Last November, I travelled for two weeks to Morocco, after spending a few weeks in the UK, mostly walking along the South West Coast Path in Cornwall. Overall, it was a fabulous six-week trip — and has yielded a number of blog posts already.
Now it’s time to recount my adventures in Morocco! I’ve been back for three months now and have finally finished going through all my photos, picking out the best ones. In a first for me I’ve uploaded the Morocco photos to Flickr, so anyone who wants to see more than I include in this post can check out my public album here.
My decision to travel to Morocco was fairly last minute. I didn’t begin planning my trip at all until about six weeks before leaving, starting with the walk in Cornwall. But I wanted to add something on to that, without having to do much extra planning…
As soon as I thought of joining an Intrepid group tour in Morocco, I was sold. It seemed like a great contrast to the UK part of my adventure, being both a completely different culture and the opposite of travelling solo. Morocco is much warmer than Europe in November too — even if it did making packing light a wee bit challenging!
The trip was called Best of Morocco. It turned out to be a bit of a tourist circuit, but despite the rampaging hordes that dogged our every step, I had a fantastic time.
I was hoping to cover the whole trip without this post ending up a mile long, but (predictably) managed to fail dismally (oops). This, then, is the first of a series of I-don’t-know-how-many posts about my adventures in Morocco.
I flew in to Casablanca from London the evening before the trip started, to give me a day exploring the city. Fortunately, I managed to link up with one of my soon-to-be-companions at breakfast, and we spent the day schlepping around Casablanca on foot. (The combination of her Lonely Planet guide and my offline maps app, Maps.me, was sublime!)
The main thing to see in Casablanca is the Hassan II Mosque — an enormous, modern masterpiece that is the only mosque in Morocco open to non-Muslim visitors. We did go inside the following morning and witnessed the contemporary take on Andalusian architecture, with sculpted marble, chandeliers and lots of gold. Oddly enough it reminded me of a hybrid of the Alhambra in Granada and La Sagrada Familia (the Gaudi cathedral) in Barcelona — not because the architecture is similar AT ALL to either, but more because of the care and attention and money lavished on both exterior and interior. Our guide later told us that Moroccan taxpayers had to pay a special levy for its construction…
Compared with other Moroccan cities, Casablanca has quite a strong French architectural and cultural vibe — complete with the cafe culture. By the end of the day we had figured out that only local men seemed to visit most of the cafes (sitting facing out to the street — of course), none of which served food. To get lunch we had to visit a ‘restaurant’.
During our ramble through the city, we did manage to wend our way through the Casablanca medina (a maze-like walled town of narrow streets) — a fine achievement on our first day!
We caught the train from Casablanca to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. We didn’t have much time here unfortunately. The main thing we did was visit the Kasbah des Oudaias (old fortress), which is now a maze of cobbled streets and homes — it reminded me of a Greek island with all the whitewashed walls and blue accents. And cats. Thousands of cats.
Five of us somehow got ourselves a guide, who took us around and told us stuff — mainly anecdotes. It was awkward at the end, because he clearly expected payment and none of us were aware of who in our group had agreed to the fee! Suspect it was a clever con for unsuspecting tourists…
Aside from the touristy kasbah, Rabat also has a medina and the unfinished Hassan II Tower and Mausoleum, both of which we merely glimpsed. The city is located on quite a pretty river mouth and port too. Apparently there used to be pirates, but we didn’t see any. 😦
We jumped on the train again and headed to ‘the Imperial city of Meknes’. Its major claim to fame is the crumbling palaces of Sultan Moulay Ismail. Amid the labyrinth of high walls, is the partially reconstructed Heri es Souani Granary (imperial stables) and the Bab Mansour gate. We found a relaxed rooftop cafe overlooking the Bab Mansour gate and the medina, and drank coffee and mint tea before heading off with the group to eat camel burgers for lunch.
In Meknes we traded the train for a minivan, which conveyed us around the country for most of the rest of the trip. Just north of Meknes is the World-Heritage Roman archaeological site of Volubilis — a sprawling site amid olive groves and rolling hills with a gazillion in-situ mosaics.
Volubilis is typically Roman, with the foundations of many houses, temples, bath houses etc. From this perspective it was like many Roman sites I’ve been to. However, the sheer number of in-situ mosaics (discovered 20 years ago) fairly blew me away.
There are at least 20 uncovered, and many more likely undiscovered, since the site is only partially excavated. It’s a little worrying to see them all exposed like that, though. We wondered if it’s a good thing the rest remain preserved and hidden. So far they don’t seem to have excavated a theatre or stadium or paleastra or anything of that ilk.
Needless to say, I adored Volubilis. I would have loved to spend a bit longer there, actually. A guide took us around and pointed things out, but it did make things all a bit rushed. This is obviously the drawback of a guided tour, even a small-group Intrepid adventure tour. We did get whisked around a bit, particularly in the first few days. Still, it is a very efficient way of seeing a country, with everything organised and local guides on tap.
Hmm, I think that’s probably enough for a single post. Stay tuned for the next installment, which will begin in Fes…