Today was a big day on the road as we made it from Fez, to the mountains, and in to the desert as we spent most of the day driving to the Sahara. We began around 830AM from the Marriott and first stopped in the mid-Atlas mountain town Ifrin as we began driving to the Sahara. The scenery quickly changed from desert to forests of Oak, Cedar, and Sycamore as we made it in to the picturesque French-alp style village for a quick stop. We took a walk through the sycamore trees and saw beautiful parks outside of the Royal Palace. Here’s Brendan by a random formal lion statue! After a 20 minute stop and our short walk, we continued driving to the Sahara. We spent most of the day until lunch in and out of consciousness as our Atlas Rider bus wound it’s way over the mountains. Forests eventually gave way to high desert plateaus as we stopped for lunch at a rest stop in Midelt. It was nothing to write about, save a good place to stop mid-way driving to the Sahara – oh, and Brendan got to try camel kebabs, which he enjoyed. At this point of the….
We decided to opt out of the Gate 1 optional tour in Fez and instead did our own thing with our guide, Khlafa, who my Aunt Leslie recommended to us a few days earlier and we arranged the night before. Annoyingly, the Marriott did not get the memo about cancelling our wake-up call, and even though we had a 10AM pick up to the old city of Fez with Khlafa, we were awoken at 7AM for no apparent reason other than ineptitude – twice. But once I was up, I was up. So I managed to join Brendan for breakfast for once and did really enjoy the cold buffet selection of yogurts and wet and dry fruits. Khlafa, true to his word, met us in the lobby at 10AM and we grabbed a taxi outside the hotel to get to the Fez old city (Fez al Bali). Khlafa offered us a generous friends and family rate of 50 Euros ($60 USD or so) prior to the tour, which sounded great to us, and we paid him after. He was worth every penny and we were very glad to have a guide as the day wore on. We reached the Fez….
We had a 9AM start to head to Fez via the olive region, Southern California landscape, and abandoned Roman city Volubilis (Oulily). After a lavish breakfast at our Rabat hotel, we got our luggage situation sorted out and on the bus. Gate 1 had a very orderly system of having us put the luggage outside of our hotel room doors 45 minutes prior to our “go” time so that it was carried down and waiting for us just outside the bus for loading. We then discovered that we played a crucial part in the process – prior to boarding, we identified our bags and asked the bus driver to load it for us, ensuring that we saw our bags make it on to the bus. We thought it was unnecessary and inefficient at first, but as the trip got on, we appreciated it more (especially as we accumulated more souvenirs). We drove straight to Volubilis, just past the city of Meknes. Volubilis was the ruins of a Roman city named after one of the native flowers, the morning glory. You can’t find it on the map because the Amazighs and Arabs call it Walily or Oulili, which means Oleander – one….
We started to settle in to Rabat after a few hours sleep on our first day and our orientation meeting with Gate 1 Travel and our guide M’hamed after a 28 hour hour journey. We decided to head out for a local Moroccan dinner before getting a nice long sleep at Le Diwan Rabat (which by the way was a fairly decent hotel despite the smoking room mixup). We used TripAdvisor to find La Koutoubia, about a 5 block walk from our hotel in a side street off Avenue Moulay Abdelazziz. This was our first taste of authentic Moroccan cuisine, and it didn’t disappoint. While it was a little quiet (it was a Wednesday night after all) with only a few other patrons in the main restaurant area (mostly foreign), it did appear there was another room in the back filled with a group of Moroccans, which gave us hope. The waiter for very attentive and helped us translate a mostly French menu in to English. We ended up with the fish and the chicken tagine. Pastilla is a Spanish word but uniquely Moroccan – it’s a pastry filo-like dough stuffed with meat and spices. My chicken tagine was amazing….
Brendan and I left from DEN Airport early Tuesday, flying to Casablanca, Morocco mid-day on Wednesday after a 28 hour journey with 3 flights, 3 carriers and 3 continents. We had booked our 14 day Morocco and Portugal stopover on July 1, more than 90 days in advance. The only hitch we had came about a week prior to our trip, when TAP Air Portugal cancelled our flight from Lisbon to Casablanca on the outbound, and rebooked us on an illogical itinerary departing from Lisbon prior to arriving to Lisbon. I had to call and, ultimately, there was nothing they could do to preserve the semblance of our original itinerary – so they removed the segment of LIS to CMN so that the itinerary wouldn’t be canceled for no-show, and asked us to submit a complaint/refund request for the new tickets we were forced to purchase on Royal Air Maroc from LIS-CMN. This cost us $260 out of pocket. We submitted the complaint to TAP a few days later, but the verdict is still out on whether they will reimburse us (we’re not hopeful). It was luckily the only real issue on our outbound journey flying to Casablanca. Tuesday morning….