Trip Start Nov 27, 2009
Trip End Dec 17, 2009

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Friday, December 4, 2009

December 4
Can't believe I’ve been away for a week – it seems like a weekend – but flicking back through the journal I’ve actually done quite a lot. Caught the 8.15am train to Meknes this morning. The scenery was more interesting – some greenery and even patches of forest. After spending all afternoon looking for postcards in Casa I finally found some at the station. Bought 3 for 3D each and wrote them on the train, then spent most of the rest of the journey reading Nine Dragons, the Connelly book I was trying to save until LA but have to start now because I’ve run out of things to read. The train has a morning tea trolley so I bought an espresso and chocolate croissant.

Arrived in Meknes around 11.30am and got a taxi to Bab Mansour - the big gate outside the Medina - for 30D. The guy from the riad had given me a number to call so that someone could guide me the rest of the way when I arrived – you can’t get there by car because the streets are too narrow. Only problem was the girl who answered the phone only spoke French. I ended up finding my own way after asking directions from a couple of cops standing outside the gate who in turn asked a group of girls who were walking past. There were a couple of signs which helped, and luckily it was a lot more straightforward then finding Riad Lorsya in Marrakech. A couple of kids led me the last part of the way so I gave them 10D for their assistance.

The girl I spoke to on the phone let me in and gave me tea and cakes while I filled out the arrival card. She also gave me a map of the medina and a menu. I decided to take the easy option and eat in the riad tonight. I had to order then so that they could go and buy the ingredients, so at least it's guaranteed to be fresh. I asked for it to be ready by 6pm.

Felloussia is similar to the Lorsya – a converted residence with lots of character decorated in a traditional Moroccan manner. Lots of knick knacks and objet d’art give the place a homey feel that you just don’t get in normal hotels. My room is called the Afrika Suite as it has lots of African masks and weavings. It’s not as opulent as the Samsara Suite in Marrakech, but very nice nevertheless.

Walked to Ladhim Square (Meknes’ version of Djemaa el-Fna but on a much more sedate scale) and changed some money, then dropped the postcards I wrote on the train at the post office and bought a couple of palmiers from a bakery just around the corner. Walked through Meknes medina, which is not as interesting as Marrakech, but much nicer than Casablanca. Ended up at Bab Berdain from where there are great views towards the mountains, then walked back to Ladhim Square stopping to do some shopping on the way. Much less pressure from the vendors here and prices seem reasonable. I bought a beanie for 10D (seems incredibly cheap – I thought the wool would have cost more than that), a pair of socks for 5D and two scarves for 15D apiece, which I think I’ll give to Chrissy and Michelle as presents for house-sitting when I get back.  Not a spectacular outing, but really laid back and enjoyable.

Visited Dar Jamai, a museum in Ladhim that is housed in the 19th century home of the then Prime Minister (or so the guide that adopted me advised). There’s not a lot of interest exhibit wise, but it’s worth the 10D entry fee just to look at the building and its gardens. As there was a little confusion as to where you could take photos, I thought it was safer not to take any. The guide directed me to a hamam in the little street near the BMCI change office. Apparently it was ladies hour when I arrived and as far as I can tell men could come back for a good scrubbing after 6pm.

Dropped my purchases back at Felloussia and then went for a walk around the neighbourhood. Found a place that sells postcards and bought five, then went back to the riad and wrote them on the roof terrace. Walked back down to the post office and dropped them in the box, then stopped at the Meknes Museum which is just down from Bab Mansour. Cost twice as much as Dar Jamai with half the number of exhibits. Also, not nearly as nice a building.

Did a bit of journal in the little lounge near my room then went down for dinner. I’m the only guest at the moment so have exclusive use of the cook who must have thought she was catering for a full house as the meal was huge; stuffed artichokes with tomato, aubergine, some sort of spicy carrot dish, olives and fresh bread - and this was just the entree. A main course of Chicken and olive tajine arrived soon after followed by fruit salad for desert.

Asked her to invoice me for the room and dinner as Felloussia also does not take credit cards and I’ll have to cash in most of my few remaining US dollars tomorrow to pay the bill. Actually getting quite worried about the cash situation. Guess I’ll be OK once I get to the States as I can start using credit cards again and if worst comes to worst get a cash advance on my Visa.

Was planning to go back to the hamam after dinner but decided to curl up in bed, get my journal up to date and load all my Morocco photos onto Facebook. Also checked my gmail (Jamie is happy with the pub crawl blog and has already posted it – I sent the link to some of the guys at work as well as Boner who I thought might enjoy it).  Read in bed for half an hour before calling it a night. Want to see if I can organise a taxi tomorrow to Volubilis and Idriss Moulay.

The weather has been perfect in Morocco so far and looks like it will stay that way for the immediate future. Apart from some brief patches of drizzle in Casa, I’ve  had blue skies and temperatures around the 20 degree mark since arriving – perfect walking weather - and it looks like this going to continue for the rest of my stay with forceasts in the high teens to early 20's.

December 5
Breakfast is included in the room charge so I ate it. Similar to Lorsya in Marrakech – bread, pancake-crumpets with jam, orange juice and coffee. The girl who made dinner last night was there again this morning, which was good as she spoke quite good English. Saturday today so the banks were closed. Luckily there is a flexi teller attached to the bank on Rue Dhar Smen, the street Bab Mansour faces, so I withdrew 1,500D using my Visa card, then went back to the room and settled the bill – 2,245D which included last night’s dinner of 15 Euro.

Hired a Grand Taxi (an extremely old Mercedes as they all seem to be) for 300D to take me to Volubilis and back. Probably way over the money but better than the 40 Euros the riad was quoting for organising the same trip.

The Romans had a great eye for location. Volubilis sits on top of a hill overlooking the valley floor with mountains behind it. Quite striking. I sat on the steps of the forum for a while looking out over the fertile plain to the low range of hills on the horizon thinking that the view probably hasn’t really changed that much since the city was a flourishing provincial centre 1,800 years ago.

Volubilis is about a 30 minute drive from Meknes and is the best preserved Roman city in Morocco. It was the administrative centre for the province of Mauretania and was built over an earlier Carthaginian site, however habitation dates back to the Neolithic period. The city’s wealth was based on the cultivation of grain and the production of olive oil, both of which were exported to Rome. The latter at least is still carried on today as we passed a lot of olive groves on the drive there. It appears to be harvest time as there were lots of men and boys shaking the branches of the trees with long poles to dislodge the crop onto tarpaulins spread on the ground beneath them.  Volubilis has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997.

The original Roman city was destroyed by an earthquake in the 4th century. The city’s triumphal arch, main gate and the forum are still in reasonable condition, and a number of the original floor mosaics are still in place.

I asked the driver to return to Meknes via the nearby town of Moulay Idriss for some photo opportunities. We ended up driving through the village, which appears to be one of those places that look more interesting from a distance.

Asked the driver to drop me back at Bab Mansour then took a walk through the Dar Lakbira. This area holds the underground granaries which were supposedly used to house Christian prisoners. They’re very dim and atmospheric, however don’t have a prison feel about them. No cells or wall shackles, just lots of arches and open space.

Took a walk and got hassled by some kid wanting money for guiding me through the Nouvelle Medina. Ducked into a nice riad and had a cup of coffee in the courtyard garden to escape him, then went back to the flexi teller and withdrew another 1,000D as the banks won’t be open until Monday and I need some walking around money. Returned to Riad Felloussia and bought a bottle of red wine from them for 130D then retired to the lounge near my room for a few glasses while I updated my journal.

I'd planned to grab a petit taxi into Ville Nouvelle and have dinner at a place called Le Pub, but when I got to the main drag it was insanely busy and every cab was taken, so I had the Kebeh Complet plate at one of the restaurants on Ladhime. This came with salad, bread and fries for 30D. I was still a bit peckish (hadn’t eaten since breakfast) so got a take away from the place at the Bab Mansour end of the restaurant strip – half a dozen little beef sausages cooked over an open fire stuffed into a bread roll and doused with hot sauce and sprinkled with spices for 20D – the kebeh was good, but the sausage sandwich was exceptional - best street food of the holiday so far.

Back at the riad now. Bought a Flag Speciale beer for 20D from the girl in the kitchen (the one who can’t speak English is back) and am sipping on this while updating my journal in bed.  All in all, an exceptionally pleasant day!

December 6
Had some roti and jam, fruit salad, coffee and juice for breakfast then got a cab almost straight away to Meknes station. Asked the guy to run the meter and it was only 7D. Arrived about 45 minutes before the train was scheduled to depart so read to kill the time.
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