Monday, 18 March 2013

Morocco to Spain in 2 weeks

I often dream of throwing in the towel on this serious, London, commuting, flat renting, working, gym-going, rain sodden life and going gallivanting across the world for a few months. I then wake up and remember I'm not Richard Branson or marrying a Rolling Stone anytime soon (sigh). I therefore have to come up with genius ways to soften this heartache. But apparently someone had already thought of this and they're called holidays.

But I'm not really your lay-on-a-beach-reading type (although I have been known to read Jilly Cooper on a sunbed, don't knock it until you've tried it) so the 'holidays' are more 'trips' where we move from one place to the next. The most recent trip was to Morocco, with limited funds and limited time.

This limitedness (not a word, should be) is not such a problem in the vast, culture-laden North African country, as flights, accommodation and food is pretty cheap and transport is good, well, most of it.

First stop was Marrakesh. Easyjet and Ryanair -- the "worst airlines for leg room" folks -- fly here now for about £90. I thought this opening up of the city may have spoiled it a bit and, although many of the locals are clearly geared up for lost, dirham-laden tourists, it hasn't lost its charm and overwhelming unpredictability.

Warning: it is IMPOSSIBLE not to get lost in Marrakesh. If you do DO NOT let a friendly seeming local 'guide' you back to the square as they'll be asking for 100 dirham before you can say 'another orange juice for the road, please.' Just go with the flow and you'll get back to the main square, Djemaa el-Fna, eventually. Oh and try the orange juice.

The markets in and around the square are a must see, just try not to look for too long unless you are sure you want to go home with ten carpets. 

We stayed in a beautiful riad (guesthouse) with a plungepool. Most of the riads have these to cool down in, as well as a roof terrace to sunbathe in peace and get away from it all with the call to prayer echoing in the background (which was slightly out of sync with my chosen reading material but never mind.)

We traveled to Fez on a train. A simple idea, which resulted in me enduring what were possibly the worst few hours of my life. So hot. So so hot. Get a bus people.

Fez, the second largest city in Morocco, is like it's larger sister, Marrakesh, except there's no main square and the alleys are more like rabbit warrens. The walled city, a UNESCO world heritage sight, is still a great place to see as it seems as though little has changed since Delacroix's paintings. But if you're pushed for time and want to see more of the coast or mountains then it could be skipped, as long as you've been to a Moroccan city.

*note: this is not a picture of Fez. It's a painting by Eugene Delacroix.

Chefchaouen, for me, was the highlight of the trip. After the buzzing, hectic, sweaty cities the bohemiam, breezy, beautiful village nestled in the Atlas mountains was a breath of fresh air. The little houses and shops are all blue and white lime-washed and the chilled out cobbled town is a great base to walk from and take in some amazing views.

Asilah, to the south of Tangier, on the Atlantic coast, is a beach resort. The Hispano-Moorish town is very arty with lots of galleries and an assortment of markets and shops. We managed to do some body boarding but more serious surf can be found on the windy beaches of Essaouira, so I'm told.

Couple of other warnings. 1. Unless you have a stomach of steel you probably will get ill. Most of the pharmacies are used to yellow-bellied Westerners so head there and they'll give you some remedies which worked pretty well for me. 2. There are lots of cats. Everywhere. Don't feed them. 3. Dress respectfully. This means covering shoulders and knees.

After Asilah we headed to the ferry port of Tangier to get the boat to Spain. This was very easy and quick, and I recommend it if you want to see a bit of Spain, particularly Seville, before heading home.

Note - when to go
We went in September. This is a great time as it's still very hot but not unbearable and the touristy parts aren't very busy. Plus everything (including flights) is a little bit cheaper.

Lonely Planet says its best in mid-March to May or September to November, not great timing for teachers among you (or if there is anyone young enough reading my blog that still goes to school...) but end or beginning of the holidays rather than bang in the middle I would say.

I also have to note that my sister, the trend setter that she is, did this trip whilst at university and she was the one that recommended Chefchaouen, so thanks Jess. x

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