Some of us have to work even while travelling. Lucky for us not Ann nor I. So we left Pierre to his business meeting and set out to find the Radius Tour office at the station. Our group was large so we were divided between 2 tour guides; an Aussie, with a loud voice and a dog called Bernie and a lovely Spanish lass called Lucia. I was hoping we would be in Bernies group. Ann, having just realised that Salzburg was in another country (Austria,…but you knew that of course), was hoping that the fact she had left her passport back at the apartment wasn’t going to be a problem. It wasn’t. And, while we ended up in Lucia’s group, she turned out to be warm, funny and very well informed. ..plus Bernie travelled on the same train so I got to scratch him behind his silky little ears anyway.
We set off fairly early to meet the tour to Nuremberg at the station all bundled in our beanies and gloves. Nuremberg has a long and complex history; the site of both the former Nazi rally ground and the Nuremberg trials where some of the worst perpetrators in the Nazi regime were held accountable for their crimes against humanity. The bus journey took us out onto the highway and through Bavaria with its fields and fields of asparagus and hops. As you might have guessed Bavaria is an agricultural district and the largest hop growing region in the world – and when it comes to hops the Bavarians know what they’re doing, they should, they’ve been doing this since the 8th century. ¾ of the crops are exported, the remainder is used to supply the 1300 breweries in Germany, half of which are located in the Bavarian districts.
Our welcome to Munich began even before we disembarked the plane. “Ladies and gentlemen” said the voice over the intercom as people shuffled restlessly in the aisles, “I don’t know if you have heard but we are experiencing a strike at the moment that affects security, baggage handling and the fire personnel. As a result many flights have been cancelled and you may experience some delays….”
Reflecting on my trip I find that if forced to describe Morocco in just 3 sentences I would say:
The country of 1001 “you’re welcomes’”
The country of 1001 cups of tea
The country of 1001 Arabian tales
Marrakesh is the most modern of all the cities I have seen since arriving in Morocco – even more so than Casablanca. There are KFC’s; McD’s and Zara boutiques everywhere. A crazy blend of developing and developed world. It’s busy and cosmopolitan and here for the first time I see local women as well as tourists, (soooo many tourists) with hair and arms uncovered.
Outside the medina walls the smell of human urine mixes with that of donkeys and the fumes from the cars and buses. Within the medina it is much bigger than Fes el Bali (old Medina in Fes) it is also filthier, (It reminded me of Naples) now it is not only organic waste from the stalls and donkeys but human litter and oil and grease from the many, many scooters that race in what seems a suicidal manner around the narrow lanes and yet, somehow avoid hitting anyone..that I see at any rate. I wonder at the fact that poverty and litter are so often correlated… Is it a self defeatist sense of not deserving better? Does anyone know if any research has been done regarding this?
As do most road trips in Morocco, the drive to Aït Benhaddou, our next stop takes a while and Pierre and I try to find a place to eat lunch which we saw recommended on trip adviser. As it turns out we can’t find the place we originally planned to go to but after bumping along barely there mud paths through palm trees and around earthern plastered homes, giving way to the odd donkey and boys on bicycles, we came across a most charming looking place.
Leaving our desert adventure for a mountain one we took about three or four hours – driving here is not like back home – 80km could take an hour …or two and a half. It depends on how many villages one has to go through (pedestrians, donkeys, bikes all have right of way here) and how well tarred the roads are as well as how many gendarme stops there are. So far we’ve been stopped twice but as soon as they hear you are not local they send you on your way and have always been very polite.
From Midelt we head to Merzouga through the Ziz Valley. Morocco is full of surprises and the Ziz Valley is one of them – a slash of green palm trees in the otherwise ochre and rust landscape. We stop to admire this beautiful valley and …a nomad comes down from his shelter above – Bonjour, You are welcome he says.
Moulay Idriss is perched on top of a hill and is considered a holy city. Although tiny and unassuming in appearance it has great importance to Muslims and many undertake pilgrimages here. It was here that Moulay Idriss arrived in 789, bringing with him the religion of Islam, and starting a new dynasty. In addition to founding the town named after him, he also initiated construction of Fez. The mausoleum of Idris is only open to Muslims but there are plenty of café’s and people selling wares along its winding narrow roads. We drive through slowly admiring the views but keep going. We still want to see the City of Meknes.
Our first morning in Fes began with a roof top breakfast of fresh fruit, homemade bread, French toast and boiled eggs with the most aromatic spices I have ever come across– who would have thought that cumin went so well with boiled eggs! It seemed strange to be going to see Roman ruins in Morocco and yet just after breakfast there was Reda, our driver from the previous day waiting to take us to see Volubilis – a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Roman ruins from 3 BC. Reda turned out to be our almost constant companion during our three days in Fes. Having studied psychology, English and philosophy at college as well as being a proud Fesi, with great knowledge of and love for his home place we could not have asked for a better guide.