Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Morrocan travels (1)

From Tangier one can travel by car, train or plane to other parts of Morroco. There are pros and cons to each mode of transportation.

Cars are easy to rent, take you anywhere, at any time and give you the possibility to change course and schedule when you wish. However, driving in Morocco is not for the fainthearted. Traffic laws are very loosely interpreted, donkey-drawn carts appear out of nowhere and some people missed the course about which side of the road to drive on and what a stop sign means.

Trains are actually a good option because they are usually on time, clean and quite safe but you are bound by timetables or as happened to us once, by flooding or other problems on the tracks. An overnight trip in a two bed berth from Tangier to Marrakech cost us about 60 dollars/45 euros, had clean sheets, pillows and blankets, a sink and mirror and was very comfortable.

Domestic flights are unpredictable but do get you there eventually. We once spent six hours at Casablanca airport waiting for a connection which was supposed to leave within 45 minutes. There was not a soul to get information from in the transit area, a blank screen for time of departure, no possibility to buy food or drink and the flight was announced suddenly through a loud-speaker just minutes before departure. No explanation, just hurry, hurry or you'll miss it. Huh...I'm sorry?

Whatever the means of travel or the inconvenience, there is true beauty in every corner of Morocco. People are extremely friendly and ready to help in any way they can and after all, the unexpected is what makes travelling fun.

A farmer goes to work on his donkey somewhere on the road to Fes.

A lake basks in the sun amid manicured fields and geometrically planted olive groves.

Lush springtime vegetation at the foot of the Rif mountains.

Storks take in the view of the Roman ruins in Volubilis from their perch on a centuries old column.

A man carries supplies up the hill from the holy city of Moulay Idriss which boasts the oldest Mosque and University in Morocco and possibly the world. Until 2005, foreigners were asked to leave the city by 3:00 PM.

Mauve flowers adorn a dry river bed in the south on route to the dunes of Erg Chigaga.

A "pisé" village (an adobe-like mix of clay and straw) in the south on the way to the desert south east of Marrakech.

An oasis with minaret on the banks of an almost dry river near Ouarzazate.

A young tuareg camel rider at Erg Chigaga. He guides tourists who teeter unsteadily atop bored camels to "experience the nomad life"...for all of thirty minutes. Dare I admit it, I was one of them.

Photos: Joelle Desparmet

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Things to do in Tangier

The great thing about Tangier is that there are always new things to discover, sites to explore, interesting people to meet and places to eat the marvellous spicy local food.
The best way to find about all this is to ask people who live there, hoteliers, travel agents or even the taxi driver if he speaks your language (you'd be surprised by how many languages he does speak).
Everyone has a favourite spot: a beach where they swim, a restaurant where they have lunch almost every day, a must-do day trip or an art gallery or shop they never miss.

You can also find information on the internet (Check out and les coulisses de tanger), online magazines and information sites. A wealth of information is out there to be tapped to prepare you for your journey.

However, no matter how much you read and ask about Tangier, nothing beats just walking around in the city at your own pace. This is how you will discover what enchants and surprises you. Beware! Tangier is addictive and you may want to return again and again.

Tangier rests on a series of hills and the house is on the highest hill, the Kasbah, on the right in this photograph.
photo Hedwig Storch

That's the house at the tip of the arrow. This means that when we leave in the morning, we usually plan to stay out most of the day to avoid having to climb too many times the steep streets and stairs leading back home.
photo TALIM

While we are out, we have lunch at one of many favourite places in town.
One of them is a seafood restaurant called "Saveur de Poisson", "A taste of Fish" (more on the others in future posts). It is ranked third of 58 Tangier restaurants on Tripadvisor. The owner gets his fish fresh from the port everyday. If you did not know it was a fish restaurant, you would figure it out by looking at the sign. What you see is what you get, spelling and all!

A still-life of clay pots and wooden utensils adorns the entrance to the restaurant.

Just behind is the kitchen and grill where food is prepared in front of you. It is tiny and yet three cooks work in it.

The menu is always the same, only the type of fish varies. Portions are generous and the price reasonable. The meal usually starts with a seafood soup, followed by a steaming platter of shrimp on a bed of freshly cooked spicy spinach. You dig in with your wooden fork and spoon. Careful: very hot! That is not wine in the glasses. It is a somewhat bitter, cold herb tea and definitely an acquired taste.

Then comes a whole grilled fish, turbot, sole or bar depending on the day and some baby shark brochettes: moist, grilled to perfection and with just enough spice to enhance the taste of the fish without overwhelming it. Add the red pepper sauce at your own risk. Hot enough to send you into orbit!
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Juicy black olives in olive oil, almonds, four different types of bread and a thick freshly squeezed/mashed mixed fruit beverage accompany the meal. No alcohol here and it is just as well as in the summer heat it could seriously hamper your ability to walk out of the restaurant.

To finish, something called " le dessert de la mariée" (the "bride's dessert"), a sort of cooked cereal topped with honey and diced fresh strawberries. Delicious!

The owner is this jovial, enthusiastic man who, as you leave, gives you a locally made clay tea cup or a straw fan, the wooden fork and spoon you used for your meal and a mix of seeds and spices that he swears will improve your digestion and make you feel young and energetic. Judging by his own energy, he must have some at every meal!

Bon Appétit!

Friday, 15 March 2013

The painted walls of Morocco

Every year, in Asilah, a seaside town an hour south of Tangier, a mural painting festival and competition takes place in the old city, the medina. Artists from everywhere in Morocco congregate there to paint a wall graciously offered by local residents.

A striking mixture of "Bleu Klein", the deep almost indigo blue created by French artist Yves Klein, and brown calligraphy on a white wall.

A superb example of modern Moroccan calligraphy in marine colours, a reminder of the waves beyond the wall of the medina.

 A geometric, simple but unusual mix of colours.

A rather worn fruit and vegetable display from the previous year.

A friend wearing blue, holding hands with a painted blue lady in Asilah. Different cultures, universal smile and similar wind-blown elegance.

Two painted veiled women by a virtual sea. Even the outdoor lamp is hanging from a sketched branch.

Splendid Moroccan graffiti art.

Wall painting is not reserved for artists. Many houses are adorned for more utilitarian reasons.
Walls are painted with a thick mixture of lye in water and natural pigments. Additional coats of paint are added every year after the rainy season. The lye keeps insects away and the thick paint serves as a sort of insulation. In the city of Chefchaouen, the blue city, the houses, doors and even some alleys are painted in a shade of blue.

Even flower pots are the targets of budding artists

A 1930 mural in the El Minzah Hotel restaurant in Tangier, depicting music and tea drinking, two traditional pastimes in Morocco.

Similar sea inspired colours in Asilah

There is a long tradition of painted walls, doors and furniture in Morocco and people don't hesitate to embellish their houses in their very personal style. It is this confident often haphazard choice of colours that gives Moroccan painted walls their charm and beauty.

Photos: Sylvie Pellet, Joelle Desparmet

Monday, 11 March 2013

The colours of Tangier (2)

Moroccans love colour. No subtle beiges or ecrus, no perfect greys here. Colour reigns, taking cues from nature and translated into rugs, textiles and every day objects. 
When you see the city from the ferry as you arrive from Spain, it seems uniformly white-washed but as soon as you land you are thrown into a land of bright colours.

Deep reds, bright oranges and fluorescent greens jump at you outside the carpet shop.

More bright tones for these plastic inside/outside floor coverings

Vibrant colours that have inspired painters through time: bright spring flowers surrounding a baby palm tree. 

A simple ground-level vegetable "stall" becomes a colourful work of art.

In a shop, perfectly stacked sabra synthetic silk...

...that was probably used to sew these djellabas in bright primary colours with gold or silver trim and matching babouches.

Even cars get the colour treatment.

The balloons of the vendor on the Place du Grand Socco, the main square of the old part of town...

...are echoed by the buoys on the fishing boats at the wharf.
The peacefulness, the stillness of the water in the sun, the hard-earned rest of the boats after the harvest of the sea's bounty.

Photos: Sylvie Pellet, Joelle Desparmet, pinterest

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The colours of Tangier (1)

The colours of the sea
The sea is everywhere in Tangier. It has been painted, written about, filmed and sung. It has been the means of repeated invasions but has always pushed back the invaders in the end. Today the invaders still often come by sea but they are usually friendly and always welcomed. 
The sea gives Tangier its uniqueness and its incredible power of attraction. It defines the city, determines its economy, represents a gateway to another continent but also a major barrier to its access. 
Without the sea, Tangier would never have become the stuff of legend that it is to this day. 

The sea takes its cue from the seasons. 

Deep greenish blue in the freshness of spring...

...a paler tranquil version under the intense summer sun from a friend's terrace...

...or more hazy in the softness of fall, barely suggesting the silhouette of the Malabata hills and Spain beyond.

Unhappy, growling and menacing in the winter cold.

The colours of the sky
What is it about a sky that is in permanent contact with the sea? Why does its blue have that particular quality, that incredible depth. Where does it get that aptitude to transform itself as the day goes by? Is it because it is reflected in the sea? 

Here Spain seems closer than it is, sixteen kilometres away. Treacherous currents mid-way to Spain claim the lives of many trying to get across illegally on makeshift boats.
Photo by Liezje

Cape Malabata stands out under the very particular, deep blue sky of summer

Even as it prepares to retire for the night, the sky gives one more tantalising show of pride, pushing the moon to the side: "One more minute, please. My admirers are still staring at me below".

 Then it winks and gushes forth in an insolent riot of fiery colours before reluctantly bowing out. What a ham!

It is time for the city to take over, bright lights shining in the darkest of nights.

"On the other side of town, Anne sat on the cement bench of the highest terrace of her house. The lights of the bay positioned in a semi-circle along the beach sparkled like a diadem set with the multi-coloured neon lights of the hotels and cafés and the golden facades of the minarets pointing up toward the night sky. There was something soothing about that spectacle but also the hint of excitement, a whiff of danger and the promise of romance. She sat fascinated like a voyeur in the darkness of her aerie and wondered what dramas were unfolding in the city below." (Villa Victoria)

Photos: Sylvie Pellet, Joelle Desparmet, pinterest and as sourced