16 July 2014

Morocco day 3: Rabat and Meknes

On this first day of our Intrepid Travel ‘Best of Morocco’ tour, we had to be in the hotel foyer, checked out and ready to go at 10.20am for the minivan transfer to the train station for the 1-hour train journey to Rabat. It was modern double-decker train, with aircon, so a pleasant journey that I spent getting to know Rhonda, a retired teacher from Australia.

In Rabat we walked two minutes across the road from Gare Rabbatville to a restaurant where we had lunch and were able to store our bags for a few hours while we explored the city. Rabat is the capital of Morocco and looked quite modern but 10 minutes’ walk to the end of the main street found us inside the medina (the old, walled city) where life continues as it has done for hundreds of years.
One of the huge entrances into the Casbah at Rabat
We followed our tour leader Issam through the maze of streets, emerging near the Casbah, which is perched high on a cliff overlooking gorgeous beaches thronged with holidaymakers on one side and the river with its mass of fishing boats on the other. Inside the Casbah is now a residential area, a picturesque labyrinth of white-washed buildings with blue walls, doors, window frames and shutters – I later found out that the indigo blue colour is used to discourage mosquitoes. It was so photogenic.



This was the end of our orientation tour so, supplied with maps and informed about local points of interest, we were told to be back at the restaurant at 4.45pm and were then left to explore on our own. Rhonda and I decided on a plan and, not having much time, headed off at a cracking pace in the hot afternoon sun to a nearby unfinished mosque, with the huge Hassan Tower and a field of columns that would have supported a massive roof if the 12th-century ruler financing the construction hadn’t died. Adjacent to the mosque is the exquisitely designed Mausoleum of Mohammed V, built of white marble, intricately decorated and housing the tombs of three former Moroccan royals.

The Mausoleum is one of the few places in Morocco where you're allowed to photograph the guards 
A reader of the Koran sits with the tombs

We then caught a cab across town to Chellah, part Roman ruins, part cemetery, part ancient walled city, all much damaged by an earthquake in the 18th century. For once I was less fascinated with the ruins and much more interested in watching the storks that were nesting on every high point within the complex, both ruined buildings and trees. Their nests were huge piles of sticks, some with chicks present and a parent or two in residence, and storks also circled overhead. My camera was working overtime for the next hour!

By then it was time to return to the meeting place, luckily not too difficult to find. Issam had threatened to leave us behind if we didn’t make it back to the train station on time! Our next train, to Meknes, was very full so we blocked the aisles with our bags until locals alighted at the following stops to allow us all, eventually, to find a space to sit down. Luckily, Issam was in my carriage so acted as interpreter as we enjoyed some conversation with a young mother and her two children for the following couple of hours.

The scenery began to change about 30 minutes before our arrival in Meknes, our overnight stop. We moved away from the coast and climbed up through more hilly much-cultivated countryside, where golden fields were dotted with baled hay and long straight rows of olive trees, and shepherds tended their flocks of grazing sheep and goats.

In Meknes, we ate in a local restaurant – one of Intrepid’s much touted ‘real life experiences’, which are actually an excellent way to see and experience first hand how the local people live – and the food was good. We were back at the hotel around 9.30pm, which just left time to download and back up the days’ photos and write my journal before heading off to the land of Nod!