A Travellerspoint blog

More Fresh Fish

a day at the beach

sunny 24 °C

Our accommodation for this town is in a converted riad - a home with an inner courtyard & fountain. Riad_fountain.jpgLovely decor - all the rooms were slightly different - but quite luxurious in appearance. After breakfast in the courtyard, we met our lovely, well-educated guide Rashida who took us on a tour to the harbour area of Essaouira. Essa_-_pretty_street.jpgEssa_from_harbour.jpgThis is an historic fishing town (ALSO a UNESCO World Heritage site! - not expecting that) and we saw the boats back into the harbour with the early morning catch. Essa_pretty_blue_boats.jpgThere was a wall where men - often former fishermen - were cleaning the fish, bins filled with fish sorted by type, and lots of seagulls.Essa_-_harbour_wall_.jpgEssa_-_cleaning_fish.jpg

In that section was also a kasbah - the fortress for the protection of the city and the Tolerance Gate. Essaouria was settled by Jewish, Portuguese and Arabs so this gate has a Star of David, Christian shell of Santiago and the crescent moons of the Muslim faith. This represents a place where everyone is expected to get along. Tolerance_Gate.jpg
Again and in keeping with preserving handcrafts in Morocco, we visited an Artisanal Silver cooperative. In this shop, they train apprentices to work in silver - filigree, rings, bracelets, pendants, earrings. And of course, shopping afterwards!! A number of us bought some of the beautiful pieces to bring home.
Next stop - the fish market! It’s a pretty raucous area with the vendors selling the day’s catch to restaurants, locals & visitors. Our littlest lady Abby teased our chef Rob with a prawn!! IMG_1519.jpgIMG_1520.jpgWe purchased three types of fish - sea bass, bream and one other which Hamid took to a local place where they grilled it! Talk about Fresh! I was expecting that and it was wonderful.
After lunch we had a free afternoon. I had hoped to take advantage of the water and rent a stand-up paddle board but when you see kite surfers in the crazy wind, paddle boarding isn’t really a viable alternative. So we went CAMEL RIDING instead. Was NOT expecting that!
Maxine had asked Hamid if the animals were healthy & well-treated beforehand so we took the walk down the beach to the camels. After a bit of haggling over the price, we each got onto our own camel for an hour-long walk. IMG_1254.jpgIMG_1195.jpgOur camel handler was lovely - he took photos of us on both our phones and led the beasts up & down some small sand dunes. He even managed a few shots that made us look like we were in the Sahara!
We just kept giggling the whole time - ‘we’re on a beach, in Morocco, riding camels!’ Just lovely and something I wasn’t expecting to do.

Back into town we did a little shopping, cleaned some beach sand off us and then went to dinner with our group. Instead of seafood, I had a lovely couscous meal with beef and a raisin sauce. Might have been a free night but we went to dinner to celebrate another birthday - for sweet Chandrika from Chicago. Yay cake!!! Dinner_-_cake.jpg(we could really see the influence of the French occupation in Morocco - their ‘patisserie’ cakes are light and not too sweet.)
Again, we had a menu choice with lots of seafood or other dishes. I chose a couscous dish with beef, chickpeas & a sweet raisin/lemon sauce - mmmmm. Dinner_Couscous.jpgAnd again, Berber musicians along with the lovely restaurant servers (the owners i think) made it a party. Hamid and a guide with another group sure enjoyed the music - it was really fun to watch them dancing.

Back at the riad we chilled with some wine before calling it a night.


Posted by otisandma 18:30 Archived in Morocco Tagged boats fish harbour beach kite camels gate riad tolerance Comments (0)

Back Down the Mountain...

...and out to the Ocean

sunny 23 °C

When we got up in the mountain village, a lovely breakfast was waiting in the dining area. Mint tea was again featured - such a lovely drink. Moroccans like it sweet! It’s a green tea base, often ‘gunpowder’ tea with fresh mint. The tea can become bitter, so sugar is usually added. Most places have been great in serving unsweetened tea with sugar on the side but we know this isn’t really the way it’s made.
Through the apple trees: Papa_-_apple_orchard.jpgPapa_mountain_view.jpg
We could have gone on a 3-hour walk out to a shrine but everyone decided we’d been so busy that we didn’t want to - our trek back down the 3km to Imlil would be enough.
GOATS!! We saw a goatherd right along the rocky edge, herding his goats up the mountain - I wasn't expecting that!
Coming into Imlil, a little cafe had tajines set up to cook lunches Lunchtime_Tajines.jpg
We got on our little bus with a picnic lunch for along the way and started the drive to our next town. Our picnic was at a sweet little rest stop and a simple lunch of bread (of course), tuna, egg, tomato & fruit.
Meggie & Peter are a lovely couple in our group from Australia. Meggie works part time at a winery in Brisbane, Peter has a level 3 WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) designation - he knows a LOT about wines of the world. We three were quite excited as today’s itinerary included a visit to a Moroccan winery!
But first, we stopped at an Argan oil cooperative. Many people have seen Argan oil used in hair and beauty products. The oil comes from the nut of a tree that only grows near Essaouira! Not only for beauty products however - if the nuts are roasted, the oil is a fantastic, nutty-tasting edible oil. It can’t be heated but it’s lovely on salads and mixed with ground almonds & honey for a bread dip. Argan_ladies.jpg After a quick demo of the traditional methods of cracking the nuts and grinding to extract the oils, we were given samples of some of their products and then a chance to buy if we wanted. (Tricia and Peter) Argan_sampling.jpgLovely and the co-op helps women in the country to earn a living.
On to the winery!! Domaine Val D’Argan is owned by a Frenchman whose family owns a winery in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region of France. He’s been working on his 40 hectare property for a number of years now and produces some lovely wines. We first had a tour of the production facility (concrete instead of stainless fermentation tanks), Winery_-_concrete_tanks.jpg
saw some of the vineyard and then went to the tasting centre. Meggie in the vineyard, barrel markers line the driveWinery_Meggie.jpgWinery_driveway_liner.jpg

We were treated to some smoked salmon, goat cheese and little crackers to accompany the 4 wines - white, a rose then 2 reds. All were very enjoyable blended wines. The winery is obviously in a very hot, dry region - they actually harvested the grapes in July - our harvest in Ontario is underway now!

We asked our guide if we could stop at a supermarket - just to see where some of the local and imported food products were sold so he obliged with a visit to a CarreFour (French chain). They also had a liquor store corner so we got a little extra wine and stuff. In the grocery section they had lots of lovely produce, imported cheeses (Comte from France) and other lovely foods. I even found a Moroccan foie gras!! Not expecting that.
Riad_-_courtyard.jpg Courtyard of our Riad (guesthouse/hotel)
The seaside town of Essaouira was literally a breath of fresh air. It’s right on the Atlantic coast and is known for winds and fresh seafood. And a cool laid-back crunchy kinda vibe. IMG_1301.jpgApparently Jimi Hendrix and Orson Welles spent time here in times past (Jimi spent summer of 1969 there; Orson Welles filmed Othello). Seafood dinner with Berber musicians got a bunch of our group up dancing with Hamid. This was the first town in awhile we visited that we could actually buy wine or spirits to have with our dinner. Afterward, some of our group went to a rooftop patio bar for drinks - lovely and cool evening.
Fancy bedroom - Maxine Riad_room.jpg

Posted by otisandma 09:07 Archived in Morocco Tagged mountain bar wine seaside winery tasting oil grocery argan Comments (0)

The High Atlas Mountains

Donkey Riding, Donkey Riding

sunny 25 °C

An early call this morning, quick breakfast at the hotel in Fes and we were loaded onto a small bus for a 7 hour drive to the High Atlas mountains for experience with a Berber family. We stopped for rest breaks fairly often and for lunch.
The lunch rest stop was a lovely covered space where Hamid (our local guide) purchased fresh beef that was seasoned, quickly made into kefta and then grilled over flame. It was so delicious - and a nice break from tajine. Those stews are lovely but similar.
Back on the bus, a game of word association broke out. What a fun, crazy, slightly demented bunch we are! I wasn’t expecting that but it’s wonderful how well we’re getting on - age range from early 30’s to mid 70’s in a small group.
As we drove, we passed through the new part of the city of Marrakech - a place we’ll visit in depth in a few more days. Closer to the mountains, we passed traditional Berber towns whose buildings are generally adobe brick. With all the rest stops, we finally reached the mountain village of Imlil about 10 hours after we started this morning. Time for our mountain trek!
We were told to bring a day-pack for that overnight stay as we were going up. Our suitcases were left securely in a hotel in Imlil while our host loaded our packs into his car. The ‘dar’ we were visiting was about 3 km from Imlil - up the mountainsides.
And here’s where the donkey riding happened. There was an option for anyone to spend a hundred dirham to hire a mule to take them up to the guesthouse and Maxine decided to give it a go.
Sure-footed and well cared-for, she rode in luxury while the rest of us hiked the trail. I was a little worried about the altitude - we live at practically 0 metres above sea level and this was going from 1700 to 1900. But no problem at all!
When we arrived at Riad Dar Tajine, we were met by the owner Hassan ‘Tajine’ with our packs and walked through the apple orchard to the guest house. He poured a welcoming drink of mint tea which he called ‘Berber Whisky; and we were entertained by one of his daughters. Cheeky little thing, she’s not shy and will be a fantastic hostess as she grows up. Papa Tajine’s wife Maretta then gave a demonstration of building a tajine.
Tajine is both the ceramic dish and what the stew-like dish is called. Meat, seasoning, a little olive oil then onions, carrots, potatoes, zucchini and any other vegetable on hand get built from the bottom-up. After the ingredients are in, about a cup of water is added, the lid put on and the tajine is put onto a stovetop flame and an hour later the meal would be ready.
We went up to the terrace for views of Amoud - the village area we were in - and were once again entertained by Papa Tajine’s daughter. The scenery was so beautiful and the call to prayer echoed through the valley. Up behind the guesthouse was Mount Tobkal, the highest point in Morocco. There’s actually quite a tourist industry in trekking up that mountain first to a base camp for overnight and then to the summit the next day.
This is the Canadian part of our group - me, Maxine, Patrick & Rob (who's actually a transplanted Australian)
Pretty village in the background
Dinner was fantastic and afterwards we grabbed blankets, sweaters and scarves to go back out to the terrace to see the stars. The weather is so clear and in evenings can get quite chilly in the mountains. but with so little light, we had an amazing, clear view of the stars! It’s been a very long time since i’ve been able to see satellites, shooting stars and the Milky Way with such clarity. I really wasn’t expecting that!

Mary Ann

Posted by otisandma 16:47 Archived in Morocco Tagged night trek bus mountain village intrepid berber mule tajine kefta starry Comments (0)

Fes - Old & HUGE

another jam-packed food day!

sunny 25 °C

Guess What!?? The old medina of Fes is ALSO a UNESCO World Heritage site! Culture, history and amazing food all in one trip! Wow.

And we got to see another palace! Fes is one of the Imperial cities of Morocco so our first stop was the palace where there was another amazing gate.
We also saw the former Jewish Quarter - different architecture, reminiscent of New Orleans. (and storks!)
We were then taken to the highest point of the city to see the medina wall - 10K built centuries ago - and the maze that is the old (700's) and new (1400's) parts of the medina. Fes_VIEW.jpgOver 350,000 people still live in the medina but from on high, you can't even see the over 9,000 roadways & alleys - just looks like a block of buildings.
Next stop was a tile/ceramics shop. Ceramics_entrance.jpgThe Moroccan Ministry of Handicrafts is committed to keeping the artistry of Morocco alive. This company produces traditional ceramics - platters, tagines, tea sets and LOTS of other assorted pieces. Ceramics_carving.jpgThey also make tiles and cut them into the pieces needed to not only produce new tables and fountains but to replace pieces on mosaics within the medina as required. It's a pretty impressive thing to have workers skilled in methods to keep traditional crafts alive.Ceramics_hand_painting.jpgCeramics_glazes.jpg

Then it was time to go to the medina. Controlled chaos perhaps? Confusing for sure? Smell and sight and sound overload? All of the above! Because we're a food tour, we sampled some of the foods - beautiful fresh Medjool dates stuffed with walnuts; sultana raisins, fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice, prickly pear and numerous other things.
There were also butcher shops - in Morocco, no part of an animal killed for food is wasted - this is chef Rob & his friend lol Souk_Rob___friend.jpg

Deep in the medina we were taken upstairs to see the leather tannery. Again, a place where the ancient craft of hand-tanned leather is practiced. We were given some fresh mint to keep to our noses if we needed as the steps of tanning include using urine & pigeon poo - pretty smelly but not much worse than a field freshly spread with manure. Souk_tannery.jpgTo see the men working down there, using long knives to shave the hair off the hides, their feet to stomp the hides in the vats of dye and the coloured hides drying was another amazing site.
Lots of leather products - slippers, pouffs, purses, sandals, purses - were available and I managed to get a really nice pair of sandals. :)

Then it was time for lunch. Tagines are wonderful but they're basically stew and I needed a break. Kebabs were my choice and they were so good! Chicken ones and beef kafta ones. Then back out into the medina for more shopping.

This was one day I wasn't as totally thrilled. I understand why we were taken to the vendors we were - the place is a maze of over 9000 streets and it's super-easy to get lost. Plus our guides have vetted the vendors as craftsmen with traditional wares. However the sales pitches were getting pushy in a couple of them. A few of our group bought but not everyone. I wasn't expecting that.

Our last part of the day was a chance for us to prepare a traditional dish ourselves. Our restaurant from lunch provided us with a cooking class to make Pastilla - originally made with pigeon, this is a stuffed filo pastry with savoury and sweet. We saw the filo pastry being made in the souk in the morning: Pastilla_filo_dough.jpgToasted almonds with cinnamon & sugar, chicken seasoned with onion, ginger, saffron & salt get all wrapped then baked and sprinkled with icing sugar. That became our supper - pretty tasty.Pastilla_filling.jpgPastilla_taking_photo.jpgPastilla_twist.jpgPastillas_on_pan.jpg

Oh and we had another birthday cake. A lovely, well-travelled lady celebrated 74 years young today. Happy Birthday to Bonita!!



Posted by otisandma 13:53 Archived in Morocco Tagged palace medina souk fes tannery pastilla pushy salesmen Comments (0)

Holy Geez - did we really do ALL THAT?!!!

Ruins and stables and camels - Oh My!

sunny 26 °C

I wasn't expecting THAT...we could possibly pack even more into a day!!!

WOW What a day!

We started at the guest house in Moulay Idriss with a crepe breakfast with local honey, olive oil and apricot jam. After a short cab ride, we toured Volubilis - a ROMAN Ruins and the second UNESCO World Heritage site I've had the good fortune to visit.
The town was built in the 3rd century BC! and partly destroyed in the 1700's by the Lisbon earthquake. What remains is a stunning example of the Roman Empire. Noble and peasant homes, the Basilica, Forum and Temple, the aquaducts and main roads, the gates. Oh and the brothel! Rob liked the signage :)
I wasn't expecting that beauty and fantastic sense of history. The mosaics alone - so wonderful!

After that visit, we toured a bit in the town of Meknes - Oh look - ANOTHER UNESCO World Heritage Site! This was the home of the 'Sun King' sultan of Morocco, Moulay Ismail whose reign was about the same time as the Sun King of France, Louis 14th.
Maxine at the gate:
He modelled his palaces and ramparts after the palace of Versailles and appears to have been quite a megalomaniac in his own right. The granary could hold enough to feed the city for 10 years; the stables could house up to 25,000 horses & military!
We were really lucky today! a lady who is organising a horse show - very rare in Morocco - brought her horse to the stables for a professional photo shoot. Our guide said it was the first time he'd EVER seen a horse in the historic stables.
We then visited the famous and HUGE city gate - Bab Mansour. This architectural marvel was designed by a Portuguese captive, converted to Islam and for whom the gate is named. Very much a tourist attraction, lots of people were taking photos.
Our next stop was across the square into the souks - the marketplace. We purchased fresh dates, walnuts, almonds and cookies!
Then our treat for the day was lunch - yup Camel Burgers!. Grilled 'meatballs' of ground camel - with hump fat for juiciness - in a local bread pocket with sauteed green peppers and tomatoes. It was really yummy! Maxine found a new friend tho - feeding a kitty with camel meat! LOL - bet she wasn't expecting that!!
Phew! We've only just had lunch!!! We took another train ride back to the city of Fes. There at our hotel we had time for showers & a little laundry. We're here for 2 nights so clothes will dry!!!
At 7:30 we met our group for a short ride to the Old City part of Fes where we went for dinner & a show. View from the rooftop:
Moroccan musicians, magician and belly dancers. Truly reminded me of attending Moulin Rouge last year - a real tourist 'thing' to do, a little cheesey.
But the food was MUCH better. We enjoyed some Moroccan wine - a Rose and a really lovely red. Both were made as blended wines - Cinsault and Grenache.
Tomorrow is our main day checking out the market in the old medina of Fez. We've been promised a trip in to see the traditional leather tannery as well!
Here's our travel group!

Posted by otisandma 13:53 Archived in Morocco Tagged ruins market palace roman camel gate souk fes burger meknés Comments (0)

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