This North African marvel makes you heady with its exotic atmosphere as two boyhood chums found out on a recent trip
12/2/2016 2:09:07 PM
|written By : Jay Brara with Dev Bhalla|
The ferry crossing from Tarifa in Southern Spain to Tangier is an exhilarating experience. This 32 km stretch doesn’t just connect two cities, and two countries Spain and Morocco; it also connects two vast continents, Europe and Africa. In an hour you are transported from a European setting to a veritable Sindbad-meets-Arabian Nights land of spell-binding customs, cuisine, tastes and sounds. Even the smiles seem sunnier.
A cab ride through Tangier takes us to the railway station where we board an express train for the 4-hour train ride to Fez. The second class coach is very comfortable and a real bargain at 111 Dirhams (about US$12). On the train a Moroccan fellow traveler (a Berber farmer from the mountains) tells us of the perfect guide to help us navigate the alleyways of the old Fez medina (walled city centre), which dates back to the 9th Century.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is the most extensive and best conserved historic medina of the Arab-Muslim world. At the Fez station we are greeted by the guide Hameed. After some negotiation (essential in Morocco) we settle on the fee for a 4-hour walking tour of the Medina and after dropping off our luggage at the hotel we set off on our tour.
The Bab Bou Jeloud is a magnificent gate, one of many entrances into the old medina, Fes el Bali. We make our way through the narrow winding (car free) alleyways to the oldest continually operating university in the world, the Al Quaraouiyine mosque and religious college. Close by is the Madrasa al-Attarine with the exquisite craftsmanship and artwork characteristic of this nation of talented artisans. We are glad we have a guide because it would be impossible to find our way through the maze of alleys that criss-cross this ancient medina. w
We see the beautiful mosque and tomb of Moulay Idriss II, the founder and patron saint of Fez dating back to the 9th Century. We dine on exquisite lamb tajine, a Moroccan delicacy slow-cooked with local herbs and spices, at a luxurious restaurant in the medina where we are treated like royalty (for a price, of course).
Back on the train, we arrive in Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city and business center. The modern imposing Hassan II Mosque made of marble and granite with intricate decorations and craftsmanship stands tall by the ocean and is the largest in Morocco. Its minaret is the tallest in the world at 210 feet. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit on guided tours. We go by Rick’s Cafe famous for replicating the bar from the movie Casablanca. Dinner is at the exquisite Sqala Cafe Maure located in an old 18th Century fort - highly recommended.
A 3-hour train ride takes us from Casablanca to Marrakesh, rated one of the top ten cities in the world to visit. A cab ride takes us right into the heart of the medina to our “riad” – the Riad Saba , a traditional Moroccan house the usual two or more storeys around an Andalusian-style courtyard with a fountain. We love the homely atmosphere, the warm personal hospitality, and the great location minutes from the must-see places in Marrakesh. We walk through the alleys shared by locals, tourists, motor vehicles, loaded asses and carts. It’s amazing that no one seems to collide or get hurt. Near-collisions are obviously frequent in such tight alleys but don’t result in arguments or animosity, more likely a smile and a nod.