Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Meknes to Rabat - Morocco Diary

Day 2: Train to Meknes via Rabat; sightseeing tour of Rabat
Meknes to Rabat Morocco
Departing Casablanca by train this morning we followed the coast north towards Rabat, the city that was established as the capital of their protectorate by the French in 1912 and since their independence has served as the capital of a modern Morocco. 

Rabat’s history stretches back as far as 8BC, when settlers arrived in what is now the Chellah area, a district that went on to become a prosperous Roman town, before being transformed by the Merinids into a cemetery. On arrival we will have an opportunity to explore something of the city’s historic heart, with a guided walking tour of the area around the Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, before wandering through the engaging Kasbah des Oudaias, originally a fortified town that is now infused with a distinctly Andalucian flavour. 

After taking in the sumptuous grandeur of the Royal Palace we took a train onwards to Meknes, once the heart of the Moroccan Sultanate, lying amidst the landscapes of the Oued Boufekrane River valley. ‘The Sultan loved Meknes, and he would have liked never to leave it’ once wrote a chronicler to the tyrannical Sultan Moulay Ismail. Ismail (1672- 1727) was a tireless builder, and his greatest efforts were reserved for his capital at Meknes, which at its peak, with over 20 grand gateways. 

Meknes, Morocco

Another suitcase in another hall
The lighting system for the room was rather interesting. There was a main switch by the door to turn the electricity on for the room. There were then a selection of round buttons around the room which turned various lights on and some did nothing at all. Failed in my attempt to leave the bathroom light on whilst having all other lights off.

Out of the window
Currently on a double decker train at the top. Have seen my first rainbow in Morocco as it has been raining and is a little cool. Not much else to see outside. Even the shabby villages with their faded painted walls have satellite. The large green areas are littered with boulders and look more like a deserted building site.

Trains and Banana Trees
I have never seen banana trees growing in between railway lines before. The weeds were rather lusciously tall. It was challenging to find the railway lines. As long as the trains can find the lines...

Breakfast in Morocco
A boiled egg with ice cold butter with bread rolls. Had very sweet black coffee. Olives with a sauce were available as were mini pastries. I decided against olives for breakfast and resisted temptation with the pastries. They did look a  little dry which assisted in my decision.

A morning in Rabat
We visited the state palace which is the official residence if the King of Morocco. He doesn't lie at the palace but simply visits. The palace employs 500 servants who live on the premises with their families. Schools, hospitals are all on the grounds. The king is also the head of defense so the offices are there too. 

There wasn't really much to see apart from guys in various uniforms standing around and talking. I was informed that the idea in Islam is that the buildings are simple on the outside so the poor don't know what they are missing. The buildings, however, can be decorated as the owner wishes on the inside. The green tiles reflect the colour of paradise as stated in the Qur'an. Scriptures (Reading from right to left) from the Qur'an adorn the gates of the palace and is rather beautiful.

Andalucian Gardens

Andalucian Gardens
I have never seen so many stalks before in my life. They nest near to the river to feast on  the trout. They were obviously content by the size of them, the number of juveniles and the sound they made. When my time is up for reincarnation, a stalk in Morocco seems a pretty good option. We walked through the gardens and saw allotments where a family cultivates the crops (such as beetroot) for both consumption and also to sell. You can tell the difference between shacks for the family and shacks for animals as the family will have a satellite dish on the roof.

Moroccan Mosque
We went to the second largest mosque which is actually incomplete so it really doesn't count. We looked at the soldiers on their horses. One was an Arabian stallion tall and lean and the other a burbon horse, a sound sturdy looking work horse. The soldiers wore rather interesting uniforms with red pleated trousers with bell bottoms at the end. They had a red jacket and then a long white cloak. I am sure they would have been warm. We were out in our tshirts enjoying the emerging sun rays. 

We went into the mausoleum where the king's father, his uncle and grand father are buried. The room was 2 tier. At the bottom lay the 3 sarcophagi intricately carved in white marble. The floor was black granite from Norway. The segments in the granite glistened as if reflecting the night sky. The doors were also intricately carved but this tomb in wood. As in Florence, the doors are gilded in gold leaf. The Walls to the lower section were detailed tiles. 

The edge of the lower room was decorated with a number of Moroccan flags standing up. These are to represent each Moroccan state. The Qur'an lay open on a rug in between the sarcophagi as if ready to be read. The balcony was decorated in white and gold. The double doors, larger than the lower section, were still detailed in their design. The ceiling was carved wood with gold filigree and in places bulbs had been arranged. The room had a sense of genuine rest. The soldiers seemed bored young lads who looked uncomfortable and shuffled with boredom/discomfort.  A large percentage of the population are employed by the State. 

It's amazing to think that most of work that we are seeing and admiring was actually made by white slaves. Over 1 million white slaves are known to have been captured and then taken to Morocco.  "White Gold" by Giles Milton is a fascinating book covering over hundred years of white slave history. Barbary pirates would cross the English Channel and raid mainly Cornish and Irish towns. They often would raid a town on a Sunday morning when the villagers would be at church. Men, women and children would be captured and taken to Morocco to become slaves.

Experiencing a Casbah
We headed to the well renowned Casbah which is a residential area which has a feeling of Southend Spain as it's painted all White except the lower half of the buildings, round the doors and windows in a beautiful aqua marine which is believed to repell mosquitos. The narrow winding alleys provided a very romantic atmosphere. The properties, even though a little grubby on the outside and a tad on the tiny side they are believed to be rather spectacular on the inside. Some have been turned into guest houses. This area is known to be particular with British expats.

We stopped off in a small square for a pastry and moroccan mint tea. The tea was extraordinarily sweet but still lovely and fresh. A view of the sea and the cemetery for fisherman and we walk back to the bus. There were boats on the river as water taxis ready to take people across the river to Rabat.

 On the bus and into a tourist trap of a restaurant. The herb omelette tasted of nothing as did the over cooked vegetables. The chips were a bit better and tasted at least of something - fat! A can of diet coke was 18 durnham. Omelette 45 durnham. It's not the price that I object to but the poor quality of food - was rather disappointing.

A Moroccan Medina
We had a little time before the train to Meknes so I headed into the Medina which is a huge Market set with permanent building huts with canopies at the front to display their wares. The place was a fabulous rabbit warren. The sights of sheep heads on the side and eager feral cats waiting for the opportune moment reminded me of Cairo, Egypt. The scents of spices and leather wafted round like a welcomed blanked on a frosty winter evening.

Train to Meknes 
On the train to Meknes which is a 2 hr train ride.Even though the train departed on time it was 20 mins late. We travelled first class which I suppose is standard to our standard class. It was all fine. Shared a 6 seated booth with 4 other travellers and 1 Moroccan woman who seemed obsessed with swine flu and asked us if we and our children had been vaccinated. When we replied no she seemed rather shocked and proceeded to use her antibacterial gel several times throughout the remains of the journey.
Our taxi dropped us off at the hotel and a very polite (maybe too polite) porter showed us our rooms. Turquoise bathroom suit with shell shaped toilet seat. A very extra ordinary bath which was between a short bath and a deep shower. 

Buying alcohol in Morocco
Feeling that am slightly resembling foie gras. Had a spicy harissa soup for starter and a lamb tagine with prunes for main which was divine. Had half a bottle of Moroccan red wine and we had a glass each of that. It was rather light in colour and texture and had a savoury after taste. It wasn't what I expected at 12% but was very enjoyable. It's nice to try the local wine. We had to pop into a supermarket to buy the wine. Mostly guilty looking Moroccan men in the alcohol section which was it's own little side shop separate to the rest of the supermarket.They put the bottles of booze in black carrier bags to conceal it's contents but a bottle shape is rather distinctive as is a black carrier bag if they are not used for other purposes. The supermarket could have been in France or Spain - apart from the alcohol store there wasn't anything particularly Moroccan about it. Apparently more and more Moroccans are liking and using supermarkets which is reducing the local high street trade just as it did in the UK. Are lessons not learned?

First dinner in Morocco

The restaurant was freezing cold and we sat in our jackets the whole meal. Mixed fruit cocktail for dessert and followed by some mint tea (where I asked to add my own sugar otherwise it's too sweet for my taste).

Cleanliness is next to godliness
Finally got to the room and the radiator had finally started to work (yippee) and my socks which I had left on on there, just in case it felt like working, were now toasty warm. Excellent. I managed to clamber into this blue tub thing tuned on the water and a dribble of lukewarm water was the best I could muster. I am staying at the next hotel for 2 nights. Let's hope the bathing facilities at the other hotels are better than this one. Still felt a little grubby.

Cross over the road my friend
Think I mastered the how to cross Moroccan roads today. The key is to find a space in the traffic and walking calmly across. The Moroccans seem to be genuinely warm friendly people. At least they don't speed up when they see you cross, unlike the Italians.

A little less snug than a bug in a rug
I am now in bed with 2 blankets draped over my bed. Didn't expect it to be so cold, brrr. It's not as cold as it back home though but these walls are so thin and the windows don't fit exactly that the wind just comes right into the room.

White Slaves in Morocco

Giles Milton's book White Gold is a fabulous read. It's about the one million white slaves captured by the Barbary Pirates and covers 150 years in a very easy to read manner. I would certainly recommend this read especially if you are going to Meknes as all the fine work and buildings you will see have been built by white slaves, mostly English.

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