This is our last day in Tangier (and in Morocco), and unfortunately the forecast is for rain the whole day (to add to the surprisingly cold weather). We will nevertheless attempt to see a bit more of the medina, the Kasbah, the tomb of Ibn Battuta, and a couple of other places before the end if we can manage it. Tomorrow we set sail (almost literally, we will go across the water anyway) for Spain for a few days before heading back home.
Today in Tangier, we:
– Had a lovely breakfast at our local patisserie
– Visited The American Legation (the first American property outside the US)
– Walked around a small part of the medina that included markets, strong odors, and a man peeing
– Visited the strange Jewish cemetery, where all the bodies seem crammed in together in a haphazard way.
– Had lunch at the restaurant at Darna, an organization that helps women and children in the area.
– Stopped by the charming Librarie des Colonnes (ignore their terrible website, the place itself is great).
– Walked around Tangiers, which feels very different from other Moroccan cities, in a way that is hard to describe, but I guess a bit more Mediterranean, both modern and frozen in time. It also feels a bit like it is trying to live up to its storied past, or perhaps we are looking to make it live up to that past, searching for the ghosts of Paul and Jane Bowles and the like…
Among the various things that escape our understanding, Marites and I have noticed that no women sit at the tables in the front of various cafes anywhere we have been in the country. The couple of times we have asked about sitting in front (in the sun, facing the street, the nicest tables) we were told that we would be more comfortable inside. We have asked around a bit and are told it is just not done. Clearly this is sexist, but no one can give a good reason. We suspect women who do dare to sit in the tables in front are considered to be whores for daring to claim public space like men.
After a charming morning exploring the medina in Tetouan, we decided to take our leave around noon. We arrived in Tangier yesterday after a somewhat harrowing broken down taxi ride with a rather unsavory driver, but arrived nonetheless, happy to be alive. We got settled in to our friends’ apt here in the city which they generously offered us. After that, we were invited to drinks with a fascinating couple of British expats who have been living here for many years and seem to know the city and its history quite well. Today we are off to explore the mystery that is Tangier, stay tuned for pics and stories.
After a brief stopover in the ever so picturesque Chefchaouen (see pics below) and a gorgeous drive beside the Rif mountains, we pressed on and ended up here in Tetouan, which I find fascinating for several reasons:
1. The medina is much more regular and almost grid like compared to others we have seen, and it is smaller and fairly easy to navigate.
2. All of a sudden, Spanish is the second language spoken after Arabic, not French. So I have had to adjust and start practicing my Spanish, which is a little jarring after speaking French for the past couple of weeks.
3. They seem to absolutely LOVE sweets here, I have never seen so many sweet shops. Marites and I bought something unrecognizable that was pretty damn tasty though, a kind of apricot caramel creme crispy thing.
4. The city has a kind of fascinating division between the newer Spanish colonial city and the much older medina, each falling almost symmetrically on either side of an avenue that is the dividing line.
5. We seem to be the only tourists in the whole town. So much so, that we are stared at. Marites in particular seems to be the first person of Asian decent they have ever seen, and there are some rather bizarre looks and comments directed her way (which makes her dislike this place I am afraid).
The above means “goodbye” in Arabic, at least according to this page. We have had a fantastic time in Fez, and based on what we have done, I leave you with the following recommendations:
DO stay at the Riad Al Bartal, they are fabulous in every way. The staff was amazing and helpful, the food good, the atmosphere wonderful and the location perfect (just inside the medina, easy to get around inside by foot or outside by taxi).
DONT get a massage or go to the spa/hammam at the nearby Palais Faraj, they have no idea what they are doing and it is a waste of money.
DO have dinner in the Dar Roumana, it is a glorious setting, and the food was great if a little pricey.
DO have dinner in the Cafe Fez at the Jardin des Biehn. It is more French than Moroccan, but the meal was superb and reasonable.
DO visit the crumbing Palais Gloui, it is quite interesting to see the faded glory of this place.
DO explore the medina and souks, and DO use google maps with GPS on your phone if possible. I can’t say enough about the wonder that is this medieval maze of a city. DO knock on various Riad doors to see courtyards and rooms whenever possible. This place is magical.
DONT underestimate the time it will take you to wind your way through the maze. Whatever google or a guide says, add on about half as much extra time.
DONT bother with a guide (especially if you have maps and connectivity). This was recommended by everyone and we are very happy we did not bother with one. It was exciting to explore on our own.
In a couple of hours we head off for Chefchaouen and Tetouan….
This morning Marites and I had another leisurely breakfast at our riad, made some plans to get to our next destinations (Chefchaouen and Tetouan), booked a massage at a local swank hotel, visited a crumbling old house called Palais Glauoi and newly opened riad for a look around, and then took a short walk through part of the medina where were were invited to a lovely lunch with some new acquaintances, one of whom (Stephen) owns a beautifully restored riad that we also got a tour of. Fez continues to impress me greatly, especially the vertical spaces and courtyards behind the walls of the corridors of this very medieval city.
I absolutely love Fez, the city is like nothing I have ever seen in its medieval urban intensity. We were warned by all manner of person, article, and guidebook about the absolute necessity of getting a guide here, and it is pretty easy to get lost if one is not careful. But the twin technologies of Google maps and GPS have rendered the absolute chaos of the medina quite manageable. While it is true that not every nook and cranny are mapped, most of the main ones are, and even if you get lost you can eventually reorient yourself with a little patience. We got lost only a couple of times, and that was only due to the limitations of the “blue dot” not always being accurately placed on the map (the limitations of GPS accuracy in a few hard to reach areas. And it never lasted more than a few minutes. The medina and its souks are such a fascinating place, the chaos and history and otherworldly quality of it all.
The riad we are staying in was an excellent choice, it is called Al Bartal. The staff are so nice, the service so wonderful, and the place is so beautiful, it really feels like you are transported to another time. If I had any complaint about the place, it would only be that someone has sadistically stationed a loud bird in the courtyard whose incessant chirping and whistling is enough to make me want to put a cat in the cage with it or turn it into a pastilla.
We have two more days here, and much left to explore I am happy to say. Check out the pics (so far) below.
Marites and I are currently on a train to Fez, after a brief stopover in Casablanca to have lunch and check out (a small amount of) Moroccan art deco architecture. Casablanca impresses me (in that very short time and distance) as a much less touristy place than Marrakech, and much more developed (the modern tram system we took seemed pretty state of the art). I am able to blog by connecting my fairly good reception Maroc Telecom unlimited internet to my computer via Wi-Fi. I feel so modern. One thing that has been quite a curiosity for Marites and me, as we ride the train, is trying to figure out what this little cartoon figure on a sticker could possibly mean:
We have seen this sticker everywhere on the train. There seems to be an antenna or an ear, and it seems to be sleeping, does it mean to keep things with antennas asleep or quiet? Does it have something to do with a penis? It is a figure in prayer? Is it a meditating bunny with a Van Gogh complex? The mind boggles…
Marites and I came back to Marrakech briefly today, I went to see the doctor (who told me to get an MRI when I get home and prescribed some heavy duty pain killers for me), and then we decided to have dinner in a well known Moroccan restaurant here (that I had been to last week with my friends). They have two locations, but one is within walking distance, so being a little tired we decided on that one. I called the restaurant and made a reservation, and even called back to order their special lamb dish for 2 that you have to order in advance. We walked to the restaurant and arrived dutifully at 8pm in time for our reservation when we noticed that the doors were closed. Approaching them, we saw a sign that said they were closed on Tuesdays. I called the restaurant and they told me that I was at the wrong one, and that they would hold our table for us. We then tried to flag a cab, who quoted us an outrageous fare. Then another one. Then another one. We called the restaurant back to make sure they had given us the right address, it seemed quite far on the map. Finally, we found a really nice cab driver named Abdul who actually just put on his meter, something that never happens here in Marrakech. He drove us to our restaurant, and on the way there, all the lights went out in that part of the city and we arrived in total darkness. The restaurant was still serving luckily, but by candlelight. For the first part of our meal it was very romantic and dark, and then the lights came back on about 20 minutes into it. Abdul had even given me his number and offered to come pick us back up at the restaurant, so we called him at the end and he came to get us and take us back to the place we are staying. I was so surprised by how great he had been that I asked if I could give his number to my friends here, and he told me that I could, but that he was unemployed at the moment and only driving his friends’ cabs when they were not in use, so it was very uncertain he would even be available. We tipped Abdul especially well both coming and going (it was still a better deal than what the others were quoting us, even though being almost double the meter) and said our goodbyes. All in all a lovely, serendipitous evening.