A busy & very happy day.
Out the door at 8.30 we first visited the Pink Palace. As with all the royal palaces in Morocco you can’t get access to the interior so we viewed the magnificent gates from the outside. I knocked & said it was Elizabeth calling but no one answered. The doors are incredibly beautiful & you can only imagine what it is like on the other side. Our guide for the day was Saed (can’t confirm if the spelling is correct) who explained that the maintenance of the palaces in Morocco is something approximating $25 million per year whereas the UK budget is less than $5 million, so for a poor country like Morocco you would expect that the citizens could at least get a glimpse into what they’re paying for!
The current King Muhammed is apparently loved in Morocco. That could be because the Constitution says he has to be! But he is making changes to adapt to current times. He has taken a commoner wife which was a break from tradition (& the current family have ruled since the 1600’s) and has made some constitutional changes including the legal system which is a blend of Western & Islamic. He is also doing a lot for women’s rights. Apparently this is quite a change from his father the late King who has been likened to the Shah of Iran.
From the palace we walked through what was once the Jewish Ghetto. You can see the European influence on the architecture with the presence of balconies on the exteriors of the buildings. Off the main thoroughfare ran small alleyways which I would have loved to have wandered down to see where they led.
Back onto the bus we were taken to an old castle where we could get a good view of the old city. Saed explained to us more about the history until we were invaded by a group of Chinese tourists. Apparently the Moroccan government has relaxed visa requirements for China and they have started visiting in their 100’s & I gather are not really appreciated as a lot of the local artisans have lost jobs and commerce due to the large manufacturing capacity of China. Not to mention the fact that they always seem to be so busy taking selfies you wonder how much of the culture they are actually taking in.
Next stop was a pottery. Morocco is well known for its beautiful & colourful ceramics & we were given a demonstration of how the pots are made including the construction of the mosaics and the glazing techniques.
Needless to say it was a lead up to a sales pitch & a shop at the end. We picked up some beautiful pieces for our entertaining table but I honestly didn’t even think of bargaining so probably paid top dollar.
It was then time to visit the Médina.. what I had been waiting for and it didn’t disappoint. Such an assault on the senses. Down past the vegetable stalls, the butchers displaying camel heads, the chickens which are bought alive, the fish mongers, the dates and the fruit. Then it was the sweets, turn a corner and it’s women’s wear, turn a corner and it’s homewares, turn a corner and it’s something else. The Médina is actually built on two sides of a river. Originally settled on one side by the immigrants who had fled the Spanish Inquisition and the other from immigrants from the Middle East. They built walls to protect themselves from each other but when the Arabs arrived they tore down the walls and united both sides into one city.
We passed the beautiful fountains which were once the only source of water for the inhabitants. Some have been turned off but some remain operational. The other communal utility in the Médina is the bakery. The residents mix their own dough then run it down to the bakery where it is put in the ovens to bake & is picked up later in the day. We were treated to a sample of some bread that Abdellah purchased for us.. it was delicious. The Moroccans really know how to bake bread – they give the French a run for their money.
Next stop were the tanneries which Rod & I had seen on “The Amazing Race” so were keen to see it for ourselves. On entering the building through which we wandered to reach the viewing terrace, we were offered a sprig of mint so I knew it was going to be bad. The mint is to be put under your nose! But despite the incredible stench it was fascinating. All the vats and the different coloured dyes, it was great to watch the men stomping, pulling, dragging, mixing. Of course Rod & I got roped in to buying jackets.. I got a crimson suede one & Rod a black leather one. Lenna also purchased a leather jacket so we will have to have a fashion show at some point! They really are quite beautiful & will be a lovely reminder of this trip even if it’s an extravagant one. I think the other reason is it is pretty chilly here at the moment & the jackets were really warm. I definitely underestimated how cold it would be .. I brought a couple of jumpers but really needed a jacket. So note for next time.
Time for lunch and we were taken to a women’s co-op out in the country. G Adventures which is the company we are on tour with, established a charity “Planterra” some years ago which contributes back to the communities in which they run their tours. The ladies had prepared some lovely dishes for us including some entrees of lentil soup, eggplant dip, tomatoes and onions followed by some chicken cooked in an onion sauce. This was all served on large platters in the middle of the table for us all to share.
What remained of the afternoon was spent back in the Médina. A calligraphy course was organised for us in a cafe that was located in a lovely restored riad . I think I finally mastered the “a” after much practice but I’d say none of us will be taking up the art any time soon. Norm might become a hippo artist though. The highlight was having the very passionate calligraphist prepare our names on lovely paper. We laughed as it became a contest of who had the most “dots” in their name. With a name like Elizabeth I had to win. Tony tried to cheat by saying Sara’s name was Cleopatra. A very funny hour was spent. We had a look at the terrace of the riad before we left & I would have loved to have spent more time up there with a couple of drinks.
We passed the oldest university in Morocco (Kairaouine Masque & University) and were able to get a glimpse inside a Zawiya Moulay Idriss II mosque into which only Muslims are allowed to enter. I just loved meandering the alleyways jumping out of the way of the mules (which are the only transport in the Médina) upon hearing the cry “balak” (meaning ‘look out’) , looking at the restored fondouq that once housed the horse & camel caravans that would visit the Médina with their trade & tasting the dates that Bill very kindly shared with us. Then to finish off when we came out we were entertained by some very amusing Moroccan men performing a take off of Bob Marley & Rod Stewart.
Abdellah stopped the bus on the way back to the hotel so some of us thirsty people could pick up some beer. We enjoyed this by the pool although it was freezing cold due to the wind so we ended up in the restaurant at the hotel & had a break from tagine & enjoyed salad & pizza!