Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Paris, with luggage this time

The final stop on our trip was the return to Paris for a couple of nights before the long journey back to NZ.  We flew from Fes to Paris, or rather into Beauvais, a mere 77km out of Paris.  The lines at immigration were by far the worst queuing experience we have had in years.  Two airplanes arrived at the same time and the resulting overcrowding in the small hall was exacerbated by people thinking they were entitled to move into any gap in the line.  No orderly, one-by-one polite protocol.  No, it was each man for himself.  Certainly the Moroccans on our flight were guilty of pushing and cutting in, but the worst offenders were the pair of french ladies in their 30’s with 3 small children.  They blatantly pushed a child's pushchair under the barrier ropes, then followed the pushchair, so that they jumped significant portions of the line.  Hideous experience!

But it was lovely to be back in Paris.  The start of our trip had been marred by the loss of the suitcases, so it was  much nicer being in the city with all our possessions.  Our time in Paris in September was a re-run of what we tried to do in August, but with the comfort of changes of clothing, with venues being open and with none of the long queues we had seen in August.

We strolled into the Petit Palais art gallery without a wait.  Andrew did manage to "mis-hear" the security guard checking if he had “keys” in his pockets before we went through the metal scanner.  Andrew simply said “New Zealand” and the guard looked a little bemused.  I’m not sure what Andrew thought the question was, to give that answer.

petit palais

We went back to La Grande Epicerie which had been closed on the one day we visited in August.   Having had our fill of looking at gourmet food and wine we did as (some) of the locals do and had a long lunch, sitting outside a random neighbourhood bistro, watching the world go by.

And that evening we got to visit again our old favourite restaurant Les Papilles, which had been closed for summer holidays in August.  I think Andrew has told every single person we know who goes to Paris to visit there.  And it did not disappoint.  Delicious from start to finish.


We’ll probably be back next time we are in Paris.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Fes was our last stop in Morocco. Most people we had spoken to said we should get a guide given the maze that is the Medina.   9,000 streets – a significant number of which are also dead-ends and 150,000 people it is certainly complex.  Because we had a limited amount of time we got our accommodation host to arrange a guide.  In many ways we are really are NOT guide sort of people.  The guide was fine, and we learnt lots of things from her, but we also just wandered the Medina like sheep following the leader.  On the whole I don’t think we got a real feel for the Medina and would have been better just wandering and getting lost. 

fes souk2

The tannery area where the vats of dyes are managed by hand had been on Andrew’s must see list.  The area was not as smelly as we had anticipated.


But the hard-sell in the leather shop afterwards was very strong.  Nice pieces and lovely colours, but we didn't succumb – nor in any of the 4 other shops our guide took us to!


Two lovely little snippets of life we did see were the communal ovens where housewives would bring their bread or tagines to be baked.  When I looked at the photo below I realised the baker was resting on the stairs – I had not seen him when snapping the picture.   And the other was watching the spinning of thread in the streets.  Long lengths of thread were wrapped around a hook on a wall and the spinner would stand twenty metres away with his winding machine.  Below are also some of the remnants of the process.  Our guide told us that in Morocco sewing is a job predominantly done by men.


Looking over the rooftops there are no shortage of satellite dishes.


We liked Fes, but didn’t really get it’s true vibe.  When we go back next time we will just wander and see what the city wants to show us.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A day in Roman Morocco

On our way to Fes we spent a couple of hours at Volubilis, an extensive Roman city covering 42 hectares.  It was founded about the 3rd century BC, and was a Roman outpost for about 300 years producing Olives and Olive Oil for the Empire.  After the Romans fell it was occupied for another 700 years by the local Christians, then by the Islamic community.  It was abandoned by the 11th Century and because of this remained well preserved and is now part of the Unesco world heritage portfolio.

Even today it is a lush and fertile valley.






Perhaps one of the most amazing things about this site is that after 2000 years the mosaics are remarkably well preserved after centuries of being hidden then exposed to the elements after the site was first excavated by the French around 1912


Along the way we have been seeing an unfamiliar (to us anyway) fruit on sale, obviously in season at the moment.  It is the fruit of the cactus.  We tried some and they were very tasty.  Made even better by the seller peeling them for you so you just have to eat them with none of the peeling hassle.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A drive through the middle Atlas mountains

In Morocco we were advised to calculate driving times using a 60km/ph average.  So while the distances didn’t appear that large, the time to drive them had to be factored in.  We needed to get from the desert to Fes but didn't want an 8 hour driving day so decided to break the journey in Azrou – still a good six hour drive. 

The scenery was superb, changing from desert to oasis then from to high country to an orchard farming fruit bowl area.  It rivaled NZ for diversity of scenery.  Most of the pictures were taken from a moving car – so it is a wonder any came out!

middle atlas

Every day we have seen women gathering greenery and feed for the animals.  It seems to be a female job, although occasionally there is a man doing it, but he is always riding or leading a donkey.  Women always have the feed on their backs


Through the high country we saw a large number of sheep being grazed and a number of tents.  We eventually worked out this was summer grazing and that the people were nomadic and would move when the passes were closed by snow. 



We stopped in the small town of Midelt for lunch and chose our restaurant from the lonely planet.  It didn't sound promising with “ a favourite stop for bus tours, but at least it means there is a good turnover of food”.  But the other options were pretty limited in a town that is pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  So with relatively low expectations we went in and sat down.  There were no bus tours and only 3 tables of locals – not looking good.  But the food was amongst he best we had on the trip – go figure.  The simple oranges with cinnamon were a lovely end.


We ended the day in Azrou which is part of an area described as little Switzerland.  The architecture is distinctly European with pitched roofs  - to deal with the snow.  There are even ski-fields around here.  There are also a lot of cedar forests, with so-called Barbary apes which turned out to be from the Macaque family – naughty monkeys as we saw in Borneo, which are not particularly appealing!


Our base for one night was La Perle d’Azrou – a very nice farm stay where we had a 2nd superb meal for the day.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Oasis to the desert

For one and half hours on the journey out and then returning the next morning I spent a significant amount of time looking at the view below, of my camel's head and the back of our camel guide.


When we decided we were going to Morroco the first thing Andrew said was that he wanted to ride a camel. Never mind it was the end of hot season (which in reality turned out to be hot, but not unbearable, being high thirties during the day and mid twenties in the evening) and disregarding the decidedly uncomfortable ride, this was something he really wanted to do: Ride a camel and sleep overnight in a desert camp.


The drive from Skoura to Hassilibed was a solid 7 hours. We had one little navigation slip when we turned right at to town of Rissani and ended up in the weekly market. So we drove away from the market and ended up in a residential area. A boy about 10 years old, on a bike, rode in front of us to guide us back to where we needed to be and earned himself the equivalent of 1 euro from us, for his services. We didn't have a GPS navi in the car and have been downloading offline google maps to supplement our paper Michelin map - with great success - except for this town as it looked straightforward so we had turned the phone off.

Hassilibed, 5km out of Merzouga is a desert town that appears to be completely dependent on tourism. It was unpaved, houses were all mud-brick and there were rather a large number of camels about.

Through our hotel we had arranged an overnight trip to the desert followed by a night in the hotel. We were a party of four, with a nice Austrian/German couple in our camel train.

Hamid, our camel driver was a character, cracking jokes about Camel chocolate (droppings) and cooking an evening meal for us

All the camels were kneelling on the ground to be mounted. Then in sequence from back to front, they stood up one by one as the rider got on, as demonstrated by Andrew 'Lawrence of Arabia' demonstrates below.

We set off at 17:30pm and arrived at our Berber camp 90 minutes later. That's a lot of lurching around, atop a camel. On the flat and heading uphill they were super steady. But when it came to a downward slope, they certainly felt a bit precarious, even though they were still steadily plodding along. There were no problems, we didn't fall off and we arrived at destination in one piece.


After dinner there wasn't a lot of nightlife so it was pretty much straight to bed. We all elected to sleep under the stars but about 12:00am the wind picked up and started sandblasting us and both couples relocated into our respective tents. We only saw dung beetles and camp cats, no foxes or night scorpions.


In the morning, after a rather low key sunrise, we remounted our camels and plodded back to town. At the end of the journey the camels all lay down, heads on the sand pleased to be relieved of their rather heavy humans. We humans, slightly saddle sore also breathed a sigh of relief.

These "attractive" animals are expensive to purchase for the locals at €900 each and they eat a fair bit each day. Needless to say there isn't a lot of feed out in the desert and a large amount of hay is trucked in. Nothing like making the load as big as physically possible...and we have seen plenty of these trucks on our journey.

We rather enjoyed the experience and a look at the desert.



Sunday, September 21, 2014

On the road in Morocco

Having done a bit of research we had worked out 2 things, 1) driving wasn't supposed to be too bad if you were used to NZ roads and 2) the Moroccans had a reputation for awful driving. Number 1 proved to be completely true and number 2 partly true. Even though they weren't model drivers they weren't too bad. They do tend to ignore the centre line and drift wherever they want on the road, grande taxis do not have to obey the same rules as other drivers and if you see a bicycle it is guaranteed to swerve randomly in front of you at some stage.


Once out of Marrakech city limits we headed in the direction of Skoura 245km South-East, a drive of 5 and a half hours. In the middle was a pass across the High Atlas at an elevation of 2,260 m (7,415 ft).


Along the way the scenery switched from semi-arid, to dry as dust, with occasional patches of fertile green when an oasis was seen. The level of subsistence living was amazing. We constantly wondered how people made a living or just existed in such harsh conditions. But given we passed through village after village, they were indeed surviving



Our destination for two nights was Skoura, 45 minutes out of the movie set town of Ouzazarte. Movies such as Star Wars, Sex in the City, Lawrence of Arabia and numerous others have taken advantage of the scenery, old Kashbahs and lower cost of labour. Our host in Fes said that last year US 120 million came into the country directly from film making, and that doesn't include supplementary expenditure on accomodation, meals, etc.


Skoura is an oasis town and not a huge amount happens there. We were happy to relax by the pool, visit a local kasbah and generally just observe.

Speed limits were prominently displayed and traffic police, standing on the side of the road and with hand held radars were a common sight as you came to larger towns. You had to slow to 20 km/h to pass them and they stopped those they were interested in and waved everyone else on.
At one point we were waved over by the traffic police. The policeman said in French we had been travelling at 67km/h in a 60km zone. We looked blank. They asked if we spoke French and we smiled and immediately said we spoke none. He repeated it in slow English and asked where we were from. When we said NZ that was either enough to make us OK or the idea of trying to extract a fine from us in English looked too hard, so they told us to go on, but to drive slower. Phew! That said, Andrew, who drove most of the way, was very good at keeping to the speed limits, and was lucky to have me looking at the speedo to remind him when he crept over the limit.
Our accomodation was in a modern Kashbahs, Dar Es Salam. The hosts were so kind and accommodating.

Growing everywhere in the oasis were dates, and on later trips we started seeing people selling dates by the roadside.


Being an Islamic country, alcohol is not commonly sold. You can buy from supermarkets and licenced stores, but didn't see any of those outside the two main cities of Marrakech and Fes. Andrew stocked up on a few bottles of Morrocan wine, with varying degrees of drinkability. What would have been divine would have been a ice-cold beer at the end of the day. Instead we consumed a lot of water and sodas.