sylvestro had delivered with his Italian wine to give us a break from a monotony of Moroccan wines – which had proven decent & cheap but not world class. I must admit that I didn’t sample any expensive Moroccan plonk so there might be quality wines that I missed out on. So Tavas was good food but not a place to return to. I was glad that we didn’t have coffee or dessert because we would have had to be there until closing to get it. And by the way, we paid with Visa at the table which had proven common throughout Morocco. The price never included the tip which is paid in cash at your discretion.

After we finally finished up, we walked a few eerie alleys & then closed the night with the last of our duty free liquor on our patio overlooking the darkened sea with the surf crashing in the distance.

Day 12

This was a day for exploring Essaouira. And haggling for stuff as well. Old Essaouira is actually a small village. The town & the outer walls were built in the waning years of the 18th century. The sea is to the west & the north, the newer Essaouira is found to the east, the port & parking is to the southwest & the beach is to the south. As a tourist, you will spend most of your time within the walls unless the beach is your draw to the area. The souk is roughly in the middle of the medina with butcher shops, spice stores, housewares, clothing etc – all of the things for daily life with a few cafes blended in. The tourist goods are sprinkled all around but centered on several main ‘streets’ & the street that runs along the north ramparts. Car traffic is not allowed & even official vehicles don’t penetrate beyond the 2nd gates which makes it a great place to walk around. Motor scooters aren’t as numerous as in Marrakech so your biggest danger is the multitude of push/pull cart guys who ferry luggage & trade goods around the town. Riads & hotels are scattered throughout with most restaurants sticking to the ‘streets’ vs the alleys. In other words, it is a hodge-podge but it is hard to be lost for long since it is so small & contained.

Shopping isn’t as good as Marrakech. At least that is what my wife told me accusingly on many occasions. There was less variety of goods & more of the same ole . . . the same ole carpet stores, wood shops, sandal shops etc etc. The shop keepers weren’t as aggressive as Marrakech & the prices started much lower – therefore the haggled price was not as deeply discounted. It was still fun to dance with them but don’t expect massive price drops. But you should always TRY. One thing that we did run into is that the first customer of the day often got the best price as the merchant wanted a sale to start the day with good luck. Or maybe that is just what they told us . . .

And so that was our morning. Wandering & haggling. I accompanied my wife shopping – an activity I normally have to be dragged kicking & screaming to – but I became the ‘closer’ who finalized the price. It gave me something to do. I did draw the line at sandal shopping – every man has his limits.

In the afternoon we wandered down to the beach to touch the Atlantic & to look for a beach restaurant. The water was cold of course & the affordable restaurants were at the other end so we didn’t venture down all the way. We doubled back into the medina & went to the fast food local place again. This proved once again that it is never as good the 2nd time. Still OK, but our delight at French bread was diminishing because everybody had good bread here in Essaouira.

I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging & my wife did a little photo shooting & exploring shops.

For dinner, we reserved at La Table – the hotel’s restaurant. It sports a laidback staff, a very pleasant environment with a unique menu of seafood & steak. I had an octopus starter & steak & my wife had Iberico ham & a spiny crab dish. Mine was great but the crab was a little mushier than expected & the ham was a little on the too-thick-cut side of things as far as smoked ham goes. I know fussy, fussy. Very good bread again & I finally got a bottle of French wine. We got chatting to the couple next to us – they were that rare breed in Morocco - Americans - from Houston on a small tour of Morocco & they had broken free for dinner. We also noticed an English woman traveling solo from our hotel who we had talked with over breakfast that morning. We invited her over for a drink. A lawyer from London, she had bussed in from Marrakech after visiting the city & going to an ‘amazing’ yoga spa in the High Atlas for a few days. Another very nice evening.

Day 13

This was another lazy day similar to Day 12. A low fog bank was drifting in despite the sunshine when we got active after breakfast so we aimed towards the port again. This certainly played well for some atmospheric blue boat photos with a disappearing soft mist in the distance.

Then it was more browsing & shopping & wandering the medina. By this point, we didn’t even need the map to find our way around. We went back to the ramparts shops to buy some inexpensive wooden boxes having found a vendor there with the best quality & price the day earlier. Since it was lunchtime we picked a nearby restaurant that offered a sea view – Le Rencontre – and we climb the numerous flights of stairs up. The view was quite nice & their pizza was actually very good.

I should touch on the weather. Since arriving in Essaouira we had had sunshine & high 20C temps every day & this continued for our entire stay. And we had no wind. The locals we talked to remarked how lucky we were because usually the wind from the ocean is constant & quite annoying to many. I am sure that the beach surf crowd was not pleased since we had only since windsurfers on the day that we arrived & not since. Their pain was our gain – for once.

Another afternoon of relaxation followed & my wife took the opportunity to go shop without me. She found that the vendors were more aggressive when she was alone & it was harder to get to the bottom line. Well, at least I knew that I was good for something. It is very safe in Essaouira so she didn’t feel the slightest bit uncomfortable alone. I should also note that dress on the street is very casual & the adherence to coverage that is important in many Muslim communities is not an issue here. So you can see burkas next to miniskirts on the street.

For dinner, we went back to Syvestros. I know, I know what you are thinking . . . about my statement about never going back . . . well . . . we shouldn’t have. We were seated up-upstairs at our request & this proved to be a fatal error in judgment. They were very busy & it took forever for the waitress to get around to climbing the 2 flights of winding stairs to get to those of us on this level. We watched table after table get stunted service with only one diner’s plate arriving at a time. Everybody was eating out of sync because it took so long for the next plate to arrive. Sylvestro & the waitress were hustling & they were also doing a lot of apologizing. Unfortunate. Our meal arrived in the same fashion with 5 minutes or so between her plate & mine. Sylvestro is a victim of success by the look of it. Sylvestro, if you read this: Hire some serving staff or close the top floor or your reputation will be as flat as your pizzas.

We went back to the Madada after another spooky walk & opened the last bottle of my stash wine for a nightcap.

Essaouira Photos

http://s67.photobucket.com/user/imca...occo/Essaouira

Slideshow

http://s67.photobucket.com/user/imca...occo/Essaouira

Next up: Departure Day & our 2 day stopover in Paris

Ian
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May 25th, 2013, 05:08 AM
  #32
Ian
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Day 14

Departure day. This was it. We were leaving on an Air Maroc flight to Paris/ Orly – just after 6pm.

It is always a bittersweet time of a vacation. In one way, you have had enough. Enough travel. Enough hotels – no matter how luxurious they may be, it is still a hotel & not home. Enough strange foods, restaurants, abominable toilets – the list goes on & on. You miss your family, your pets, your friends, your own bed. Your stuff. But at the same time, you are sorry that it will end. The discovery of new places is intoxicating. Meeting wonderful people whose lives are so different from yours & yet not so different after all. I know that my pulse quickens when I buckle in at the start of an open un-driven road with unknown wonders lurking just around the next corner. But . . . it must end.

But then we were stopping in Paris for a quick holiday at the end of our holiday. We had been to Paris before on a several occasions & so it wasn’t an unknown destination. It was comfortable & it had become our favorite city abroad. And with a late flight, we had lots of time to wrap-up last minute shopping, so we packed roughly after breakfast to see how much space we had left to jam in more gifts. We were OK - we had a few square inches of space left. Would we be overweight? Yeah, probably but at this point, we didn’t care that much.

We hit the street running. Sandals for her. A lantern for them. A small box for me. I was able to employ my sale’s closing skills to great effect as we visited all of the key vendors that we had singled out for this last minute splurge. It was now or never. This is my price or I walk . . . forever. It worked very well. And then it was back to the hotel to ram it all in so we could check out on time at noon.

We accomplished our task & rolled our cases out & into the watchful eye of the hotel staff. Food was the next imperative. We walked for 20 minutes in circles checking out a few places & we finally gave up & just chose one. It really didn’t matter at this point; it was just fill for the void. We settled on Restaurant Les Portes, right near the 2nd gate. The woman that came out of the back to seat us didn’t speak English or French. The menu was the typical Moroccan fare, so we ordered cheap meat & lemon chicken tagines despite this communication roadblock. Two minutes later, the manager hustled in with apologies. The tagines weren’t bad at all iirc.

My wife wanted to do just a bit more shopping to kill time while I chilled in the Madada’s public places. I settled with the hotel, organized the Paris paperwork & surfed on my iPad as my mind started to go into travel mode. I travel a lot for business & I am very good at it. My colleagues are often amazed at the speed & efficiency of my trips. I focus & I do it. This means that I am very punctual. To a fault, of course, if the truth be known. I am early for everything. I guess it is in my genes as both my parents were the same.

Now my wife isn’t bad. She humors my obsession with punctuality & she is typically ready at the appointed hour. But I swear she also likes to toy with me at these times. Anyways . . . she got back early this time & I was grateful. The hotel had arranged a driver who had arranged a push cart guy to ferry our bags to the van. I was surprised to find out that the airport was south of Essaouira & we had passed it unknowingly on our drive in. So it was through the dune area that surrounds the town & past some lonely dusty cheap vacation hotels & condos to the très petit aéroport d'Essaouira. I had to stay in French since we were going to Paris. Check in was a breeze with next to no line since there was only one flight. One bag clocked in at 19.7kg & the other was 23.5kg. The Air Maroc woman didn’t care. With Easyjet that would have been 64€.

We filled out the Moroccan exit docs & talked with the official who was really friendly asking about our time & what we enjoyed. Of course, the suspicious side of me said it was a good profiling interview but maybe he was just being nice. We grabbed some cheap duty free including a bottle of rum for 7.50€! That was cheaper than a bar drink in Paris . . .

To make a long story short, the plane was late. The lounge filled with annoyed & annoying vacationers from France. Kids wailed & ran around as people argued & laughed & fidgeted with their carry-on. You know the scene. A corner of the lounge beside the eating area was deemed a smoking area. Who knows? No signs allowed or forbid it & no one cared. Oddly, the airport officials let some of the politer kids with their parents out on the tarmac to watch the flight taxi in when it finally arrived about an hour late. That wouldn’t happen in security wrought North America. The flight was relatively cloudy for much of the way but sometime after leaving Morocco’s coast, I did make out parts of undulating Andalusia below & later the Gironde estuary as France disappeared into twilight. And then we broke through the clouds over Paris & I spied the Eiffel Tower glittering amongst the lights of Paris.

And that brought a smile to both of us.

--- End Morocco Trip May 9, 2013 ---

Ian

PS

When I get to it, I will post the Paris portion in Europe>France and post a link to it here.

I will also post my whole trip report with embedded picture links on my site & I will post the link here as well.

Thank you for reading. It ended up much, much longer than I anticipated.
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May 25th, 2013, 06:17 AM
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It was great reading - you're an excellent writer.
I really wish we had gone to Ess. as I don't know that we'll get back to Morocco and it sounds like a very interesting city and a contrast to the parts of the country we were able to experience.
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May 25th, 2013, 06:37 AM
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Very well done.

Best meal in Essaouira for us was the fresh grilled fish at the stands by the harbor. Actually, one of my best lunches ever.

We had better luck than you with the service at Tavas.
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May 25th, 2013, 07:45 AM
  #35
Ian
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Edit: I see that it should be the Taros Cafe & Bar . . .

F-D: Either you were lucky or we weren't.

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May 25th, 2013, 08:41 AM
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Your description was so accurate, I recognized the place immediately, even if I didn't remember its name.
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May 25th, 2013, 09:13 AM
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Ian
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The two thugs at the door were surprising to me in Essaouira. Of course they do bill themselves as a bar so maybe it gets rowdy with the young beach ground in the summer.

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Jun 16th, 2013, 04:47 PM
  #38
Ian
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I have posted the Paris portion of my report in Europe. See:

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...-for-crpes.cfm

The full Morocco report is available with pictures:

http://members.rennlist.org/imcarthur/morocco.htm

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