Monday, March 21, 2016


January 28-29

The overnight train from Marrakesh to Tangier was not a great experience. We thought we'd booked a 2-bunk cabin but, somewhat to our dismay, it turned out that all the cabins had four bunks and we had to share with a young Japanese guy. He was, however, polite, quiet and self-contained, climbing into the top bunk and making himself about as invisible as he could under the circumstances. The only downside was that he found it cold with the window open, so we sweltered all night in the small, overheated space. In spite of this, I  slept reasonably well, though Michael wasn't so lucky.

Unlike trains we've taken in other countries, there were no facilities attached to each cabin or even shared between two, just a single toilet and washbasin at the end of the carriage. Consequently, we arrived in the early morning in Tangier somewhat dishevelled and eager to find our accommodation.

Fortunately, Sophie, our hostess, was amenable to our checking in quite promptly and suggested we make our way to the Hotel Continental overlooking the harbour, where she would meet us. We took a cab there and had breakfast on their terrace while we waited for her to arrive. The hotel, a large building of faded glory perched above the waterfront, is a landmark in Tangier

Tangier is built on a steep hillside, so we climbed up various steps and alleys to Sophie's tall, narrow, white house, tucked onto one corner of a minuscule square.

Our room on the second floor faced onto the internal courtyard. It was attractively furnished, comfortable and very quiet, but without a view. However, a lovely roof deck above, reached by narrow mosaic-inlaid stairs, more than compensated.

This is where we were served breakfast every morning.

The deck commanded sweeping views of the colourful medley of buildings that tumbled down the hillside. We spent quite a lot of time there, enjoying the scenery and the sunshine.

The smoking chimney in the foreground of the photo above serves a wood-fired oven. A common sight in the surrounding streets was Tangier housewives carrying trays of round flat loaves to be baked in these small shops. You knew when they were on their way home at the end of the process by the delicious aroma wafting from under the tray cloth.

Being less of a tourist destination than elsewhere we'd been, Tangier revealed more of the poverty of Morocco. Many of the residents, we were told, did not have running water in their houses. Almost every street had a hammam (public bath) with separate times of day for men and women. Around the corner from our place was a well, visited by a constant stream of men, women and children filling plastic buckets and bottles.

Tourists often see a visit to a hammam as part of their holiday experience. Moroccans are infallibly polite, even when we foreigners trample on their customs. I wonder how they really feel when what is a necessity for them is invaded by rich foreigners for a bit of holiday "fun".

We spent our two days in Tangier wandering the narrow streets and enjoying the ambience of this bustling port at the gateway to the Mediterranean.

 Although the impression from above was of a red, white and ochre city, from within the alleys it was almost all blue and white.

One of the advantages of the number of steps linking these small alleys was the absence of the usual crazy young guys on motorbikes. However, they were replaced by boys on bicycles who somehow managed to hurtle down the steps at breakneck speed without killing themselves  - or pedestrians, who had to be extremely wary and leap to safety if one of these daredevils came rocketing towards them.

Cars were confined to wider streets at the top of the town. Their progress was slow as they had to negotiate a steady stream of pedestrians.  We saw no speed limit signs for the obvious reason that they were unnecessary.

An interesting feature of Tangier was pointed out to us by a self-appointed guide: men and women worship at separate mosques. The men's mosques had the traditional minaret, partially visible in the background of my photo.

The women's mosques had domed roofs.

 It was hard to miss the relevance to each of the respective sexes.

Tangier is a compact city. Although we only had two days there, we felt we had had a good look around. As the sun went down on our last evening, we could see through the dusk the ferry we would take the following morning across the Straits of Gibraltar to Tarifa in Spain.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


January 26-27, 2016

We left Marrakesh in the morning, catching a bus for the 3-hour ride to Essaouira, a pretty blue-and-white fishing village on the Atlantic coast and a Unesco World Heritage site. The road crossed an arid plain, dotted with sheep and goats.

Occasionally, groves of argan or olive trees broke the monotony. Both are harvested for oil, although argan is used more for cosmetics than cooking.

We stopped briefly at a roadside cafe where I noticed the street was lined with eucalyptus trees, one of Australia's gifts to the world.

Essaouira has a reputation in winter for stormy seas and wild onshore gales, but during our stay all was calm and sunny. It is a white-walled town where doors, window frames and even the fishing boats are painted in turquoise or deep sky-blue.

Clothing too was dyed in vivid colours.

We stayed at the Riad Nakhla, a comfortable small hotel in the centre of town. Our ensuite room was also small, just enough space for the bed at one end and a sofa at the other, but it was attractively decorated and furnished.

Even the tiny bathroom had carefully chosen details.

As the windows opened onto the central atrium, we were inclined to keep them closed for security reasons. We spent more time anyway on the roof terrace with its lovely views.

This is also where breakfast was served.

It was so delicious that it attracted other interested parties who expected us to share the honey.

The main street was thronged with a mixture of locals and tourists, but much less frenetic than Marrakesh (see previous post.)

One end leads south down to the picturesque harbour where fishing boats cluster inside the old walls and seagulls wheel and cry overhead.

Everywhere another colourful scene demanded yet another photograph.

Not everyone was focused on the fishboats, however. The seawall was a popular place for sun lovers and dreamers,

 ... while improvements along the beach front involving earth-moving equipment attracted the usual sidewalk superintendents.

Behind the harbour I discovered more Australian imports, this time Norfolk Island pines.

Lurking among them was this palm tree.

Look closely and you'll see that it's actually a brilliant way to disguise a cellphone tower. Wouldn't it be an improvement if cities around the world adapted this innovative idea to their own environments?

At the north of the main street a cobbled ramp led up to the old ramparts, still equipped with cannons that once guarded against marauders from the Atlantic and now attract small boys and tourists with selfie sticks.

Along with the seagulls, Essaouira had its complement of well-fed cats, enjoying the sunshine or lurking in the shade.

After two lovely days here, we boarded the bus back to Marrakesh, but not to stay. Our destination was the grand railway station where we were boarding the overnight train to Tangier.