Sunday, July 21, 2019

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.



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