Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Part 3: Fes, Meknes, Rabat, Casablanca

24.2: Munich -> London -> Marrakech
25.2: Marrakech
26.2: Marrakech -> Merzouga
27.2: Merzouga
28.2: Merzouga -> Fes
1.3: Fes
2.3: Fes -> Meknes -> Volubilis -> Rabat
3.3: Rabat -> Casablanca -> Marrakech
4.3: Marrakech -> Munich
Map of trip to Morocco

28.2: Merzouga -> Fes
Hotel Nouzha, somewhere in the ville nouvelle of Fes. 327 dirham for a decent room, with some furniture, TV, phone, A/C, heater which does not work, bath with shower. The room is ok.
Weather: sunny, cloudless blue sky the whole day. Fresh in the morning and a bit cold in the evening in Fes, otherwise warm.

Today we drive from Merzouga to Fes. Leaving Merzouga after breakfast at 9:30am, we initially drive towards Er Rachidia passing by Rissani and Erfoud. In Erfoud we refuel the car. In Er Rachidia we buy some food in a supermarket, because at 11am it is too early for lunch, but on the other hand the next major city is Midelt, which is over two hours by car from here and probably there are no restaurants along the way.

The scenery is mostly desertic with some oasis every now and then. After Er Rachidia the street starts climbing, as we cross the Middle Atlas mountain range. Every now and then there are police checkpoints, and at one of them we get fined for apparently having not stopped at a STOP sign. To be honest I didn't see any STOP sign, but the policeman is sure there is one.

Midelt is supposed to be a very special place (impressive scenery) according to the Lonely Planet guidebook. But in reality the scenery around Midelt is nothing special - just dry empty planes, the only thing of interest is the Middle Atlas mountain range in the background. The road to the mountains is not paved and quite rough, and we cannot drive there with the Fiat Palio car.

After a lunch break, at 3:20pm, we continue driving towars Fes. The scenery gets interesting, with canyon-like rock structures popping up every now and then. Slowly slowly the desert ends and the landscape becomes more green.

Shortly before 7pm we arrive in Fes. With the help of some locals we find a hotel. In the evening I check my emails, then have a dinner in the restaurant of the hotel (actually not a bad dinner, although they overcharge for the mineral water bottle - 30 dirham).

1.3: Fes
Hotel Nouzha. Today I find out that breakfast is not included in the room price.
Weather: overcast in the morning, but starting from 10am onwards the sky opens up and becomes blue. Later in the afternoon the sky starts closing up again. Fresh in the morning, it gets warmer during the day.

Day spent exploring the medina of Fes, a very interesting place with lots of history and local culture. Around 10am I leave the hotel and drive into the medina of Fes. Mohammed drops me off at el-Rcif square, which is in the centre of the medina. From there I walk around in the medina, doing the tourist walk between Seffarine square and Bab Bou Jeloud, which passes by most major attractions of the medina.

Until 1:30pm I explore this area of the medina, which is full of ancient palaces, mosques and narrow alleys with small shops. Every now and then I get adopted by locals who show me interesting spots for a small tip. Actually it would have made sense to hire an official guide from the tourist office, because this way you save time.

At 11am a local recruits me to show me the tanneries. Good decision to follow this guy, because he brings me to a spot on the roofs (which I would never have found myself) from which you have a great view of the tanneries and of the medina as well. To reach this spot you must pass through shops selling leather goods. You get a sales demo after leaving the terrace, but it's ok and the salesman is not too pushy. They have lots of nice stuff in these leather shops, but I'd need my wife to choose something nice (or to put it differently, something she likes).

Around 12pm I find an Internet cafe, where I briefly check my emails. By 1:20pm I'm very hungry, as I skipped breakfast this morning and haven't been able to find a restaurant in the medina. Later I realise that in the entire medina there are no or almost no restaurants. Luckily at 1:30pm I reach the Bab Bou Jeloud gate, an area full of restaurants. Good feeling to finally get some food. I choose a restaurant which has a terrace with a great view of the medina. Food including drinks and tip is 100 dirham - not cheap for Moroccan standards, but this is a three course meal, with two freshly squeezed orange juices and the location is great.

After lunch, at 2:45pm, I start walking towards the western part of the medina, where the Jewish quarter is. For about 40 minutes, until about 3:30pm, I'm there exploring the area. This is quite interesting - there are city walls, the old Muslim cemetery, palace gates and a park. Then a local offers to be my guide and for 100 dirham show me all places which I haven't seen yet. Ok... even if I perhaps could have negotiated this down to 50-70 dirham.

Over the next two hours we walk up and down the medina, passing by places where few tourists go. I have to say that many places we see are not that interesting, but a few of them are, and I manage to see places which I otherwise would have missed. I also climb on the roofs of several buildings from where there are good views of the medina. In the last half an hour a friend of this local joins us and also shows some places.

At 5:40pm I sit down in the cafe overlooking el-Rcif square having a mint tea, while chit-chatting with the locals. These people are pretty upset with what is going on in the Middle East and say that a certain German guy of the past should come back and finish his work...

At 6pm I call the driver and tell him where I am. He joins us for a while in the cafe, then at 6:30pm we leave and drive into the new town.  At 7:30pm, after a photo stop (walls of the medina at sunset) we are in the new town, where I have a chicken sandwich in the cafe Venezia (very good sandwich). After that we drive back to the hotel.

2.3: Fes -> Meknes -> Volubilis -> Moulay Idriss -> Rabat
Hotel Bouregreg, Rabat. 397 dirham for a small room with A/C and heater, TV, phone, furniture (table, chair, cupboard) and attached bath with shower. Overpriced, if compared to the other places I've stayed in Morocco and the room is not as impressive as described in the Lonely Planet guide. However, as I find out the morning after, the breakfast buffet is good and has lots of choice, and this partly justifiesthe higher price.
Weather: sunny the whole day, blue sky with a little cloud every now and then. The air in Meknes is very polluted or dusty. Fresh in the morning and evening, strong sun in the middle of the day.

After checking out of the hotel at 9:10am and briefly stopping at a patisserie for some breakfast, we drive to Meknes using the motorway, which is almost empty.

We arrive in Meknes shortly before 10:30am, then lose some time driving around to find the medina (it's the first time Mohammed is in Meknes), until finally reaching Bab el-Mansour square at 10:50am. There - just for a change - a local offers to be my guide, promising to show everything worthwhile seeing. Sounds interesting since time is limited and I'm not familiar with the place. But for how much? The local won't tell me - he only says to give him a tip...

For a bit over an hour, until 12:05pm we rush up and down the medina with the guy showing this and that. The medina in Meknes is interesting, but much smaller than the medina in Fes and with fewer places to see. I'm a bit disappointed, because also the medina in Meknes is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site and I was expecting something in the same calibre of Fes.

The guide drops me off in Bab el-Mansour square and asks to get paid. Before I can pull out the purse, he says that the standard rate is 120 dirham/hour. Interesting. Why didn't he tell me, when I asked him about the price before the tour started? Besides the Lonely Planet guide states that the rate is 250 dirham for a whole day, which boils down to about 30 dirham for one hour. I end up giving 50 dirham to this clown.

Pros and cons of using a local guide. On the one hand it was good having a guide to show you around, because you can cover the entire medina in one hour, but on the other hand it may be more comfortable walking around yourself, at your own pace, even getting lost, instead of following a guide. These guides have their own idea of what you should see, don't really listen that much to your interests.

Anyway, it's 12:15pm and I finally got rid of this guy, so I start exploring the socalled "Imperial city". Well, I can't manage to see much, because everything is closed. There is a square and a mosque which is off-limits to non-Muslims and that's all. There is no way to get in, or to put it differently, I can't find a way to enter. I essentially only see a few decorated gates and doors and the walls.

Around 1pm we drive to Volubilis (Oualili in the local language). The road to Volubilis passes across some very scenic countryside, with cultivated plains and hills with olive trees. At 1:45pm we arrive in Volubilis. The tickets to Volubilis (10 dirham) are sold in the nearby post office. Volubilis is interesting and kind of cute. The highlight are all these mosaics in the ground floors of buildings. There are not too many tourists.

After an hour in Volubilis (you won't need much more than that to see everything), we drive to the nearby village of Moulay Idriss. This is a scenic village in the hills, with white houses clinging around a hill and the mausoleum of Moulay Idriss, a Muslim saint. Again a local pops up promising to bring me to a terrace with a scenic viewpoint. I could probably have managed to find it myself, but these local people are so sticky and difficult to get rid of. After following this guy for a while, making it to this terrace and trying to split for a while, I lose my patience and tell him that I want to be alone. He asks for some money and I pass him 10 dirham.

At 4:20pm I'm back in the car and we start driving to Rabat. We first get back to Meknes, refuel the car there and then get to the motorway.

We reach Rabat a bit after sunset. Everywhere there are Moroccan flags because yesterday, the wife of the King gave birth to a baby girl. We pass by the residence of the King, a pretty huge compound guarded by many uniformed guards. Everywhere there are photos of the new King, Mohammed VI, who took over after the death of his father, Hassan II, in 1999. As I'm told Mohammed VI is very popular and has a habit of driving around in his car with no bodyguards.

We drive to the hotel in Avenue Hassan II arriving at 7pm. In the evening I check my emails and have some dinner.

3.3: Rabat -> Casablanca -> Marrakech
Again in the Grand hotel Tazi, Marrakech. 280 Dirham for a room on the terrace, with some furniture (cupboard, TV, table, telephone), A/C and heater, four beds, attached bathroom with shower and hot water. The bathroom is run down.
Weather: sunny and spotless blue sky the whole day. It is starting to get warm and in the evening in Marrakech it is possible to walk around without a sweater or long sleeves shirt. Windy in Casablanca.

I leave the hotel at 9:35am after a decent breakfast in the hotel's restaurant. Mohammed is already there waiting for me. I leave the bags in the car, then walk to the medina, opposite the hotel. Somehow the medina does not look so special, so after 10 minutes I get back to the car. We then drive to the Tour Hassan and the Mohammed V mausoleum. This is a very scenic spot, with guards in colourful uniforms and two uniformed guards on horses at the entrance to the compound. The mausoleum itself is very richly decorated, with intricated Islamic patterns and beautiful carvings. The entrance is free and photography is allowed everywhere in the compound.

After 45 minutes in the compound and tons of photos we drive to the next spot of interest in Rabat, the Kasbah des Oudaias, which I would have almost skipped. Luckily I do visit this place, because it is very scenic and you also have a great view of the Atlantic ocean, the beaches and the city of Sale. The Kasbah consists of white-blue houses (the lower part of the walls being blue, the upper one white) with beautiful doors and windows.

I'm in the Kasbah des Oudaias until 11:30am, then get back to the car. Mohammed tells me that we got fined for wrong parking. They put a claw on the wheel and fined us for 40 dirham.

We drive to the Chellah, i.e. the ancient Roman city of Sala Colonia. Initially we get lost, because Mohammed has never been there, but finally arrive there at 12pm. This Chellah (entry is 10 dirham) is very scenic, from the outside it looks like a medieval castle, inside there are Roman ruins and an Islamic structure. I spend there 40 minutes, then get out again.

Since I'm hungry, I ask Mohammed to bring me to a bakery or food shop. Mohammed drives to a nearby Marjane outlet, where I buy some food. Marjane is a big chain of supermarkets in Morocco. We drive to Casablanca at 1:20pm.

It takes a while to get out of Rabat. We drive eastwards, passing by the residence of the king, then turn south. The motorway, i.e. the high speed zone (120km/h) only starts after a while, and although the road has two lanes, there is a 60-80 km/h speed limit for quite some time.

After a lunch stop on the motorway, we arrive at the impressive Hassan II mosque in Casablanca at 3:40pm. The mosque is beautiful and I spend half an hour there. Entry for non-Muslims is only allowed at specific times. Casablanca itself is a huge city, the economic capital of Morocco. There are not so many historic sights. The interesting parts of Casablanca in my opinion are the elegant shopping streets, full of expensive shops, cafes and westernised and sophisticated Moroccans. It's here that for the first time I see fashionable Moroccan women and girls, after one week of seeing only females in Islamic dress.

After some driving around (we briefly stop at the Sacre Coeur cathedral, which is not so impressive), we finally leave Casablanca for Marrakech at 5pm. Mohammed manages to drive to Marrakech in just three hours (the motorway only goes until Settat, after that it's a normal road).

By 8:30pm I'm in the hotel. My trip is finished - I covered 1900 km in six days, touching many interesting spots. In the evening I walk a bit around the Djemma el Fna square then get back to the hotel.

4.3: Marrakech -> Munich
Home, sweet home
Weather: sunny and spotless blue sky in the morning in Marrakech. It's also warm enough already in the morning to walk around in a T-shirt. Overcast and rainy in Heathrow.

The alarm clock wakes me up at 6:40am and after getting ready I have a brief breakfast at 7:45am. At 8am I jump into a taxi to the airport. This time the fare is 70 dirham (and I probably could have negotiated it down) - less than half of what I paid.

The BA plane to Casablanca and London leaves with a small delay at 9:20am and reaches Casablanca about 40 minutes later. At 11am it takes off again for London Heathrow, arriving there at 2pm. Once there two police officers board the plane and arrest an Arabic looking guy (let's say, they ask him to follow them). After getting out of the plane you must again go through a security check. This time they don't insist that I place the camera bag into the small backpack, but all passengers have to take off their shoes, which are then X-rayed. After a brief stop in the transit area, at 3:20pm I board the plane to Munich. At 6:25pm the plane lands in Munich airport, at 8pm I'm at home.

Copyright 2007 Alfred Molon