Sunday, September 8, 2019

London & Paris 2019 - Day 7 (9/7/2019) - Return to NYC

There's really not much to say about today, so it probably shouldn't be a separate entry; but whatevs.  Our return flight to JFK didn't depart until 4:50pm, and our airport transfer was set for 1pm, so we had the chance to sleep in.  Breakfast at the hotel ended at 11am since it was a Saturday, so we took our time getting there a little after 10am.  After breakfast we relaxed in the room until the noon checkout time and then waited in the lobby for our ride.  The driver arrived about 30 minutes early (12:30pm) to take us to Charles de Gaulle airport.  He drove aggressively through the traffic (so much so that I was almost a little scared once or twice) and got us to the airport in somewhere around 40 minutes.

We had a bit of an annoying experience at the airport, as I didn't get a tax refund for the purse that I had bought my mom.  We tried to ask where to validate an turn in the tax form but a woman at the entrance to the immigration line incorrectly directed us to go through.  It wasn't until we we through customs and security that I looked up online what I should have done, and realized that it should have been done before going through; this was confirmed by a security person that we asked, though the previous 3 people that we asked before her were clueless.

In any case, we made it to our gate very early and had plenty of time to wait before boarding.  The flight was my first on an A380, and was (thankfully) unremarkable; perhaps aside from the fact that this was the first time in years that I was on a plane that still used the dual pronged headphones.  The fight arrived on time a little after 7pm, and the trip came to an end with an Uber trip back to my apartment.



Saturday, September 7, 2019

London & Paris 2019 - Day 6 (9/6/2019) - French palaces (Louvre & Versailles)

Today was a day of optional excursions to two former royal palaces in/around Paris.  The start time was virtually the same as the day before (actually 5 minutes later, at 8:50am), and so was our breakfast.  The plan was to connect the excursions to the Louvre museum and the palace in Versailles, with the coach not returning to the hotel until late afternoon.  Mom and I had opted for both excursions, so that was just fine with us.  I should point out, though, that the tour did make accommodations for guests who had opted for only one of the excursions.

The coach dropped us off in the parking lot beneath the Louvre and Doug handed us off to Anna for the day.  She took us through a short highlights tour of the museum (guiding us using the same ear-pieces that she had been using with us ever since arriving in Paris), with the longest stops at the three most famous pieces - Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory (aka Nike) of Samothrace.  These are the same 3 works that my only previous tour to the Louvre had breezed through 14 years prior; I still don't particularly understand what makes these 3 so famous.  After the museum tour we had about an hour of free time, which I used to go up to the ground level courtyard to take some pictures (but then also had to wait in the security line to re-enter).

The group reconvened a little after noon to board the coach for the drive to Versailles; I don't remember much of this drive, as I had a difficult time staying awake.  We were dropped off in the parking lot of the palace grounds, and then Anna led us into the palace for a quick guided tour.  After that she handed us our tickets to the palace gardens and left us to explore those on our own for about an hour.  It was during this time that my mom commented (in confirmation of what I had advised her a couple of days ago) that Versailles puts Buckingham Palace to shame.

We met the group back at the bus at 3:20pm for the drive back to the hotel.  The trip took a little over an hour, and Doug was waiting to meet us upon our return to relay information about the evening plans.  We assembled again at 6:15 to drive out for the tour farewell dinner.  This meal was at a restaurant close to the Louvre, and we were again given a 3 course meal with 3 options for each course.  I had onion soup (for the third time on the tour) as my starter, with a main of "wok vegetables" (the weakest course of the meal), and a tasty slice of apple tart for dessert.  Mom and I sat at a table with Dan and Merle (the same Houston couple we had dined with 2 nights prior) for the meal.  The ladies from Michigan were once again a rowdy table, even without an accordion player to spur them on.

After dinner we boarded the coach for the drive back to the hotel, where we said goodbye to (and exchanged contact info with some of) our fellow tour-goers.



London & Paris 2019 - Day 5 (9/5/2019) - Paris sightseeing

A good chunk of the itinerary today was planned sightseeing included with the tour.  The breakfast at the hotel was another buffet, with a spread that rivaled (or perhaps exceeded) that of the Park Plaza in London; my mom preferred this breakfast to that one.  The tour group meeting time was 8:45am, and we left a little later than that (there was a little confusion when Doug counted the guests after boarding the coach and found 2 missing).

The morning began with a driving around Paris, covering some of the same ground as the night before, but with with sunlight out.  A couple more differences were that Anna was doing the narration this time, and there was significantly more road traffic.  These factors all combined to make me struggle to stay awake during some of the drive, and I indeed partially drifted off at times.  The drive ended at the river side, where we boarded a boat for a 1 hour cruise on the Seine.  As in London, this was a good way to see the city, though perhaps slightly less so.  The tour started adjacent to the Eiffel Tower, headed east and around the City Island, and then returned to the dock of origin.

After the cruise we dropped Anna off on our way to Montmartre.  There we boarded the "Little Train" and took that up the hill to the parking lot of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica.  While this cheesy mode of transport is not something that I would normally consider, it was not a bad way to get the "experienced" demographic on the tour up the hill along narrow roads where the coach couldn't go.  Up at the top Doug told us a bit about the church and then led us on a short walk to the restaurant where we would have a light lunch (La Bonne Franquette).  I was stuck with onion soup as he veg-friendly choice, but my mom switched to the soup from the quiche lorraine after seeing the soup come out.  This soup didn't disappoint her, as it had a healthy serving of cheese on top, along with good broth and robust bread dipped in.  The chocolate crepe that followed, however, was not nearly as tasty.

After lunch we had about an hour of free time, as we passed on the optional walking tour with Doug.  We took this time to do a little souvenir shopping and check out the inside of he basilica.  We were early to meet up with the rest of the group before the designated 3:10pm time for a return ride down the hill on the "train".  From there we took the bus back to the hotel.

We didn't spend too much time at the hotel before deciding to head out to the flagship Louis Vuitton store on the Champs-Élysées.  On the short walk to the Saint-Sébastien - Froissart Metro station we encountered Keith and Tammy, a couple from Atlanta (and the only other two black people on the tour), and invited them along with us.  The four of us descended into the station and (with some help from a clerk on duty) bought a 10-pack of tickets (which was actually a little cheaper than buying 8 individual single-ride tickets.  We took the 8 train to Bastile and then transferred to the 1 to George V, coming up right across the street from the store.  After a brief wait in line (yes, the store normally has a line to enter), we entered the store, and then Mom and Tammy led us around.  In the end I bought my mom a purse.  Oh, and while you wait for them to prepare your purchased items they offer you a drink - Mom took Champagne and I took an orange juice.

After the LV store we all decided to get dinner, and found an Italian restaurant nearby named Caffe' Italiano.  I had a 3-course combo with a surprisingly basic "bruschetta" and a cheese pizza that they marketed as "margherita"; though that's not to say that the food was bad.  The chocolate cake dessert was the least basic of the 3 items, but it wasn't really any better; again, it wasn't bad food.  After dinner we reversed our subway route on the way back to the hotel.  I should give props to my mom for handling the stairs in the subway stations like a champ despite her knee giving her pain when she walked down them.



London & Paris 2019 - Day 4 (9/4/2019) - To Paris

We needed to have our luggage packed and ready for pick-up by 6:45am, at which time ours was promptly collected.  We then headed down to have breakfast before meeting for the 8:10am departure.  We were taken by coach to St. Pancras station where we caught the 10:24am Eurostar train to Paris Gare du Nord (North Station).  We had assigned seats for the 2.25 hour train ride, with the entire tour group in the same car.  The train ride was comfortable enough, though I couldn't quite get into a great sleeping position.  One neat treat (pun intended) was that Doug (the tour director) came around with a small package of chocolates for each guest.

Our arrival train station was a bit run down, and didn't give my mom the best first impression of Paris.  Outside the station the group boarded a new coach which would be our transportation for the rest of the tour - also with the same driver, Philippe, for the duration.  We drove through the Paris traffic into the city center, where we met a local guide for a walking tour of the City Island.  My mom wasn't particularly impressed by this tour (nor the guide, young Anna), and I wouldn't disagree.  It didn't help that Notre Dame is still inaccessible while in the early stages of being restored after the fire.

After the tour we boarded the coach to be taken to our hotel for the next 3 nights, Les Jardins du Marais.  Doug distributed packets with our room keys, and we were able to reunite with our luggage waiting for us in our room.  We decided to join the optional excursion that evening (which we hadn't pre-registered for, unlike the other excursions we took), dinner and an "illuminated drive" of Paris at night.

The excursion departed at 5:45pm, with dinner at a restaurant called Les Noces des Jeannette.  Dinner consisted of 3 courses - I selected the only vegetarian options of onion soup and the seasonal vegetable plate for my starter and main, and then meringue vacherin for dessert.  The soup was yet another disappointment for my mom, who was expecting significantly more cheese on top.  The vegetable plate was actually pretty solid, with about 6 different things on it - the best were the little  balls that I presume were some type of hushpuppy.  The meal also featured performances by an accordion player, which I could have done without.  One table of 5 women traveling together (plus the son of one of them) seemed to enjoy the accordion music, though a couple of them were buzzed enough off the included wine (plus wine donated from other tables) that they could have made a good time regardless of the surrounding.

After dinner we took off on the drive around the city.  We went by/through/over several of the most notable buildings, squares, and bridges, culminating with a stop at the Eiffel Tower for the 10pm flashing light show.  The only minor disappointment was that the Arc de Triomphe was for some reason not lit up.  But despite this, my mom got over her initial impressions and began to appreciate the city.  The traffic wasn't too bad that night, and we were able to get back to the hotel somewhere around 10:30pm.



Tuesday, September 3, 2019

London & Paris 2019 - Day 3 (9/3/2019) - Buckingham Palace

We didn't have any concrete plans this morning, so we had no reason to get up early.  Our only concern was making it downstairs in time for breakfast, which we did with plenty of time around 8:30am.  The spread was the same as the day before.  The only thing to note from the meal was that I tried Marmite and discovered that it's not for me at all (🤮).  After eating we headed up to the room to relax for a while.

While discussing what we wanted to do with ourselves, my mom decided that she wanted to go see the Bloomberg building.  I ordered an Uber and we were on our way around 11am.  At the building, we first got Mom a guest badge and then retraced my path from two days prior up to the pantry.  We hung out there for a while and then started down the spiral stair ramp.  Mom's hip began to bug her a couple of floors down, so we chose to go back up to the 6th floor and take the elevator down (instead of continuing down 4 more floors).  We went around the building to the London Mithraeum, a museum run by Bloomberg that showcases a restored Roman temple dedicated to the god Mithras that was found at the site of the building.  We were able to go on the noon viewing of the temple, which includes a dramatic audio-visual presentation and a few minutes to walk around and take pictures.  After that I ordered another Uber (which was a bit of an anxiety-inducing experience because the Bloomberg wifi didn't work out by the street) and we made it back to the hotel by 12:45pm.

We were signed up for the afternoon excursion to Buckingham Palace, and that departed by coach at 1:15pm.  This was a combined excursion, and most of the passengers were Globus clients from other tours who were staying at a couple of other hotels, in addition to 6 people from our tour and a couple of people from our hotel on another tour.  At the palace we first visited the Royal Mews, the horse stable and carriage house.  Most of the horses (all but two) were away on "holiday", but all the carriages were there for viewing.

After the Mews we got to the main attraction, an audio guided tour through the state rooms and royal apartments of the palace.  Unfortunately, though understandably, pictures were not allowed in the palace itself.  The opulent rooms are only available for public tours during July through September while the queen is away.  We finished the tour in the garden, where we paid a visit to the gift store and made a quick stop at the ice cream shop on the way out.  We were back on the bus in time for the 4:30pm departure back to the hotel (we were the second stop).

Back at the hotel we relaxed in the room for a couple of hours before heading out to dinner.  Our destination was the nearby Westminster Kitchen Grill House so that Mom could get some fish and chips, though on the way we paused briefly to watch some (anti-)Brexit protesters walking by the hotel onto Westminster Bridge.  After that encounter we continued on to the restaurant, where I had some quite bland penne in addition to the chips from my mom's order; thankfully Mom enjoyed both the fish and her creamy chicken soup starter.  From there it was back to the hotel for the night.



London & Paris 2019 - Day 2 (9/2/2019) - Tower of London

The tour package included a morning coach tour of the city this morning, with a departure time of 8:05am.  This meant an early wake-up in order to get (included) breakfast a the restaurant beforehand.  I had slept like a log the night before, but could have used a couple hours more.  We were down in restaurant (in body, at least) a bit after 7am, which is roughly the time I would normally be snoozing my weekday alarm for the first time.  The breakfast buffet had a pretty large selection (though only one Obi-approved vegetarian item - some hash brown wedges that were actually pretty good), and I was able to make do without issue.  After eating we made our way to the hotel entrance to meet the group.

The driving tour was led by a local guide named Robert, who would also be our guide for he optional excursion in the afternoon (though we had a different driver each trip out).  He narrated us through Westminster and City of London, with our first picture stop (~20 minutes) at the gates of Buckingham Palace.  We then drove around some more and made our way to St. Paul's Cathedral for a longer (30+ minutes) stop.  After that they took us to the London Eye, where the group split into two capsules (one with Robert and one with Doug - we were with Robert) for a "flight" around the ferris wheel, where we were served a glass of champagne (or water for the non-drinkers like me).  The morning tour ended there at around 11:30.

We had about 1.5 hours before we were to meet for our selected optional (i.e., additional cost) excursion to the Tower of London.  We walked along the south bank of the river to the Pret a Manger next to the Westminster Bridge, where I grabbed a small bite for lunch (Mom wasn't hungry).  We then continued the short walk back to the hotel so that we could grab a quick rest.

We were on our way out the door again at 1pm, with about 20 of the 36 on the tour choosing this excursion.  Another couple that we met was a husband and wife from Granite City, IL, just across the Mississippi River from my hometown of St. Louis, MO.  It turned out that the woman had also worked at Boeing (after a stint in the Air Force), having retired from there 3 years ago.  There was also a mother-daughter pair from Knoxville, TN, though (like me and my mom) the daughter was living in another state (South Carolina).

Anyway, Robert and the new driver took us to the Tower of London, where he showed us around for a bit before leaving us at the entrance to the Crown Jewels.  After walking through that exhibit, we had about an hour to explore by ourselves before meeting up with the group at 4pm back at the welcome center.  During this time we walk through the first floor of the armory in the White Tower, watched part of an acting performance, went down into the torture prison, and took a couple of breaks to relax.  But we also experienced what was the highlight of the day for my mom - a fortuitous meeting with one of only two women to ever have been members of the Beefeaters (the ceremonial guard of the Tower of London; officially, the Yeomen Warders).

We met back up with the rest of the group on time, and we were driven back to the hotel.  We took a couple of hours to rest (with Ma taking a nap), and then headed out for dinner.  We ate at an Italian restaurant nearby called La Cucina Di Mamma.  Although the garlic bread was weird and not very good (it was basically a pizza crust cooked with garlic), the veggie lasagna was quite tasty.  After dinner we walked back to the hotel and called it a night.



London & Paris 2019 - Day 1 (9/1/2019) - To London

The trip actually began the night of August 31, a Saturday.  After spending the day sightseeing in New York (and a brief visit from my friend Eric), my mom and I took an overnight flight from JFK to Heathrow.  The flight pushed back right on time at 11pm, but ended up arriving somewhere between 45 and 60 minutes early.  After a hassle-free immigration checkpoint, we grabbed our luggage and found a Globus representative that was waiting in the arrival hall.  Because our flight was so early (our plane was due to arrive just after 11am, so they weren't expecting us until closer to noon), we had to wait until noon for the driver to return to the airport.  When they were ready, the lady walked us out to the parking garage to meet the driver.

The van held up to 9 total people (driver + 8 passengers), and the group used every single seat.  There were already 3 passengers in the van when he pulled up, and we added 5 more.  It turned out that we were going to 3 different hotels for 3 different tours, though.  The driver turned out to be quite knowledgeable about London and its history in his own right, and point out many things to us along the way (though I'm not completely sure that he knew everything that he claimed to).  He was also a very friendly guy, and moved very well for a man of 75 years.

Our hotel, the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, was the last of the 3 stops.  The driver took us (and a couple from Houston) to the Globus desk, where he dropped off our luggage and the staff took us to meet our tour director, Doug.  We huddled around while Doug gave us an introductory logistical briefing, and then we went up to the lobby to check into the hotel.

After getting into the room and having our luggage delivered, we still had almost 3 hours until we were due to meet the group at 5:45pm for dinner.  We were tired from not really having slept much over the shortened night on the plane (I almost dozed off at one point on the van ride), so Ma lay down to try for a nap.  I figured that I would have a better chance of adjusting to the European sleep schedule if I held out until night, so I took the opportunity to go find the Bloomberg European headquarters building.

I walked across Westminster bridge and caught the Circle Underground line heading east at Westminster station.  I took the subway 4 stops to Mansion House, which was a short walk from the Bloomberg building.  I had a quick look around the outside before heading in to explore.  The security guard at the front could tell that I was lost, so he (and another colleague at the turnstile) pointed me in the right direction.  I took the elevator up to the 6th floor pantry, had a bit of a look about that and the 7th floor, chatted a bit with another security guard (Henry), and then slowly made down the central spiral ramp/staircase - while also having a wander about a couple of floors, of course.  I then reversed my route back to the hotel, this time taking the District line along the same subway route of 4 stops.

I made it back to the hotel room a little after 5, with plenty of time to spare before the dinner meetup time.  When the time came, Ma and I headed down to the ground floor to meet up with the rest of the group - 36 people total.  Doug gathered us all and took us onto the coach parked on the driveway, from there the driver took us over to a restaurant in the City of London called Factory House (with Doug providing narration along the route).  Dinner at the restaurant was 3 courses, with 2 or 3 choices for each course.  I had the soup of the day, an aubergine/eggplant main dish (thankfully they had a vegetarian option), and apple crumble for desert - overall it was pretty solid.  We sat at a table with the couple from Houston, Dan and Merle.

After dinner we all got back on the coach for a transfer to the river boat for a cruise along the Thames.  We were joined by three other Globus tour groups.  It had grown cold by this time (maybe 60 degrees F), though Doug had warned us to bring an extra layer during the intro briefing.  I slightly regretted not changing from the t-shirt I had worn all night/day into some long sleeves, to go along with the track jacked that I had brought on the trip as my only extra layer.  Mom was a fan of the cool weather, though, and eagerly took the seat at the front of the outside top deck.  I stayed up top with her briefly before seeking refuge inside while we waited for all of the other tour groups to arrive.  I did rejoin her once the boat got going, but didn't quite last the full tour up there.  The tour began at a pier on the north bank between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges.  We first headed westward until just before Lambeth Bridge.  The boat then turned around and headed the other way until just past Tower Bridge, before returning to the pier.  Of course there was a guide narrating throughout.  It turned out to be a more interesting way to see the city than I expected.

After the boat ride we got on the coach and headed back to the hotel, making it there just after 10pm.  We were quite sleep deprived by then, so we both had no trouble falling asleep.



Sunday, July 21, 2019

Morocco 2019 - Day 8 (7/21/2019) - Back to NYC

Nothing of touristic significance happened today, as the only task at hand was getting back to NYC.  We awoke to our alarm at 2am, planning to be on the road by 2:30 - our Royal Air Maroc flight from Tangier to Casablanca left at 5:15am.  We missed this target by a few minutes, but mainly because there was nobody at reception when we went to check out.  Fran tried ringing the bell and calling room service while I went to retrieve the car from the garage.  The clerk eventually showed up, and we were able to get on our way.

We made a quick stop while still in town to top off the fuel tank, and then continued on to the Tangiers airport, only a bit over a 20 minute drive without the stop.  We had more confusion getting into the airport parking lot, and then even more trying to figure out where to drop off the car.  We drove over to a parking attendant to ask for help, and despite the language barrier he was able to understand that we were dropping off a Sixt car.  I pulled the car into a (seemingly arbitrary) spot in the middle of the parking lot that he directed, then we retrieved all our luggage and headed into the terminal.  It was barely 3:15am by now, and none of the stalls (including the Sixt one) were open.  We again asked for help from a security guard (or maybe a policeman?), and he indicated that it would probably be OK just to toss the car key through a cutout in the window into the stall; which I did.  At the time of writing (later in the same day), I have not actually received confirmation from the company that they have received the car...though I did email them to ask.

In addition to shops and stalls not being open, the airline check-in desks were also not yet open; we waited perhaps 20 minutes before we were able to check in, and then about 5 more before we could enter the boarding gate area.  I was surprised to see that the Tangier airport only had 3 departure gates, as the city seemed big enough to me to warrant an airport closer to the scale of that in Casablanca - shows how little I know (turns out Tangier has about 1 million people, compared to Casablanca's 3.4).

In any case, the rest of the journey home wasn't very eventful.  The ~1 hour flight to Casablanca was on schedule, and we both dozed for a good chunk of it.  We had no trouble making our connection in the 65 minute layover before the flight to JFK.



Morocco 2019 - Day 7 (7/20/2019) - Tangier

We couldn't sleep in too much this morning because we were to be picked up for a driving tour at 10am.  Breakfast at the Grand Hôtel Villa de France was different from the previous two hotels in that it was a breakfast buffet, as opposed to a spread brought out to your table.  The buffet had some similar options as the other breakfasts (bread, yogurt, fruits, eggs), as well as some others (more cheeses, cereal, and some meat options that I didn't even consider).  After eating we walked down to the hotel driveway (5 minutes early), and our driver was already there waiting for us in a white SUV.

We initially didn't realize that the driver was just the driver, and not the tour guide, until he stopped a couple of kilometers away to pick up the guide, Mohamed.  They first took us back through central Tangier, with a brief stop at the Grande Mosquée de Tanger.  We then headed westward through the wealthy neighborhood nicknamed California (after the hippies and famous people that took homes there in the 1960s and 1970s), and then onward into the Réserve du Cap Spartel.  All the while the guide explained the things we were seeing and gave us a few nuggets of Moroccan history and culture (one interesting fact - the plentiful flags that we saw all around the city indicated that the king might be in the area); he also answered all the questions we peppered him with.

We stopped for about 15 minutes to take in a view from a high point in the nature reserve (and so that Mohamed could grab a quick breakfast - he was sleep deprived due to his one-month-old), but unfortunately could not see across to Spain due to the fog and haze over the Strait of Gibraltar.  Our next stop was the Phare Cap Spartel (Caper Spartel Lighthouse), and then we continued on to the Hercules Caves.  We spent about 25 minutes at the caves, which were bigger than Fran and I expected.  We also appreciated the recent (within the last few years) renovations that they had made to the area to clean it up and make it more accessible to tourists.  After the caves we had them drop us off back at the hotel, where we thanked, tipped, and bid them farewell (at least temporarily...).  By then it was around 12:15, so the tour lasted a little over the scheduled 2 hours.  I will remark that it's is probably pretty reasonable (in terms of driving, parking, and other logistics) to drive and see those two sights without a guide, but it was nice to have someone explain things to us that we wouldn't have known or learned otherwise; plus my shoulder appreciated not having to drive.

We spent barely enough time at the hotel to grab a snack before heading back out again.  We first stopped at St. Andrew's Church, where the kind caretaker showed us around.  Although the church is an Anglican church, it has influences from other religions, including Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism; and despite its small size it had a rich history tracing through the two world wars.  Also, the new pastor of the Church was a Nigerian.  We next walked up along the western edge of the medina and to the Kasbah Museum, with a stop along the way for a bottle of water and a delicious cup of fresh mango-orange juice.  We walked through the museum for perhaps half an hour before continuing on into the medina and wandering around aimlessly for a while.  Fran finally found a stand selling some fresh Moroccan honey, of which she bought a jar (after sampling three).  Another noteworthy event was a turn into a meat market and then a fish market; while it was interesting to see, we didn't waste any time getting out of there for fear of slipping and falling on the wet floor into some fish guts.

By about 2:30 or 3pm, we were starting to get over the medina, so we decided to walk over to the Tanja Marina Bay walkway.  We leisurely strolled down the walkway, first admiring some men (and a boy) showing off their gymnastic abilities on the beach, and later getting some ice cream (easily the best we had in Morocco, in Fran's opinion) at a cafe called Venezia Ice.  From there we made our way back toward the western side of the medina and found the small Syrian cafe/restaurant (Abou Tayssir) to have dinner.  Side note - during the walk we ran into our morning guide Mohamed with a group of clients, and briefly interrupted to say hello.  The owner of the restaurant welcomed us and offered us a full vegetarian spread including pita, hummus, baba ghanouj, a couple other spreads I don't know, tabouleh, heart-shaped felafels, and stuffed grape leaves; he also conversed with us briefly.  The food was delicious, but we didn't have enough room to finish it all.  We thanked the cook with a generous tip, and then walked back to the hotel, stopping again for one last bottle of water.

We were back at the hotel before 7pm.  Fran had a swim before we wound down and called it an early night, anticipating a 2am rise to begin the journey home.



Morocco 2019 - Day 6 (7/16/2019) - To Tangier

The morning started with Fran going for a swim at 10am (first opening time of the pool) while I slowly got myself out of bed.  After she returned and showered, we headed down for breakfast (which was the same as the day before) at 11am.  After eating and finishing packing up, we left the hotel a little before noon.

We walked to the square where our car was parked, finding it without much trouble.  I pulled it out of the tight spot, we tipped the attendant, and then we were on our way.  We stopped at the first gas station that we saw along the road (before making it out of town) in order to top up the tires with air.  I also snapped a picture of the warning on the dashboard to send to the car rental company when we arrived in Tangier.  Fortunately, the drive to our hotel in Tangier (Grand Hôtel Villa de France) was otherwise fairly uneventful, and not long enough to bother my shoulder too much (I'm sure the two Aleve I took after breakfast also helped).  The first half or so was on windy roads through the Rif mountains, and the second was on flatter straighter roads with higher speed limits (up to 100 kmph).  We arrived at the hotel a little before 3pm.

After settling in the room for a bit (and partaking of some snacks), we devised a plan to walk out to Colline du Charf (Charf Hill), a hill to the southeast that supposedly provided a panoramic view of the city and the bay.  The walk took a little under an hour, with much of it going downhill before the climb up the hill.  I worked up a bit of a sweat going up the hill, but it wasn't too bad despite being the warmest part of the day - it was maybe in the low or mid 80s (°F).  There was also a breeze (well, maybe a wind) at the top that helped me cool off.  Unfortunately, though, the hilltop was disappointing.  The view toward the bay was partially blocked by trees and buildings, the area was generally pretty trashed, and the vegetation was dry and unappealing.  We were also surprised (though not in a particularly positive nor negative way) to see that one side of the hill was the top part of a fairly large cemetery.

We decided to take a different route back to the hotel, heading north toward the beach, and then walking along the walkway beside it.  We also couldn't resist going out the beach itself (which was as polluted as the guidebook warned) and sticking our feet into the cold water (my first time touching the ocean (well, bay) in Africa).  By this time we had grown quite hungry.  We passed many restaurants on the remainder of the walk back to the hotel, but none appealed to Fran.  Back at the hotel, we asked the two receptionists for some restaurant recommendations and then walked back out in the direction of the medina (where the three that they mentioned were located).

By this time, though, Fran had stopped being picky about restaurants and was desperate for some food.  We had a brief moment of excitement when we came across a Syrian restaurant along one of the boundary streets of the medina - it advertised vegetarian/vegan options including falafel (which we had just been discussing a craving for).  However, one of the workers informed us that the restaurant had actually been closed for over half an hour (it was after 6:30pm at the time).  Sensing our desire for vegetarian food, he eagerly towed us just inside the medina to another restaurant with common ownership that he said could provide us vegetarian options.  Sadly, though, this was just another Moroccan restaurant with vegetable tagine and vegetable couscous.  He handed us off to the proprietor, telling him that we were vegetarians, and the proprietor put in an order for soup, tagine, and couscous to the kitchen (i.e., without asking us).  We simply followed along the whole time, partially because the first man was being so kind to us, and partially because we were so hungry.  We tore into the bread, dips, and soup (though I didn't finish the soup because it was pretty bland) when they were brought out, and then did the same with the tagine.  We were both full after the tagine, and hoped that they weren't really going to bring out couscous next.  We tried to indicate this to the worker, but he insisted that it would only be a small portion and that it would be a "different flavor".  We did our best with the couscous when he brought them out, but we each could only take a few forkfuls more.  When we asked for he bill, we were both surprised to find out that the meal (including a large bottle of water) was significantly more expensive than we expected at 240 Dirham.  While that is actually a pretty cheap dinner for two for NYC residents, the mildly annoying part about it was that we would not have ordered that much food if given the choice.  Oh well...our hunger was a least satisfied.  After dinner we stopped at a couple of pastry shops to sample some cookies and ice cream on the walk back to the hotel.



Morocco 2019 - Day 5 (7/18/2019) - Chefchaouen

Surprise, surprise - we started late again this morning, not getting down to the hotel lobby for breakfast until 11am.  The spread at the Lina Ryad was similar to the one at the Riad Arabesque - breads and pastries, yogurt, a mixed fruit cup, goat cheese; we declined the eggs once again.  After eating Fran used the hotel phone to make a call to the Sixt car rental Moroccan office to inform them about the persistent tire pressure warning; there really wasn't much that could be done about it anytime soon, but they asked us to send them a picture of the issue.  She also called a tour company to confirm/arrange our pickup for a tour in Tangier.  We (read: Fran) then gathered our (read: her) daypack and we headed out on foot around noon.

Fran was our guide for essentially the whole day - she had picked out most of the things that we wanted to see, and she was much better at navigating the medina by the landmarks (my only  contribution was an occasional glance at our GPS location on my phone if needed).  Our first destination was eastward along the main alley that passed in front of the hotel to Ras El Ma, a watering hole of sorts.  Unfortunately, the stream there was at its seasonal low - i.e., barely flowing.  But there were still plenty of vendors and tourists gathered about.

This point was also the start of a "tourist" hiking trail (which we later found out looped for 30km) which led up to the Spanish Mosque (Mosquée Bouzâafar).  We made our way up to the mosque at a leisurely pace; I was trying to avoid sweating too much, and Fran considerately resisted her urge to go bounding up the trail.  It also helped that there was a cool breeze along most of the route that made the beating sun more bearable.  The trail also provided some nice overlooking viewpoints of the city, including on the grounds of the mosque.  After admiring the view for a while, we continued along the trail for perhaps a half kilometer more so that Fran could investigate whether the trail soon began to loop back around (we didn't yet know that it was 30km long).  After I refused to go further, we turned back toward the mosque and then the stream.  One interesting tidbit about the area around the mosque is that the vegetation has a quite fragrant aroma; I don't quite know how to describe it, but I imagine that it wouldn't be weird for a massage parlor to smell like it.

After returning to the bottom and checking out the disappointing stream, we headed for the center of town.  We got turned around a bit, but eventually found the main square (Square Outa El Hamam), and the Kasbah fortress/monument and museum.  We each paid the 60 Dirham (for foreigners) entrance fee and then explored the gardens inside as well as the main tower, which had 4 flights of stairs going up to the top.  We took a snack break in the cool shaded room at the top, with Fran offering to snap pictures a for a couple of families that came up there.  We then made a stop in the bathroom before heading back out to the square.  From there we wandered vaguely in the direction of the hotel, but with exploration being our secondary purpose.  We eventually found the hotel, but continued up the alley to find an ice cream stand that we had passed earlier in the day.  After purchasing a couple of scoops each, we enjoyed our treat on the walk back to the hotel.  I should also mention that we ran into (and briefly conversed with) another American couple four times (on the trail, in the square, in the Kasbah, and walking by our hotel) over the course of the day.

We were back at the hotel around 4:45pm.  Fran inquired about the private pool and reserved it from 5-6pm when we found that nobody had claimed that time slot.  She went for a swim (and water workout) for the better part of that hour while I relaxed in the room.  After she returned and took a shower, we headed back to the main square to find some dinner.  The restaurants there all seemed to have similar menus, and each had a greeter trying to lure you in or at least look at the menu.  We settled on one that was in the middle next to the (non-functioning) fountain, and eventually decided on a seat at the front that allowed for the best people-watching.  As I was unimpressed by my experience of vegetarian Moroccan fare thus far, I ordered a "margarita" pizza (which somehow came with sliced black olives), while Fran had a vegetarian soup and a vegetable tagine.  The pizza actually turned out decent (especially compared to the last time that I had pizza abroad in Iceland), and Fran enjoyed her meal.

After dinner we went wandering once again, this time to the southern parts of the medina, and a bit outside the wall.  In our exploration we also came across a bustling evening market, which was interesting to see as it was clearly meant for the locals and not for tourists.  As the sky turned darker and the street lights came on, we enjoyed the cool night air while meandering our way back up to the hotel.

A few bonus observations about our day in Chefchaouen...  The shades of blue all over the city are a beautiful sight to behold.  The streets and alleys of the medina much cleaner than they were in Fes, and also much easier to navigate.  A couple of times during the day street vendors mistook me (or at least claimed to have mistaken me) for a native Moroccan (perhaps the darker peoples in the south?); they greeted me with the Muslim/Arabic "as-salāmu ʿalaykum" and I replied with my best (but not very good) "wa ʿalaykumu s-salām".  On the other hand, I'm not sure if my being black was the cause of the numerous men throughout the day whispering offers of the best hashish and marijuana.



Morocco 2019 - Day 4 (7/17/2019) - To Chefchauoen

Breakfast this morning was mostly the same as the day before, but with the welcome addition of cubed watermelon.  I fought my appetite once again, and was able to stomach a little more than the previous day.  After breakfast we gathered our things from the room and checked out.  Because of my shoulder and aggravation from driving (and also because Fran is not experienced enough to drive in these conditions) the plan was to head directly to Chefchaouen instead of attempting to first check out one of the parks somewhat in the vicinity.  We hit the road somewhere between 11:15 and 11:30am.

The drive turned out to be quite tense overall, and the anxiety started pretty early.  We were barely out out of Fes when the tire pressure warning came back on the dashboard.  To add to that, the road that we were on went through a rural area with no sign of a service station anywhere nearby.  We pressed on for what felt like at least an hour before we came across a gas station.  The fuel tank was half full, so we had it filled up with diesel, and then asked the serviceman to help us with the tires.  Although he didn't really speak any English we were able to communicate to him to pump up all the tires.  Unfortunately, though, this didn't turn off the tire pressure warning.  To make matters worse, Fran was unsuccessful in her attempt to find clean water and a bathroom from the "cafe" next to the gas station (picture a shack next to an old gas station, with no other buildings in sight); they told her that there was not a bathroom, and the water that they did sell her was in obviously refilled bottles.  As we were getting ready to pull out, a driver from another car that was pulling out asked if we were doing OK and whether we were headed to Chefchaouen (where he was just coming from); then he told us to take it easy as the road to get there was not good.

We found out what he was talking about within a couple of minutes of pulling out of the station onto the next section of road.  The pavement was eroded on both sides of the road so that the paved portion was the width of only about a car and a half - forcing impromptu games of chicken when cars approached from the opposite direction.  On top of that, there were potholes everywhere.  These road conditions continued for probably another hour or so.  Somewhere in there, we pulled over so that Fran could go relieve her bladder behind some bushes.  We also came across a group of 3 kids (likely less than 10 years old) who blocked the road to force us to stop and then banged on the car trying to get us to roll down the windows and buy some of the prickly pears that they were selling.  I was also surprised by the variety of things that we passed along the way: people walking alongside the road, kids playing along and on the road, tractors, donkeys dragging carts, roadside vendors, ...

We eventually made it to N13, a more traveled and better maintained road.  This doesn't mean that it didn't have its issues, though - it had some potholes, a few eroded patches, and a couple of detours where major work was being done.  It was on this road that I had a heart-racing encounter with the Moroccan police.  They had set up one of their speed traps where the road goes over and down a hill while the speed limit decreases to 60 kmph (the speed limit signs mainly alternated between 80 and 60, depending on whether the area was populated, though the placement of the signs was often confusingly very close together).  They had clocked me going down the hill at 71 kmph, and waved the car to the side as we pulled up.  One officer asked for he car registration information, my passport, and my drivers license, and then explained to me why they pulled me over.  He then asked me to step out of the car, and the other officer showed me the picture of the car's licence plate on the speed gun.  I remained calm, complied with all their instructions, and weakly tried to explain why it wasn't unreasonable for me to be going that fast down the hill.  I asked them what the fine was, and the first officer said 300 Dirham.  Fran, who had been observing quietly, fished out that amount and handed it to them.  The officer then asked me to follow him over to their police van.  There he began a bit of small talk, asking me if I was originally American (I told him Nigerian).  Then in a surprising change of temperament, he handed me back 100 Dirham (vaguely implying that he was doing something nice for Fran and me) and my documents; of course without recording any of this in any documentation.  Thrilled to no longer be detained, we hopped back in the car and drove off.

The next excitement came when we approached an intersection a few minutes later and a man on the side of the road motioned to us something about the car.  We didn't understand what he was signaling, and I feared that he had observed a flat tire (the tire pressure light was still on).  I pulled over at the next opportunity and we got out to look at the tires, which looked fine to us.  Fran then realized that the hood of the car was popped - from when I had been looking for the gas tank release at the gas station.  Relieved that the latch had prevented the hood from coming up any further, and slightly miffed that the police officers had not said anything to us about it, we properly secured the hood and continued on.

The rest of the trip was thankfully much less exciting, though my shoulder very much disagreed with another long drive (despite the Aleve that I had taken beforehand).  We did find a place to stop and buy properly sealed bottles of water.  We entered Chefchaouen sometime around 4pm (a quick aside: along the roadsides in town there are lots of young men jingling keys as an offer of lodging to tourists), and attempted to follow the directions to our hotel, Lina Ryad & Spa.  Unfortunately, though, Google Maps failed us in this regard, as it led us up and around the city to some non-existent roads.  The hotel was actually not too far from the city walls on the north side (like other medinas, this was not accessible by car), so we parked as close as we could figure out and then tried to find the hotel on foot with our luggage.  We eventually did find it after a few twists and turns, and with a bit of help from a couple of people who could tell that we were lost.  I was a bit of a sweaty mess while the hotel clerk checked us in and offered us some cookies and juice to welcome us.  She then showed us up to our room on the third floor.

After the porter brought our luggage up to the room, we went down to the front desk and asked for someone to show us to a better place to park the car (as we had previously discussed with her).  We then ventured out with the porter to find our car, with Fran leading the way as she powered up the steps while the two men panted and sweated behind her.  Though the communication between us and him was sketchy, he and Fran figured out the way and we found the car.  He then directed me as I drove back into the town center and up a different route to find a parking lot that was closer to the hotel.  The lot that he took us to looked to be full, but the attendants pulled out a car so that we could park.  However, I could not perform the maneuvers required to get the car into the spot, so one of them took over and masterfully squeezed the car into the spot.  We then walked back to the hotel with the porter, giving him 20 Dirham for his troubles.

After a brief respite at the hotel, including checking out the great view from the rooftop terrace, we wandered out to find dinner at a restaurant that Fran had read about called Bab Ssour.  We were worried that the vegetarian options would again be limited, but a greeter at the front assured us that they would be plentiful (Fran told him that we didn't want couscous and vegetable tagine yet again).  Relatively speaking, he wasn't lying, as there were a couple of small sections with veggie options on the menu.  We settled on a platter of 5 styles of stewed vegetables, some stewed lentils, and spaghetti with vegetable sauce; we also ordered blackberry and pineapple juice to drink, along with water.  Fran really liked he stewed vegetables and lentils, which we ate with some bread that they brought out.  I was a little less taken with the meal, but was happy to be eating something different.  The prices were also very reasonable, with the whole thing costing 120 Dirham (about $12).  As we departed, the greeter asked us about the meal, joking that we didn't have vegetable tagine.

Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped at a bakery stall to buy a variety of cookies that we had seen (and smelled) on the way to dinner.  After that we took a leisurely route back to the hotel, where we headed up to the terrace to enjoy the view as the sun was setting.  It actually became a little chilly up there just after sunset, so we retired to the room.



Morocco 2019 - Day 3 (7/16/2019) - Fes

We continued the trend of getting a late start, not making it down for breakfast on the hotel balcony until 10:45am.  My shoulder was even more uncomfortable going to bed the night before, and I relented to Fran's suggestion of taking a couple of the Aleve pills that she had brought.  This helped greatly, as I was able to get several hours of uninterrupted sleep; and much of the inflammation was gone for the better part of the next day.

The breakfast spread that they brought to us was large, with several types of breads and pastries, yogurt, mini cheeses, eggs, and orange juice.  Unfortunately, though, the lack of appetite that I had experienced at breakfast the past couple of days continued; I was only able to stomach a yogurt, a small slice of pound cake, and some juice.  For some reason my mouth was just too dry to eat more bread - I'm not sure if it was due to lack of hydration, anxiety about getting sick from the fruit (it didn't help that the prickly pear that the hotel butler had bought us off the street the day before was the likely cause of mild diarrhea for both of us), the hot climate, or anxiety about my shoulder.  In any case, my lack of appetite thankfully this didn't stop Fran from digging in.

After eating and drawing up a rough plan for the day, we walked out to try to find our "friend" Mohamed (the student who had offered to show us around the day before) at his regular hangout by a nearby water fountain.  But we first came across another young man, who turned out to be a friend of Mohamed's (his name was Reda, if I remember correctly), who offered to take us around.  The two of them tag-teamed to be our unofficial guides for the next almost 3 hours.

The medina in Fes is a maze of narrow streets and alleys, some lined with shops or workshops, others with markets, and many just living and community quarters for the people of the city.  The advice that Fran had read and received was to get a guide to explore the medina.  As is to be expected, these guides also have agendas beyond showing your around.  Mohammed and Reda took us to several shops where they had connections, I'm sure in return for some sort of kickback of any purchases made.  Luckily, a couple of them (a carpet maker and a ceramic shop) were places where Fran wanted to buy items for herself or others anyway.  They also took us to a tannery, which was interesting to see (with the vats for removing hair/fat, and for dying the leathers), and a high-end Moroccan antique shop (much less interesting).  Non-shopping stops included a view from near the top of the highest hill in the medina (which was unfortunately also a trash dump), and a terrace overlooking the emerald green shingles of Karaouiyne Mosque and University (though it annoyingly took a bit of prodding to get the view of the mosque; perhaps because people generally charge to get the view from their terrace, so Reda had to pay for it (or so he claimed)).  By the end of the couple of hours wandering through the crowds, the alleys, the markets, the donkey dung, and everything else, I had worked up quite a sweat; though it was not nearly as bad as it could be given the temperature in the low 90s, as most of the alleys of the medina are in the shade.  It was also interesting to deal with the fact that our two guides were operating in the black market; at times (especially in the highly trafficked areas), they would have to simply point us the the direction to go and then either walk far ahead of or behind us so that they would not be stopped by police for not having a guide license.  We ended the tour back at the pathway to the hotel, with us paying them each 200 Dirham, plus 100 more for the terrace (there was poor price discovery and negotiating on our part, so we likely overpaid significantly; but, first world problems...).

We took a little less than an hour to cool down, rest, and have some snacks in the room; this was mostly for my benefit, as Fran could have kept on going all day.  We then decided to drive to check out Fes el-Jedid - a newer part of Fes (it translates to New Fes, but it's more an extension of Fes el-Bali, as there is a real new part of the city outside both of those areas.  Like Fes el-Bali, cars are not allowed into most of the newer medina, so we found a parking spot near the wall at Bab Makina.  We then walked down into the main street (Grande Rue de Fes El Jdid) intending to do some exploring on our own.  When a man sensed that we were lost, he initially gave us some general directions, and then began leading us through a tour of the Jewish quarter.  We followed for quite a while, as he was being friendly and we didn't want to be rude, but we (especially Fran) eventually lost our patience.  When Fran forced him to take us back out to one of the main roads, we told him that we were going to find our own way and refused to pay when we he asked (partially from annoyance/frustration, and partially because we didn't have any small bills).  From there we walked to the main gate of the royal palace (the gate is all you get to see, as the public is not allowed inside or on any of the rest of the grounds), and then doubled back to the main street in search of a restaurant for dinner.  We wandered around a bit but our search was unsuccessful, so we headed back to the car.

Our plan was to find a restaurant near the parking lot at our entrance to the old medina, but during the drive back the tire pressure warning came back on in the car.  After a brief pull over we decided to continue down the road to find a gas station.  We passed a couple of small mechanic shops, and decided to double back to the first one.  There, Fran asked for a top-up of our tires, a task that was performed by a young boy (perhaps 10?) who was covered in grease from performing this and similar jobs at the shop.  When we asked how much we owed, one of the men replied (in French) that we should give however much we desired, so we have them a 20 Dirham bill, thanked them, and were on our way.

We decided to head back to the hotel to inquire there about nearby restaurants.  Even the short drive back was eventful, as I had some minor difficulty getting the car up the steep gravel road to the gate of the hotel driveway.  Back at the hotel the hostess inquired about restaurants for us, and then eventually sent us out with a butler to a place that would be open.  The restaurant was not very close to the hotel, and during the walk I completely lost track of the way to get there (Fran was paying better attention, but also couldn't remember all of it).  At the restaurant (in which we were the only patrons, though we were perhaps early since it was barely 6pm), we found that their vegetarian menu consisted of essentially the same things that we had eaten the last 2 nights - couscous and vegetable tagine.  We communicated to the waitress that we were looking for other vegetarian options, and she told us that they could make some rice in traditional Moroccan sauce with grilled vegetables.  When the food eventually came out, we found the vegetables to instead be boiled, and (worse) I bit into a couple of small bones (we're guessing lamb based on the taste of the sauce to Fran) before I could even finish a small plate of the rice.  At this point we decided to stop and ask for the check.  The waitress was apologetic when Fran explained to her what had happened and brought us over some sliced watermelon as an offering on the house.  We politely refused, paid 200 Dirham of the 260 Dirham bill, and left.

We then decided to be adventurous and find our own way back to the hotel.  Fran boldly took charge and led us back safely with only one brief wrong turn (and despite a man trying to convince us that our way was blocked so that he could extract money from us as a guide).  Back at the hotel we showered and then headed down to the balcony to inquire if they had any desserts for me.  Not finding any offerings suitable, Fran retrieved her snacks for me to nibble on while we enjoyed the cool night breeze.  Fran also noticed that the moon was only partially lit despite being a full moon the night before.  A quick Google search revealed that there was a partial lunar eclipse, so we enjoyed the view for a bit just as the last call to prayer came on, before heading up to the room.



Morocco 2019 - Day 2 (7/15/2019) - To Fes, via Rabat

We got a bit of a late start this morning, not checking out of the hotel until after 11am.  For breakfast we nibbled on some treats that Fran had picked up from the same bakery as yesterday, while also planning our route to Fes using the WiFi that was still only available on the first floor.  We hit the road a little after noon, with somewhere around 4 hours planned of driving ahead of us; we wanted to stop in Rabat on the way to check out a site or two, and perhaps also in Meknes depending on how we were feeling.

Driving through Casablanca during midday on a Monday was a bit more challenging than in the middle of the night, but we made it out of town OK.  It doesn't help matters that most of the lane markers in the city are almost completely faded, but I still wonder how much it would help if they were visible.  Once we made it out of the city and onto the highway, though, the driving was much less stressful.  It didn't take much more than an hour to make it to Rabat.

Once in Rabat we headed toward the Nouzhat Hassan Garden (though it was called something else in our book), hoping to park along Avenue Hassan II like the book suggested; but that seemed impossible once we got there.  We turned down a side street and looked around for a while until we found what looked like a decent spot on the side of the street; so we parked and got out, planning to walk to Hassan Tower.  As we crossed the street, a helpful man warned us in French that we risked having our car booted.  We didn't fully understand how/why, but we went back to the car.  We tried asking another man who was loitering around, and he called over yet another man (who wore a vest indicating some sort of authority) who explained (from what we could gather) that the area was reserved for taxis.  This was more than enough to convince us to not park there.

We drover back to Avenue Hassan II and headed east toward Hassan Tower, but missed our turn.  For a second we almost gave up and continued on toward Fes (since we were on the route that headed there), but decided to double back and try to find our way to the tower.  Fran was able to navigate us there, and we found a spot to park at an intersection nearby in the middle of what looked like a medical campus (though we later found that there was a parking lot at the site that would have been easier, and likely wouldn't have required paying a parking "attendant").  It still was not very long of a walk to the site.

Hassan Tower is the most prominent remnant (along with some columns and parts of the wall) of a mosque that was abandoned around 1200 ACE when the architect died.  Next to this is the Mausoleum of Mohamed V, a beautiful building that also houses the tombs of his two sons (one being Hassan II).   After walking through the grounds and the mausoleum, we were pleasantly surprised to find public bathrooms outside by the entrance.  We made a pit stop, and then sat on a shaded bench to partake of some snacks that Fran had brought along.

We walked back to the car (stopping to stock up on another bottle of water), and then drove out of the city toward Fes.  We had a bit of a scare about 40 km outside of Meknes when some caution lights illuminated on the dashboard.  At first we couldn't figure out what the warning was (Fran even pulled out the manual to check on the illuminated icons, but it was in French), but then I realized that one of the displays said pretty clearly to check the tire pressure.  We were in a remote area at the time, so we decided to continue on to Meknes and try to find a mechanic or gas station.  We made it to the exit to Meknes, and then the warning light went away right as we pulled through the toll booth.

Still concerned, we pressed on toward Meknes and turned off at the first gas station that we found.  Fran asked an attendant if he could help us check on the warning lights, but the language barrier prevented much understanding on either side (especially since the light was now off).  We asked if he could at least check our tire pressures, and he found that the left rear one was indeed a little low; so he filled it up.  Very grateful, we thanked him with 50 Dirham which he clearly thought was too much for the service he had given, but we willingly gave it.

We turned back toward the highway, which was only a couple of minutes away, and headed on toward Fes.  We still had 150 km more to drive, and by the time that we arrived in town my shoulder had become painfully uncomfortable (which is unfortunate, as I had hoped that a driving day would be easy on it).  Our hotel, the Riad Arabesque, was in Fes el Bali, the old medina of Fes inside the city walls; cars are not allowed there.  We knew that the hotel had free parking, but we didn't think that the Google Maps directions to it looked accurate.  We went past the turn that Google told us to take, as it looked like a dirt road that didn't lead anywhere, and took the next turn into a parking area.

After parking, we were approached by a man who looked like he was offering to haul our stuff into the medina.  We initially declined, but then another came over and asked the same thing in a more understandable way - asking which hotel we were staying at.  When he told him, he indicated that it would be a 10 minute walk; but we decided to give our business to the first man.  He placed our big bags in his pushcart and then led us up into the medina.  We eventually made it to the hotel in about 15 minutes, but not before he took us to the wrong door (and also took us along a longer route than necessary).  He asked for 50 Dirham for his service, but strangely took the 100 Dirham bill that we gave him without giving us any change; perhaps we should have protested, but in the bigger picture it was a "loss" of only about $5.  During the journey up we also came across a student who offered us his services as a guide, promising to be better and more affordable than what the hotel could offer.

At the hotel the hostess welcomed us with some tea on their balcony while we filled out the necessary forms.  After that she showed us to our room and then took us on a tour of the place.  The hotel is quite a sight, with ornate decorations throughout.  It featured a swimming pool, a roofop terrace, and a garden (along with a spa with sauna and massages).  Such a place was unexpected from the outside within the medina.  That being said, we would later find out that it has its fair share of bugs crawling around (including a monster water bug that Fran found and killed in the bathroom).

During this time we found out that the hotel did indeed have free parking, and they offered to help us retrieve our car from the lot.  We walked down to the car with a friendly male member of the staff, with Fran leading the way in retracing our steps.  After buying us a couple of prickly pears from a street vendor, he drove us back to the turn that we had initially passed up, showing us how we should have turned up the hill and driven up to the gate to be let in.  The gravel driveway up to the hotel went up through their garden.

After returning we walked back up to the rooftop terrace to admire the view as the sun was setting, and as prayer calls began to ring out.  We then headed down to have dinner, but not before being intercepted by the owner of the hotel who insisted that we have a drink with him (orange juice for me and a whiskey for Fran).  He was a sociable guy, who was happy to discuss many topics with us, including Moroccan culture, his family history, and potential additions to the hotel.  When I asked about vegetarian options on their menu, he told the hostess to prepare us the vegetable couscous for two.  Fran and I excused ourselves to go have the dinner, and then later headed back up to the terrace to admire the night view one more time before turning in.



Morocco 2019 - Day 1 (7/14/2019) - Casablanca

I should mention that a week prior to the trip I had flared up an injury to my left shoulder.  This had been somewhat of a lingering thing, but hadn't been bad enough to really affect daily activities (or even lifting weights) until the re-injury.  The symptoms were still mostly in the range of persistent discomfort, but I was now having pain when making some normal movements, and couldn't sleep on my left side.  Well, the activities of the day of travel resulted in the worst morning yet with the shoulder; though thankfully still not awful pain.  Fran was a sweetheart, and insisted that I not carry a backpack during our days of exploration - leaving her to lug one around for the two of us.

We were woken up by a housekeeper around 10am, though we (obviously) refused the service.  We lay around for a little while longer before getting dressed.  He headed out a little before noon, with the first order of business being to get some cash.  We found an ATM, picked up a bottle of water, then walked back to a bakery we had passed to get some pastries for breakfast.  We ate them on a nearby bench, and then walked over to the Place des Nations Unies square.  We spent a short time there and then headed south to the more impressive Mohammed V Square.  It's interesting to see what street vendors do in different places; in Casablanca one thing that they do in the big squares is offer miniature cars for little children to "drive" around in.

After the squares, we headed back north and into the Old Medina, where many of the streets near the entrances are completely lined with shops.  We wound our way northwest through the medina, into the more residential streets, and also passing through produce markets that were geared toward locals instead of tourists.

After coming out the north side of the medina, we headed west to Hassan II Mosque, one of the largest in the world.  The building was a lot more impressive than I expected, and there were a lot more people gathered around in the area (and along the water) than I expected.  We overheard some other tourists asking a security guard about tours of the mosque (we didn't know that we could go in) and found out that there were tours at 3 and 4pm.  It was 2:45pm at the time, so we hustled over to the museum to buy tickets for entry to the tour and the museum.  After a waiting in line, we bought the tickets right as the 3pm tour was departing, a few minutes late.

The tour lasted less than an hour, and took us through the gigantic prayer hall (where you have to remove your shoes) and then down into the ablution room below.  The inside of the building was just as impressive as the outside.  A couple of interesting facts we learned are that the mosque holds up to 25,000 people during Ramadan (with up to 80,000 gathering on the grounds), and that the roof of the prayer hall can open up.

After leaving the mosque we walked over to the sea wall to watch the people and activities, including waiting for some young men to jump off the high wall of the mosque grounds and into the ocean.  Next we headed back to the museum to use the restrooms and look around it briefly - it wasn't very impressive, but there was enough worthwhile in there that I won't complain about paying 10 Dirham extra.  After that we walked out toward the street to grab a bit of street snacks before walking along the sea wall in the eastern direction, where we hit a dead end and had to double back.

Our next mission was to find some food, as we hadn't really had a substantial meal all day.  The weather had been pleasant, and especially so in the shade; I would have guessed around 80 °F, though Fran thought it felt warmer in the sun.  We walked over to the mall, but didn't find anything appealing in the food court; though we were able to buy another bottle of water in the Marjane supermarket there.  From there we walked back to the hotel, briefly cutting trough part of the medina again.  We asked at the front desk for a restaurant recommendation, and they gave us one a couple blocks away.

We ended up not eating at the recommended Spanish restaurant, and instead ate at a Moroccan place down the street called Etoille Central (or Etoile du Maroc).  I ordered the vegetable couscous (which was pretty solid) and Fran the vegetable tagine (though she later added couscous in order to get more filling grains).  In addition to a bottle of water, I also ordered a delicious freshly squeezed orange juice, and she had some Moroccan mint tea.

After eating we made it back to the hotel around 8pm.  The WiFi was still not working in the rooms, but was working on the first floor, so we lounged in the hotel bar for a couple of hours.  We typed up journal updates with the African Cup of Nations match between Nigeria and Algeria playing in the background (Algeria won 2-1 on a 90th minute free kick by Riyad Mahrez), and then called it a night.