A Travellerspoint blog

Atlas Mountains, Morocco

It is a 12 hour journey from Rissani to Marrakesh. Our journey starts in the desert and continues on to the Hollywood city of Ouarzazate. Game of Thrones, Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy and Gladiator were all shot here, to name a few. Unfortunately, we are on the wrong side of the bus to take pictures of the sets, village, kasbahs and studios. As we wind our way up the Atlas Mountains the terrain changes from desert to temperate forests and farmland once you crest the tallest mountains. The road is narrow with a lot of switchbacks causing some passengers to vomit. This part was 6 hours long and reminded us about the bus to Fez. Once we got to the foothills it was driving was less nauseating and we were, once again, able to enjoy the scenery.

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Posted by CulinarySojourn 10:57 Comments (0)

Desert, Morocco

sunny 102 °F

We leave Fez at 9pm, on an overnight bus to the southern town of Rissani. Not the most relaxing ride as Moroccan drivers are erratic. We get in at 6am and are immediatly bombarded by locals trying to sell us desert tours. One guy was even on the bus with us, so I even got hassled before a left the bus. We had made prior arrangements and we were greeted at the bus station by our driver. We then departed down the road to get to the largest sand dunes in Morocco.

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We arrive at the kasbah and after enjoying a nice mint tea while watching the sunrise we inquired about breakfast. They informed us that it was not included the first morning and we had to wait til dinner, which ended up to be 10:30pm. No lunch either. After a nap and some granola bars, we sweat it out in the desert heat for a few hours til evening. Here we tried using the internet and take showers with no pressure or heat. The owner then informed us we had 15 minutes til we departed on the camels despite being told that we were doing that the next day. Hurried by the guides we head into the desert on camel back. Had a slight delay when one of the camels had issues with a guy from Georgia. It almost reared up and was yelling and chomping. The guy refused to use that camel and insisted on another. This was when we were informed we had to bring our own water and we could buy some from them. Luckily, the Georgian had gallons of water to share.

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Despite the hassle and aggravation of the tour company, once we were in the desert it was all worth it. Gently swaying in rhythm with the camel and enjoying the sunset against the high dunes was one of the reasons we came to Morocco.

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At night we were finally fed a tagine of chicken and vegetables, that was heavenly with cantaloupe and watermelon as a dessert. No pictures as it was by candlelight. We then we entertained by the crystal clear stars and drums and songs of the Berbers. We turned in after watching shooting stars, bats and desert cats.

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In the morning, we headed back and had a breakfast of the local Berber pancake, with jams and honey to dip it in.

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Then we enjoyed another day in sweltering heat and nothing to do other than play card games. If you go to Morocco, the desert excursion is a must but avoid Kasbah Bivouc Lahmada at all costs. There plenty of options here in the desert. We then departed in the morning on another all day bus ride to Marrakesh.

Posted by CulinarySojourn 10:28 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Algeciras, Spain

One issue we had trying to purchase tickets to this port town in southern Spain was the Spanish lisp. Ç and S pronounced TH, leading to miscommunication. When I asked for two tickets to Algeciras, the attending responded Algethirith. Having figured it out once we wrote it down, we were on our way.

This is a small town with really nothing going on other than small town charm. The main reason people come here is for the crossing to Africa. The bus times do not line up with the ferry times so plan on staying a night unless you get lucky or rent a car.

We opted for more tapas. Sorry tapath. There was a restaurant across from our hostel that we opted for after wandering around town only finding closed restaurants and shoe stores. After some issues with the menu, they tend to not put prices on them, we found out that all of the tapas were shown in a glass case and we just had to point at which ones we wanted. While they were all good the stand out ones were the pork stuffed eggplant that was battered and fried and the pork skewers with spicy tomato sauce. Ben also really liked the fried and unfried cheeses we got.

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We also stopped by the local market for break fest before our next destination. They had pretty standard fare and we ended up with salty churrittos (small churros) and fresh strawberries. Again we had an issue with the Spanish lisp. When I ordered the strawberries the farms asked, "no math". While I didn't figure it til later, I knew he was asking me if I wanted anything more. I said no and gracias to which he responded, "grathieth" but then said, "gracias". Once you get the hang of the lisp it isn't an issue but can lead to some confusion.

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I don't remember if I have previously touched on this but Spain's dinner time is at 8 and doesn't really pick up until after 9. The hostel we stayed in is built above a cafe, which we had the pleasure of having the room with a terrace right above it.

Posted by CulinarySojourn 08:12 Comments (0)

Granada, Spain

While Madrid was fun it is now time to head off to the real reason I came to Spain: the La Alhambra. This magnificent Moorish fortress overlooks the city of Granada. We asked around at the hostel for travel advice and were told that the bus is cheaper and can sometimes be faster than taking the train. Unfortunately, this added another mile to our morning walk. We wanted to make sure that we had tickets reserved, so we made another attempt at purchasing them online but like the other attempts to use a Spanish site it ultimately failed. Getting to the station early we still missed the first bus but only had to wait a few hours for the next one. With a savings of €30 each it was worth the effort. The bus was comfortable and air conditioned while the Spanish highway was quite smooth. The scenery was composed of acres and acres of olive trees, covering the rolling hills. Other than the olives it did look like the drier parts of the Hawaiian islands. However, I took a video, which I cannot post from here but will try and upload it when I can.

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The Alhambra is one of the most impressive sights in Spain and they recommend that you book tickets in advance as they only allow so many visitors a day. As we have been having constant issues with websites, we didn't bother as they keep a few tickets for direct sale each day. This meant another early morning, getting up and hiking a hill. Of course, once we got to the top, there was already about 150 people ahead of us who used the bus. It took about 2 hours before we got the tickets which include a specific time to visit the palace section.

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As for food, Granada is home to tapas. These are small dishes served as an accompaniment to a drink to entice you to buy a full dish. People will just move from bar to bar ordering drinks and getting free food. As Ben and I don't drink, this was actually a issue for us. We had trouble finding a place that offered just tapas ala carte. After wandering around for a few hours we found a small restaurant that had 10 tapas for €13. Despite the lack of locals there, we decided to give it a go. What we got was a terrific set of 5 tapas (double portions) that were so good we came back the next day to try the other 5. We did get a sixth free since we had drinks.

This is a Mexican style chicken burrito with a drizzle of chocolate caramel sauce.
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This next dish is the cold soup known as gazpacho. Cucumbers and tomatoes are purred then chilled to make a refreshing dish. Served with diced jamon.
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A heavier dish of pork cooked with peppers and need onions. Rather sweet on the whole but the bread provides balance.
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Calamari with lemons and garlic, an eastern coast staple.
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Potatoes gratin with peppers and onions. Similar to the pork dish but better balanced on its own.
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Cold smoked salmon, topped with cheese and served on toasted bread.
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North African style orange and black olives salad. Nice difference in texture. The oranges provide the sweetness while the olives saltiness and meatiness.
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Spanish tortilla with tomato served on bread. Confusing coming from a Mexican background but it is a frittata.
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Bacalao (salted cod) salad. Similar to tuna fish salad.
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Steamed potatoes with parmeson-like cheese. The sauce is a mix of chillies, tomato and vinegar giving it a hot and sour taste.
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Lamb burger with a salted cheese on top of toasted bread. The cheese was overpowered but the lamb was cooked perfectly.
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We tried another place for lunch that offered 6 tapas and a litre of wine for €8.50. Having had sangria, we opted for the red wine mixed with lemonade. This turned out to really be a few slices of lemon and, while refreshing, was to much for us. The tapas were influenced cuisine from around the world and showed more modern tapas.

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Pastries are another common food that can be found on any street corner. We had dimple sugar doughnuts, apple tarts and another Andalusian creation: churros. These are not covered in sugar and cinnamon but rather dunked into coffee or thick, hot chocolate. These were perfectly fried, with a crispy outside and soft texture inside.

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Like all Spanish towns it seems Granada had a local market to find food but as our days of travel included Sunday, we were unable to visit it. Our plan was to hit it first thing in the morning before we went to the bus station for the next town but despite opening at 8, only the fishmonger was set up for business by 9. Instead we went and purchased our tickets and decided to go the Burger King due to its proximity to the station. However, it did not open til after noon like most places it seems. Instead we headed into a local Target like store and at one of the ubiquitous sandwich shops found in Spain.

Posted by CulinarySojourn 08:07 Comments (2)

Fez, Morocco

sunny 87 °F

We parted ways with the quaint town of Chefchaoen and headed further south to the the city of Fez. Here it is spelled Fes but the autocorrect always changes it to Few, so I will stick to Fez. The bus arrived late and we departed with four more backpackers from around the world.

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Upon arrival to Fez, we decided it was best to take a taxi as it would only be about 12dh, or $1.50. This was despite Ben's insistence that the taxi ride would kill us. Having traveled in China, it didn't faze me as I was more interested in the meter rather than the mopeds bumping into the taxi whenever it stopped. Or the lack of following the lines if it meant that it slowed down the ride. Immediately after the car stopped we were surrounded by kids telling us where the hostel was and that they would show us the way. This was to be a constant in Fez for the rest of the trip. We climbed to a fort on the outskirts of town to get a better view of the city. Then we headed through the Blue Gate (which looked green to me), which is the oldest gate in Fez.

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We headed into the depths of the Medina (the old city) with a bad map given to us by our hostel and a myriad of warnings received by other travellers. Here again we we beset by men of all ages telling us they were our friends and they knew where we needed to go. In all but one case we actually turned the opposite way they pointed and ended in the correct spot. The one time this trick failed, we simply back tracked to that point and went the other way. At the end of this street the same boy waited and pointed the way. Once again, we ignored him and headed the opposite direction and successfully found our way. Another trick is to ask people with actual jobs or women. We did this three times and were never lied to. Once, when we asked a group of girls, they pointed in the direction I thought we should be going anyways. A male teen then started to tell her to give us bad directions as he kept pointing in the opposite direction and making a lot of turning motions with his hands. An argument ensued about whether to lie to us or not. We went with the girls directions as they confirmed what we thought anyways. Her English was impeccable, showing that she attends school, while the males often had limited and heavily accented English.

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Another issue with the Medina is the narrow and crowded streets. There is over 3,000 of them in the old town although there are only a few that you really use. While the faux guides are persistent, often following for a long time or stepping in front of you, you must be persistent in saying no and push past them. They are a nuisance and what you need to watch out for is the donkeys loaded down with cargo. There wasn't enough room in an alcove when a donkey with leather came down the road and I ended up pinned between the wall and the donkey. Another time, Ben wasn't quick enough and was hit by a donkey carrying rugs.

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Spending days twisting our way through the maze of streets, we eventually learned the layout fairly well albeit with a few wrong turns here or there. If you have one of the major destinations in mind, then there are signs around to point you in the right direction. They are set up high so the locals can't easily mess with them. I found a few signs that had the arrows scrubbed off and some that were written over. While there are stalls everywhere, most of the same type will be in the same area which makes navigation easier.

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The major highlight of the Fez medina is the tanneries. Here they process the different hides to make the leatherwork this city is known for. Once you find them, you must enter a store where they assure you that it is free only to find out they will charge you for pictures. They initially said 5dh per person but we got them down to 1dh each. Most everything is negotiable here. They do give you mint to hold to your nose but it really isn't any worse than some of the streets.

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As for food, we were reluctant to try the street food here as the turn over was low. Closer to evening, more of the locals started to eat but by then the food has stood out all day. We opted for restaurants that were more expensive but were highly regarded by Trip advisor and other online review sites. Unfortunately, the food was mildly spiced and seemingly no salt was used. Either Moroccan cooking isn't what it is back in the states or we were getting whitey cooking. On our second to last day we finally found a good restaurant near the Blue Gate called Thamis. Nicely spiced and flavorful and with the best prunes I have ever had. There was also this great cat at another place that quickly ate up the chicken I gave him.

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This was a free appetizer served to us. Lentils, fried potato patties with harissa (hot sauce).
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This dish is mutton with stewed prunes. Overall the dish was very sweet with cinnamon but the mutton and bread really even out the flavor.
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Here is a great simple meal. Meatballs in a tomato sauce. Crack an egg in the middle and you have a great meal with bread.
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Another staple of the Moroccan kitchen. Grilled meatballs with shredded beets and carrots. Open up the bread and make a delicious sandwich. Staple of many bus stops.
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Posted by CulinarySojourn 07:55 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

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