• Moroccan Adventures Part 5 - The Finale

    "There is a third dimension to traveling: the longing for what is beyond" 
    - Jan Myrdal, Lanterns 

    We arrived into Meknes on a Friday, after two active days in Fes. On this holy day in the former Moroccan capital, the streets were calm and people moved slowly. It was a welcome change. Our week of non-stop touring was starting to wear on us. Thankfully our guesthouse, the Riad Safir, was a stunning and soothing retreat. After enjoying some fresh jus d'orange and cinnamon-sugared cookies upon check-in, we set out. We ambled through the sleepy souk and munched on purple olives in the jardin zoologique. Then, a horse-drawn carriage ride just as the golden hour descended upon the ancient city. I felt as though we were moving in a different time, my heart heavy with anticipation of the inevitable return to the familar.
    Though that's the end of our journey, it's not quite the end of the story. More to come soon on Moroccan food and travel recommendations. For now, some photos below so you can see a little of the magic of Meknes*... 
    *The last few photos are from Casablanca, where we spent our final evening before an early morning return flight home.

  • Moroccan Adventures Part 4 - The Roadtrip

    Excuse the blogging hiatus last week - I was in Central Vietnam for work. When I returned to Hanoi Friday night, Pem treated me to dinner from the city's only Moroccan restaurant, Le Marrakech. With red wine, eggplant salad and couscous in my belly, I felt inspired to resume the reportage on our journey in Morocco with these photos from the High Atlas mountains...

    With a roadmap and a series of cryptic directions in hand, the four of us hit the road towards Ouarzazate in a zippy Peugeot rental the morning after Harry and Sophia's wedding reception. The allure of adventure, the promise of discovery, and at the end of the road, a quiet retreat in a palmeraie, willed us out of bed after the late night of festivities. After five hours of driving and searching for our guesthouse by following green and white arrows through sleepy villages and a dried riverbed, we reached our guesthouse, Sawadi. We rejuvenated ourselves with a dip in the pool and a good steam in the hammam. Dinner that night was served by Said, a jolly, slightly mysterious, character who lives and works at Sawadi. When we ask him what is for dinner that night, Said answers, "Une surprise." He says this with a small smile, as though his answer would suit any question about what was to happen in the future, no matter how near. In the end, Said offered us local red wine, homemade chocolate and verveine ice cream, and magic tricks. That night, I fell asleep to the sound of the wind whipping through the olive trees.

    The next day, our grand visions of a valley bursting with blooms slowly deflated as we drove on. Did we miss the season? Were the roses green? Was the name of the valley meant to be ironic? We joked amongst ourselves as our car wound in and out, hugging the folds of the mountains. Though we didn't see a single bush laden with bright-colored blossoms, our day's outing was not lacking in spectacular views. At times, I felt as though we were on another planet. The next day we would return to Marrakech to board our northbound train, but I shall not forget my dreams from that night - hazy scenes stitched together from copper, asphalt, sand and sky.

    "For long stretches they were alone, the three of them, nothing and no one in sight but the deep copper gorges and vast sandstone cliffs. The desert unrolled ahead of them, open and wide, as though it had been created for them and them alone, the air still, blazing hot, the sky high and blue." 
    - Khaled Hosseini, And The Mountains Echoed

  • Moroccan Adventures Part 3 - The Medina

    The medina is a meeting point of merchants, tourists, touts, artisans, holymen, schoolchildren, bakers, butchers and beggars. Inside the tall, clay walls stand ancient structures, souks, homes, mosques and a few public squares interconnected by a maze of petites ruelles. Some medinas are more peaceful than others, but to get lost in these little lanes and let your senses soak in the beautiful scenes that surround you, is to attain nothing short of an ultimate traveler's high.

    Unless, of course, you've got a wedding to attend. Pem and I did seriously think for a few moments that we may miss Harry and Sophia's wedding ceremony because we couldn't find our way out of the souk. We had entered innocently following successful visits to the Maison de la Photographie and Madrasa Ben Youssef, but as we readied to return home, we realized we had no clue where we were. We followed green sign after green sign indicating "Jemaa el-Fna Square" but the labyrinth continued. We hurried past shops selling leather slippers, elaborate jewelry, brightly painted tajines, glistening sweets, even wedding decor and caftans (at which point we thought that may be the closest we'd get to a wedding). Our winding trail finally deposited us onto a cobblestone patch in the sun. We recognized the stretch of stalls before us. With towering mounds of dried fruits and fresh jus d'orange, they led the way toward our guesthouse, and we ran.

    The ancient medinas of Marrakech and Fes are both on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Below are some scenes from inside their walls...