Sunday, September 25, 2011

Last 24 Hours in Morocco

After leaving Chefchaouen, we bussed north to Tangier and had soup in café Hafa, which apparently is where the Beatles used to go. You sit on terraces overlooking the Gibraltar Strait, and can see the lights of Spain across the water. It was too dark for a photo, but a very cool experience.

Then, the overnight train back to Marrakech.
Arriving in Marrakech after 10 hours on board

We had been looking forward to using our (hopefully) expert haggling skills to get all sorts of bargains upon return to Marrakech. Unfortunately, we discovered that the town was a lot more geared towards tourists than our memories of it from a week earlier. Amazing how much a week of travel can open your eyes! The shopkeepers weren't prepared to haggle properly, rejecting fair offers in favour trying their luck on the next unwitting tourist who didn't know better.

In the main souk

We were meant to be staying in the same riad as last week, but through a mix-up of theirs they had to move us to somewhere else nearby. To make up for it, they gave us a free three course dinner with wine, plus airport transfers the next morning! Now that's what I call good complaint resolution.

The next morning we felt ready to go home as we headed towards the airport. Morocco was a wonderful part of the world to experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone, but we sure were looking forward to a hot bath by the time we got on the plane!

Saturday, September 24, 2011


I am in love with Chefchaouen. It is easily the most wonderful place we've been so far in our trip around Morocco.

Nestled in the Rif mountains in the north of Morocco, Chefchaouen is just a few hours drive from the coast. It boasts an unusual hybrid between Arabic and Mediterranean. There are just as many mosques as in every other town, and the architecture is undeniably Moroccan. Yet, somehow you don't need to be told that Spain is geographically closer than Mecca; you can just feel it.

And boy is it picturesque. The whole town, almost, is blue.

Our room
Sunset over the city, from the pool at our riad
In the morning we woke up to the most spectacular sunshine we've seen so far in Morocco. We couldn't wait to get out and explore the blue back-streets.

The Rif mountains in the background behind the pool at our riad
A typical street in Chefchaouen
Powder dyes on the side of the road
The kids in Chefchaouen are gorgeous. Seeing that we're not Moroccan, they greeted us with "hola" by reflex. One thing they had in common is not liking to be photographed. This photo is my favourite photo from our entire trip in Morocco. She looked so cute walking up the stairs by the blue wall that I whipped out the camera. Instantly, she whips out this horrified look, waves her finger at me shrieking "no, no no!" I suppose I should feel bad for publishing it without her permission. But she's just too cute!

A highlight of walking the streets was climbing the tower in the ancient Kasbah. the view was stunning.

Back at the riad, we relaxed by the pool for the afternoon, wishing we could have stayed in Chefchaouen longer, and vowing to return.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


My impression of Fes is that it's a more authentic version of Marrakech.

Frankie and I in front of the Blue Gate; the old town entrance nearest our riad

There's the same hustle and bustle, but it's much easier to get lost. The souks seem to exist more for Moroccans than for tourists, which leads to both higher quality and a better starting price. For these three antipodeans hoping to discover 'real' Morocco, it felt like a pretty great start.

A shoe shop closing up for the night

While Paul visited the museum, Frankie and I headed over to the tannery. A guide passed us a handful of mint to disguise the smell, then walked us to the best vantage point where he proceeded to explain the month-long process of getting raw hide to the type of leather we see every day. He also told us that the tannery in front of us was the largest in Africa, supporting 320 families. It began in the 13th century and had been handed down from father to son ever since.

Overlooking the tannery

I found a jacket I loved, but unfortunately their asking price was aimed at rich French tourists... even with heavy haggling there was no way I could get it down to a reasonable level.

We took an hour and a half to get home, lost in the maze of tiny alleys, dead ends and high walls. We're not even sure when we crossed the river to get back, but somehow found ourselves wandering into familiar territory and were able to retrace our footsteps back.

When we returned to our room there was a curious note from Paul that said: "on the roof (amazing!)".

We ventured upstairs and discovered a breathtaking view over the city. We sat there and chatted awhile before Frankie and Paul went to grab some dinner. Thankfully, I didn't have to watch them eat. I had a bath instead.

The next morning by daylight

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Arriving in Meknès, our cab driver overcharged us and then dropped us on the wrong side of town, but not before giving us his phone number so we could call him tomorrow for a city tour at the miniscule price of just 500 dirhams. When we finally arrived at our riad about 45 minutes and several guides on foot later, we vowed to phone him at 3:00am!

I was asleep within five minutes of arriving in the room, leaving Paul and Frankie alone to play husband and wife around Meknès alone for the afternoon.

Meknès is one of the most ancient cities in Morocco. Everything has been around for millennia. At the museum, there are rooms full of priceless artefacts, and signs up everywhere strictly reminding visitors that there's no photography allowed. 

Somehow, Paul and Frankie found the best (or worst) security guard ever, and he practically forced them to take photos of everything! Whenever they got to a priceless room, he would look around, then quickly move the rope and usher them in to sit on the furniture and touch anything they liked!

Paul and Frankie on some of the priceless artefacts. Photo taken by the awesome security guard.
By the time they returned, I'd slept for about five hours. We chatted up on the roof for an hour or so, then headed back down to our room where I had no trouble sleeping for another 13 hours.

In the morning, breakfast was provided. I didn't want to offend anyone by not eating, so the others helped me construct an elaborate ruse that ensured my plate looked well used.

After breakfast, we haggled with a taxi driver to take us to Fès via Ifrane, which is a cute little town where it snows in winter. They have an English speaking university, and we all dreamed about what it would be like to live there someday.

Frankie and I in front of Ifrane's landmark carved stone lion

Life Lesson #34 - Train Stations in Casablanca Aren't Always Romantic

Casablanca is meant to be very romantic. Especially train stations in Casablanca. Or at least that's what the movie led me to believe. My own ending to Casablanca was significantly less romantic than the clip below.

We were standing on platform one. I felt weak and apparently looked pale. Our train was due in a few minutes. I was nervous about spending four hours on a train in my current state, but was confident that the previous twelve hours or so had emptied everything that could possibly be in my stomach.

I suddenly realised there was more and stood up in a hurry.

I had cased out the platform upon arrival and knew exactly where to find the nearest ablutions. I race there.

The men's bathroom on platform one at Casablanca Voyageurs station has five cubicles. Two of them have flush toilets. When I run in, two cubicles are occupied... no prizes for guessing which.

Seconds later my hands and knees get sticky as I kneel over a six inch hole in the ground gifting the last of yesterday's lunch to the pungent depths.

The train arrives while I'm on all fours.

I make it in time, but it's a very long journey!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


When we arrived in Casablanca we haggled with a taxi driver to take us straight to the Hassan II Mosque, which is the second largest religious building in the world (behind the mosque at Mecca).

The photos don't do it justice at all.

From there, Paul checked out the art gallery while Frankie and I made our way along the pseudo-european beachfront for a swim.

Frankie came up with an ingenious way for us to swim together without endangering our valuables: we put everything important in her little bag and buried it under mine.

It didn't occur to us until we were in the water that if my [worthless] bag got nicked, we'd have no marker to find our valuables. Suddenly didn't feel like such a good idea!

Sunset over the beach at Casablanca
We then walked for what seemed like hours to a lighthouse that had seemed like a great landmark when we'd been looking at it from afar. Eventually we found our way back to the hotel and Paul.

We finished off the night at a cute little shisha bar.

Unfortunately, something I ate didn't agree with me... and let's just say I got up several times in the night and I feel guilty for not tipping whoever had to clean our bathroom!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Day Two in Marrakech

Day two in Marrakech begins with breakfast on the roof of our riad.

Afterwards, we make our way through the rush of the souk to the museum of Marrakech. There wasn't a lot inside, but the architecture was reason enough to visit: the building used to be a royal palace.

After lunch, we visited the old Medersa (Muslim University) The courtyard was awe-inspiring and we sat there for a good half hour before continuing.

The tiny student's quarters each had a little window... naturally we took advantage of the photo op!


After a quick rest at the riad, we ventured into the main square to find some dinner. It wasn't as delicious or as cheap as we had hoped, but definitely a worthwhile experience nonetheless!

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Our eight day trip around Morocco starts off in Marrakech.

We're staying at Riad Hala, a tiny family run place just a few tight alleyways away from the main town square.

Frankie and Paul in front of the door to our riad

Morocco is culturally the farthest I've ever been from home. I've learned that photos can't prepare you for a sensory overload.

One of the first things we see when we get out of our taxi from the airport is a hooded cobra, mesmerised by an old snake charmer. As we listen to his haunting Arabian tune, the call to prayer rings out from all the mosques. They're the only taller buildings in the bustling medina district and serve as some of the only landmarks as we navigate the labyrinthine terracotta streets surrounding them.

More than a little unnerving!

My concentration is broken by an old man calling to me in French to get out of the way of his donkey as it pulls who-knows-what behind it in a dilapidated cart.

An old porter from our riad has met the taxi at the edge of the medina to show us the way. He's missing his front teeth and doesn't speak any English, but I can recall enough French to understand what he means when he mutters something and gestures his leathery hand towards a busy alley just past the main square.

He's telling us where to find the main markets. I can see a few of the stalls near the entrance selling brightly colored traditional clothing. There's an fascinating aroma I later discover to be a mix of mint tea, Moroccan spices and cakes of musky perfume.

After leaving our bags at the riad and changing into something cooler, we head in to explore the markets up close.

One apothecary spends about 15 minutes showing us traditional Moroccan deodorant (a quartzlike crystal), toothpicks (a pinecone with spines that you break off) lipstick (a clay lid with paste from a crushed red flower on one side) and even viagra (a ginseng root that you boil with water and sugar).

Naturally, he charges us triple what we should have paid for our bag of spices and cake of musk perfume, but we decide not to care: his show was worth it.

It's only our first day, after all.

Spot the kitten

Sunset over the medina from the roof of our riad

Friday, September 16, 2011

Review: Parade

Parade is renowned composer Jason Robert Brown's first show. You wouldn't know it. It covers the controversial subject matter of the 1913 trial of an uptight Jewish factory manager in the Deep South for the rape and murder of a 13 year old employee.

The story hints at The Crucible with its exploration of how the speculation of spooked townfolk can unearth deep prejudice in a community and lead to an irrational demand for a scapegoat.

Southwark Playhouse's Vault provides the perfect environment for the story to unfold under the brick arches of London Bridge station. It breathes history. The stage is in the centre of the room, with the audience along the two long walls and large set pieces at either end. This dynamic surrounding reinforces the assertion that the audience are the jury in the case of Leo Frank.

The music is typical Jason Robert Brown. Deep without being obtuse. Simple without being basic. Tender and confrontational in equal measure at all the right moments.

The acting was superb. Alastair Brookshaw's portrayal of Leo Frank was nuanced and didn't shy away from presenting the character's flaws. But the show really belongs to Laura Pitt-Pulford as Frank's wife Lucille. She's given a chance to demonstrate her immense talent in the character progression from sappy southern housewife to a strong, resourceful woman of conviction. This is one of the best female roles in musical theatre, and Pitt-Pulford's performance is among the best I have seen.

Challenging. Inspiring. Chilling. Thought provoking. This one will have you thinking about it for weeks afterwards.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Red Chair Goes Home

Red Chair had a problem. Red Chair couldn't stay up. We rang his parents at IKEA and they told us to bring him home so they could take a look at him.

These photos capture our last poignant moments with Red Chair, as we took a fateful journey by bus, train, tram, and walk to the place where his short life began.

The King's treatment

Waiting for the bus

A quick rest at the train station

No seats on the train? no problem!

Buying tickets for the tram

Nearly home

A quick play before going home

It always ends in tears

Waiting patiently for the returns people

This is all we have to show for red chair now.