#morocco #travel #studyabroad #sahara #desert #me #adventure #nofilter #getreadyforsomesaharaspam (at Merzouga)
My name is Lydia, and right now I am studying abroad in Meknes, Morocco
Ifrane -The Swiss Alps of Morocco (Plus Monkeys!)
When we arrived in the sleepy ski town of Ifrane, we were confused. Gone were the familiar flat houses and mosaic filled arches, instead we found white washed condos with steep roofs designed to keep off the snow. The city itself would not be out of place in the middle of Colorado.
After eating breakfast, we began our hike in Ifrane National Forest. Over all it was a pleasant path, if a bit steep at times… generally speaking the South Carolinians were keeping up the rear end of the group.
There were several point where we came across large groups of monkeys that clearly knew how to work the tourists. When we walked past a nice picnic area, they lined either side of the road waiting for hand outs. I made the mistake of taking my sandwich out of my bag in order to break off a piece, only to have one try to take the entire bag! (Keep in mind that this is after I had thoroughly mocked my roommate Celene for getting mugged by the alpha male.)
We continued on our way until we came to the amazing view seen in the last picture. It was worth the wait.
One of the top items on my Bucket list has always been to go to Venice for Carnival. Last fall I made a pact with my friend Beth who is currently studying in Florence that come hell or high water*, we would be in Venice.
I don’t have classes on Fridays, so the morning of the 28th I took an early train to Casablanca, ran to make my flight to Italy then got on a bus out to Venice.
As I meandered the streets trying to find my hostel I ran into Beth, literally. After taking the opportunity to have a cliche movie reunion, we set off to explore the city.
Walking around Venice was like a dream with the entire city in gorgeous costumes and fairy lights strung over the alleys. Even with having to dodge rain showers and fight the flooded canal, I loved my time there. We bought our masks from a local artisan who worked his craft right in the shop, and I had my very first Italian espresso.
I loved observing the care and detail that people put into their costumes, women in hoop skirts, men in wigs and every aspect of their regalia held such detail that I couldn’t help but look on in awe. Because of the lack of motor traffic, the city retains the feeling being out of time. I could very easily expect to turn a corner an find Antonio anxiously waiting for his ships to come in and stay Shylocks knife.
Needless to say, this will not be my last visit.
When our group toured Rabat, we didn’t really know what to expect. It’s the capital city of Morocco, but culturally what does that mean? What we found was a bit of a melting pot of ancient forts, seaside graves and sushi restaurants. This city does a wonderful job of letting you feel the antiquity fuse with modernity in a beautiful way. The atmosphere is much more relaxed than one would expect from a business center, but you still feel as though the concept of time is relevant.
We went around the fort, toured nearby archeological dig, saw the mausoleum of the most recent kings, (Morocco is a monarchy after all) and found a Japanese restaurant for lunch.
All in all I enjoyed walking through Rabat, but my absolute favorite was exploring the massive cemetery pictured above. Right at sunset the view was incredible.
Chefchaouen has probably been my favorite city in Morocco so far. The entire Medina is painted blue, and the surrounding mountains are gorgeous.
I set off by bus from Meknes with Celene and our friends Tara, Dan, Joel, and Doug at 5:30, (which required us waking up at 4 to walk across the city and we still barely made it). However, most of us were able to sleep on the way.
Once we arrived in the Blue City, we set off up the steepest hill I have ever tackled in order to find something to eat and start the day. We took a few wrong turns and had to avoid a fair few people trying to lead us astray (Chefchaouen is the Hashish capital of Morocco after all) but we found the sook in the old medina, and after a little exploration we discovered a great hostel in the middle of the medina.
The second picture is taken from the rooftop terrace of our hostel, and does not do justice to the incredible view we had of the valley.
I wandered up to investigate and met a fascinating Swedish man named Eric who had been traveling down through Spain for the past few months, but only recently arrived in Morocco speaking no French or Arabic. The rest of the group came up and we sat on the terrace sharing stories and listening to Eric play his guitar. After an hour or so, the majority of our group went to hike up the mountain while Celene and I stayed to explore the medina, a move which ultimately paid off when we needed to catch a bus early the next morning and we had discovered a shortcut.
Ultimately, even tho the trip was a short one, I loved Chefchaouen. There are definitely worse ways to spend a weekend than exploring the alleys and shops of this small city, and I can’t wait to go back.
Sunday Drive to the Country
We had a house helper named Surat who didn’t want to get married, so her aunt suggested she come to the city to earn some money and be independent. Unfortunately a week later she ran into a man who had kidnapped her for ransom a few years past and decided that she was better off back home in the country.
Celene and I got to travel to her home and have dinner with her lovely family. (The little one treated me like a jungle gym, so I guess not much has changed from my life back in the States.)
Fez- Handmade goods and silly hats
Walking through the Fez medina was about the same as walking through any other city with one exception… the Tannery. Every once in a while you would turn a corner and get a whiff of an aroma that was mildly less than pleasant. And by less than pleasant, I mean it stank horribly!
However this didn’t detract from our exploration of the city, where we saw lines and lines of handmade leather goods and felt hats. The highlight of this trip? Stoping at the semi famous “Cafe Clock” and eating a Camel Burger.
It was delicious.
Italy in Africa
These Roman ruins can be found about an hour outside of Meknes, and are all that is left of the city of Volubilis. Walking around the columns and viewing the beautiful mosaics of the ancient baths really gives one an air of being transported to the Tuscan country side.
This place was amazingly beautiful, nestled in a valley and surrounded by olive groves.
Sometimes I forget just how diverse this country is until I see it.
Meknes- The Imperial City
Also known as my home away from home. It’s a pretty cool place to be a Taliba (student) because there is so much history.
Made famous by the Infamous Tyrant Moulay Ismail, there are still places where his influence is felt, (his underground prison where thousands died can be toured for 10 Dirham) and the Mosque turned Mausoleum (Pictures 2 & 3) is a gorgeous monument to visit.
The old city is cloaked in a romantic nostalgia, with ancient madrasas and luxury hotels tucked into the side alleys of the sook, which is also conveniently home to merchants who won’t try to cheat you out of your entire wallet for one item.
Meknes is significantly scaled back on the tourists especially, compared to Marrakech or Fez, which definitely gives it it’s own unique charm.
Ouzoud Falls- the tallest waterfall in Morocco
As far a cities go, Marrakech was pretty overwhelming. Hustlers and swindlers coming at us from all sides in any language they thought we spoke, (French, English, or Spanish depending on the company) and more beautiful alleys to explore than you could imagine. But all in all it was pretty fun.
Rain didn’t keep us from the main Sook where I played a rousing game of “Tourist or Ex-Pat?” over my mint tea, and while the lounge we visited that night had a bit more “local color” than most of the group was comfortable with my visit to Marrakech was quite memorable.
Obligatory red for valentines day!
When in Casablanca, skip Rick’s Cafe and go to church. Or in this case, the Mosque of Hassan II.
For all of the hype and name recognition that Hollywood and Humphrey Bogart have given the city, this architectural masterpiece is the most impressive sight by far.
Contrary to popular belief, Casablanca (so named for the specifically alabaster buildings that could be distinctly seen from aboard a Spanish ship) is not a place designed for tourism. In order to be immersed in the proper orientalist fantasy Morocco, one must journey to Marrakech or Fez.
No, Casablanca is a large economic center within Morocco and therefore host to the largest airport and this Mosque, which is the third largest in the world. It was built entirely from community support with thousands of workers and artisans hand crafting each piece seven days a week. The most impressive part in my opinion? It was built in six years. The minaret is the tallest in the world, and the building itself is extends partially over the Atlantic ocean.
Truly an incredible place.
Fun Fact #1: It has been exactly three weeks to the day since I landed in Morocco.
Fun Fact #2: I have been neglecting to blog. (Again.)
Fun Fact #3: Several posts pertaining to my many Moroccan mishaps (and adventures) are coming soon!
Fun Fact #4: All of the above were taken in Meknes, where I am living for the next three months! (The last one is even my home!)
Leaving for the next part of my adventures! After an amazing weekend in New York with my Aunt Mary and her friend Whitney, I’m getting on a plane for Casablanca! As always I’ll be keeping y’all up to date on my travels and post lots of pictures! Au revoir USA, I’ll see you in July.