A Travellerspoint blog

شفشاون

semi-overcast 70 °F
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This weekend, Taylor, Nikita, Sabine, Scott, and I went to Chefchaouen - the Blue City of Morocco, also the city well known for its Rif Mountain "hashish". On Friday we first stopped in Fes for the infamous Cafe Clock meals. After dessert, we made our way to the bus station where we barely made it onto our bus! Once we arrived to Chefchaouen, we were instantly in love. The doors were all unique and beautiful and everything was painted in different shades of blue. We met some girls at our hostel, grabbed dinner with them, shopped in the souk, and called it a night!

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On Saturday we got an early start and grabbed a taxi to Akchour. Akchour is known for its cascading waterfalls. But in order to get there we had to hike for two hours up and down miles of hills. But it was definitely worth it when we arrived to see the huge waterfalls and eat a chicken tajine!
When we got back to Chefchaouen we walked around the city, took many pictures, and had a delicious dinner. This city has definitely been added to the list of my favorite cities! It's beautiful and has such a great vibe from its community. Again, I was sad when I had to leave! Only a couple more weeks are left of the semester, I can't believe how fast it has gone!

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Posted by htoberman 15:03 Archived in Morocco Tagged chefchaouen akchour Comments (0)

Casablanca!

sunny 75 °F
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This past weekend Nadia & her family hosted Nikita and I at their home(s) in Casablanca. On Friday, we went to one of her houses where her mom warmly greeted us. On this night, Nadia's dad took us around on a tour of Casablanca and bought us delicious Lebanese food. The next morning, we got an early start and Nadia's mom made us a huge breakfast. I can't get over how much Moroccan families spoil their guests. We had an assortment of about eight different cookies, a type of bread, croissants, the 'Berber Nutella' and honey, and about 6 glasses of mint tea. After we were stuffed, we went to Hassan II mosque. This mosque is the largest mosque in Morocco & Africa and the 7th largest mosque in the world. It was stunning and full of beautiful mosaics. First we had a little photo shoot outside of the mosque and took many pictures with Nadia's selfie stick & then we had a tour inside of the mosque.

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After our tour, we drove to Nadia's next house, the beach house. This house was very cute and had an amazing view of Tamaris Beach. We also met Nadia's cleaning lady, who walked us down the beach and she was so adorable and kissed us about 10 times on each cheek! Later this day, Nadia's mom made us a delicious chicken, lemon, and olive tajine. After we were filled, she came out with our second entree, a noodle pastilla. After we could not possibly eat another bite, she came out with dessert - a basket of delicious fruits! With our food babies, we decided to take a nap & once we woke up, Nadia's sister drove us to Dar Ghalif, the hacking capital of Africa. I bought brand new movies here for 5 DH each, the equivalent of about 20 cents in the US. Afterwards, we walked down the beach of Casablanca and even helped a man practice his English by preparing him for an interview he had the next week. Our last stop of the night was at the Morocco Mall, which is definitely the largest mall I have ever been in. The mall has an aquarium around the elevator, four floors, a grocery store, a Moroccan souk, a huge food court, a mosque, an IMAX theater, too many stores to see in a day trip, and many high-end designer stores. I was in disbelief by the size of this mall!

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On Sunday, we took a day trip to see Nadia's brother in his apartment in El Jadida. I loved this city! Everyone was out playing soccer on the beach and the city was very clean and developed. Nadia's brother took us to an old Portuguese fort and then her dad treated us to a delicious seafood meal. Unfortunately, we had to come straight back to Ifrane afterwards and it was so hard to leave Casablanca and Nadia's amazing family! Her mom even surprised us with a gift - a box of chocolates! She even said she would set me up with a Moroccan man in order to keep me in Morocco forever. It was hard to say goodbye, but I would not have wanted to spend my weekend any other way!

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Posted by htoberman 04:54 Archived in Morocco Tagged casablanca morocco_mall el_jadida hassan_ii_mosque Comments (0)

My (Very Extended) Weekend in Spain!

sunny 75 °F
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On Friday, I met up with Wendy in Fes around 5pm. All I had to do was ask a stranger where the nearest blonde girl was and immediately I found her! Wendy and I went to a couple of shops and then we killed some hours at Cafe Clock. This restaurant is definitely a tourist trap, but it won me over this week and last week with its delicious, and very westernized, Moroccan food. This time around I got a lamb burger with mint/cucumber salsa and it was on point! I also had a mint iced tea, perfect after a hot walk through the old medina. Afterwards, we made our way to the bus station and got on our overnight bus to Tangier. Saturday morning at 6:15am we arrived to Tangier, grabbed a taxi to Tangier Med, and barely made it on time to our 8:00 ferry. Once we boarded we were on our way to Algeciras, España!

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After going through customs and getting my next stamp in my passport, Wendy and I met up with Raul. We found Raul on BlaBlaCar, a website that matches you up with carpools. We rode with him and his friend to Seville, an interesting and hilarious car ride filled with practicing my Spanish and having to translate many words on his phone since he hardly spoke English. In Seville, Wendy and I found an apartment that we booked online through AirBNB for $50/night for our room. However, the owner wasn't there so we hauled our stuff around town to go sight seeing and to get some lunch. At the restaurant we found I got a ham sandwich, I couldn't resist because I've missed pig meat so much after being in Morocco!

Seville is beautiful and full of families, people drinking and eating tapas along the river, and active people running and biking through town. Once I got there I loved the vibe of the city and couldn't wait for the weekend's adventures!

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After dropping our stuff off at our room with flower bunk beds, Wendy and I made our way to the Alcazar Palace. We took a taxi - where the meter hiked up the price every 5 seconds - to the Alcazar Palace for our reservations. I am definitely not used to paying $6 for what seems like a 5 minute car ride (that's over 60 Dirhams - a trip to Fes and back!) However, when dropped off at the Alcazar Palace, Wendy and I stilled managed to get lost. But getting lost was a blessing in disguise because we stayed and watch one of the parade processions in the street! This is where we saw the Nazareno priests wearing capirotes, an outfit oddly similar to that of the KKK. Once we found the Alcazar Palace, one of the biggest places in Seville - how we didn't find it, I'm not sure - we walked in an hour late for our reservations, no questions asked! The palace was stunning, and every time it extended in another direction we were stunned by how large the place was! The gardens were beautiful and we even found some peacocks! Wendy and I relaxed and hung out around the restaurants that night, we even tried and approved of Spain's famous Sangria.

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On Sunday, we got an early start so that we could get good seats at the Sevilla Cathedral. However, Sevilla did not wake up at the same time and at 8 am hardly anyone was there! Instead, we grabbed some coffee and donuts and by 8:30 the procession for Easter Sunday began. We watched the parade and made our way into the beautiful Cathedral for Easter mass. That day we went Maria Louisa Park to enjoy the warm weather and we watched some street performers and saw the Plaza de España (where a Star Wars movie was filmed). After another sangria we went up into the Torre de Oro watchtower to get a great view of Seville. We even went people watching at the bull ring because today was the opening day for the bull fighting season. I couldn't believe how well-dressed everyone was, they looked like they were going to the Kentucky Derby! Wendy and I wondered around some more on Sunday and saw the Metropol Parasol ("las setas" - the giant mushrooms). Later we met a bar tender named Alex that night who showed us around the town and then we eventually made it back to our apartment once the town died down at night.

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On Monday, we caught another BlaBlaCar (somehow) and went to Granada. In Granada we found a cheap hotel with a beautiful balcony! Once settled in, we walked around town, went to the Cathedral, and made our way up many steps and hills to the Albaican Quarter where there is a lookout where we could sit an take in the view of Granada and the Alhambra. That night we went to a Flamenco show where the dancers were amazing! Afterwards we danced our way to go tapas hopping. In Granada, when you buy a drink you get a free tapas (mini appetizer). We went to a couple tapas bars and then made our way back down to our hotel.

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Come Tuesday, Wendy and I woke up at 5:45, trekked up hills in the pitch black city, and grabbed a spot in the ticket line at the Alhambra. Last week we tried to get tickets online, but they were sold out! Instead, we heard they sold tickets the day of. After waiting in line for two hours, we somehow made it into the 13th century city. The Alhambra was beautiful, and all of the doorways, walls, an ceilings were carefully detailed with Arabic calligraphy and colorful tiles. We hurriedly made our way up to the top of the bell tower - which was my workout for the day since all of the hills had me winded for hours! The Alhambra was huge and filled with colorful flowers and archways. It was definitely worth waking up at 5:45am to see!
Unfortunately, we had to catch a train at 12:15 to head back to the ferry port. I guess we have to go back to school eventually! Once in Algeciras again we caught a bus to Gibralter. We only had about 45 minutes here though since we had to catch our ferry. Gibralter is a British territory. So I got another stamp in my passport and walked through England for a solid 30 minutes. It was extremely windy today. Everyone walking or riding bikes looked as if they were defining gravity because they were walking/riding at a 45 degree angle.

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When Wendy and I made it back to Algeciras, we were informed that our ferry at 9pm had been cancelled. In order to save some money, we decided to crash at the ferry port for the night so that we could catch the next ferry at 6am the next morning. After many uncomfortable sleeping positions and praising God that 6am was about to arrive, we found out that this ferry departure had been cancelled as well. We kept waiting, delay and delay, until finally - 21 hours after our original ferry departure - we got onto the 6pm ferry. We should have just spent another day in Granada! The ferry ride was terrible. The waves were huge, plates and people were falling over, and one of the workers handed out plastic bags to everyone who thought they might get seasick. When I got to shore in Morocco I kissed the land in relief. Then after arriving to Tangier, our petite taxi even rear ended the car in front of us. To fulfill the magic number of 3 bad events in a row - our bus to Fes broke down for 3 hours at 3:00 in the morning, extending our travels back home. And finally on Thursday morning, Wendy and I made it back to school at 10am - Alhamdulillah! We were thankful the problems all happened during the trek home. But overall our trip to Spain was amazing and I wish I could go back again soon!

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Posted by htoberman 12:28 Archived in Spain Tagged granada sevilla easter Comments (0)

Spring Break!

sunny 76 °F
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Wow. So much has happened in one week it is going to be hard to sum it up in one post - but I'll try my best!

I spent the first half of the week with a group through AUI's Explorers club on a trip called "Trip to the South". Our bus finally took off, bright and early, at 4:00am on Saturday, March 7th. After a long bus ride, we finally arrived to Erfoud and we got into SUV's and headed to Merzouga. The ride was a blast - in order to avoid getting stuck in the sand, the SUV driver drove through the sand like a maniac. Eventually we made it to our "hotel" for the first night. Although a beautiful hotel ran the place we stayed at, we were lucky enough to get the full Sahara Desert experience and we slept in tents! After exploring the desert, a group of girls and I rode on three camels to the bottom of a large dune. Once we reached the dune, we got off and climbed up it - which was absolutely exhausting, but totally worth it when we saw the view from the top. I plopped down once I reached the top and we waited for the sunset. The sunset in the Sahara Desert is definitely one of the most beautiful things I have seen in my life.

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Sleeping in the desert, although it was one of the coolest experiences I have ever had, was god-awful. I could not sleep at all because apparently I'm allergic to the desert and on top of that I thought I'd lose my toes the next day due to frostbite because it was FREEZING at nighttime. But it was a good time, I guess. Although I was bummed that I slept through the alarm for the sunrise, I still caught a beautiful view in the morning of the sun. After breakfast at the hotel, we headed to Ouarzazate. This was another wonderful hotel and it is located in the middle of movie studios where many movies have been filmed. At our dinner buffet, we ate inside of the set of King Tut and even had a dance party inside it! The next morning we had a Moroccan breakfast buffet and I even learned how to prepare Msemen (a Moroccan bread). Afterwards, we toured the other movie sets where Cleopatra and Game of Thrones were filmed.

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On the way to Marrakech we paused and shopped in Kasbat Ait Ben Haddou. When we arrived to Marrakech, we entered another beautiful hotel for the next two nights. The next morning we had a breakfast buffet and we headed to Terre d'Amanar where we did a high ropes course and went ziplining. The view from the place we went to was stunning and the staff made us a delicious three-course meal. Once we arrived back to Marrakech we went shopping through the old Medina and then at night we went to Chez Ali which hosted a Moroccan show, music from all of the Berber groups, and a traditional Moroccan tajine meal.

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Kasbat Ait Ben Haddou

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Ziplining Adventures!

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The Old Medina of Marrakech

The next morning, Nikita, Wendy, and I left the Explorers Club and caught a bus to Essaouira. Essaouira is definitely one of my favorite cities I've been to in Morocco. All the buildings were white and splashed with blue, the people were so friendly, and the overall atmosphere of the city was so friendly and energetic. Makes sense why this town is supposedly where all the hippies came in the 1960s. We explored the fish market and stumbled across a couple of fish stands where people were grilling up fish for customers. We sat at one of the tables and ordered fish, shrimp, sting ray, and sea urchin. I'm all about trying these new foods! The seafood was so fresh and delicious. After our lunch, we shopped through the souk. Essouaira is known for their wooden products - I even spotted the Moroccan Ben Stiller (pictured below). Later, we watched the sunset over the ocean and treated ourselves to some Berber massages.

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Moroccan Ben Stiller?

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On Thursday morning we got a grand taxi for Agadir. What a taxi ride... Thirty minutes into the drive, the man next to Nikita began throwing up from car sickness. After he threw his puke-filled bag out the window, I handed him a plastic bag that I had in my purse. About two hours and four puke-filled plastic bags later, the guy sitting in front of the man who was throwing up began to throw up because he could hear the guy behind him getting sick. After we FINALLY got out of the car, we realized we actually passed Agadir and had to find another taxi to take us 15 minutes back up to the city. What a day.

On the bright side, we found a gorgeous, apartment-styled hotel in Agadir that was a short walk away from the beach. We explored Agadir and then came back to disappointing news. Although around 3 o'clock our cruise, that was scheduled for the following day contacted us and told us that they would pick us up from our hotel the next morning, we arrived to our hotel and were informed that our cruise was cancelled. Many hours and phone calls later, we realized our plans for the next day were ruined and we would have to work to get refunded for the day-long cruise. The next morning, we spent some time at the beach and around 1pm we were invited to Tanirt's house -a girl we met during the Trip to the South - for lunch. Her family greeted us and her mom prepared us an amazing meal. First she prepared a huge seafood pastilla. Afterwards, thinking lunch was finished, she brought out a couscous taijne - my favorite couscous meal yet! When we finished eating, we went downstairs for dessert. Tanirt's mom baked six cakes. Take in mind, there were only six girls eating. Moroccan moms definitely know how to fill us up!

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On Saturday, we had a tour scheduled for Paradise Valley. A man picked us up in a van and took us through the mountains and we first stopped at an Argan oil cooperative where we tested multiple honeys made with different flavors. When we made it to Paradise Valley, we hiked up the mountains and went cliff jumping in the pools. It was such a great, relaxing day!

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Later that night, I tried another new dish - camel tajine!

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On our last day, we rented private beach beanbag beds and spent the entire day on the beach. It was well needed! We even met some guys part of a surf club who let us surf for an hour and a half for free. It was definitely the perfect way to end our spring break!

Spring break was such a great week and I cannot believe that it is already over and that I am back at school. I also cannot get over the fact that I have hit the half-way point for my time in Morocco. I have done so much already and I cannot wait to keep exploring on the weekends that I have left!

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Posted by htoberman 15:19 Archived in Morocco Tagged essaouira marrakech merzouga ouarzazate agadir paradise_valley Comments (0)

Fifty Shades of Fes

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On Saturday afternoon, I escaped the snow of Ifrane and ended up at a rainy day in Fes. Although it rained, the day ended up being great! Nadia, Najoua, Nikita, Wendy & I shopped the mall of Fes and then saw 50 Shades of Grey at the movie theater. However, we ended up seeing the movie in French, with no English subtitles, with all of the scandalous scenes cut out, and a with group of boys taking photos with the flash on every time boobs showed up on the screen. What a movie. Anyways, after the movie Nikita, Wendy, and I went to our hostel for the night. The worker there greeted us and I asked him where I can find the next dish on my list of strange Moroccan foods to try - sheep brains. He brought us to the restaurant linked with the hostel and went to purchase the brain at the Medina in order for the cooks to make it for us. And who knew, sheep brain wasn't all that bad! Our dinner was absolutely delicious. In addition to brains, we had rice with vegetables, bread, mint tea, chicken kebabs, and clementines.

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In the morning, we had breakfast at our hostel then went straight to the Old Medina. In the Medina, we bartered and made our way to University of al-Qarawiyyin. This is one of the world's oldest universities; however, we could only glance inside because non-Muslims are not allowed to enter. Once we made it to this school, we made our trek back to the hostel and then back to school. It was a quick weekend, but it was fun and relaxing!

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Next weekend is the weekend before midterms, so I might stay in Ifrane. But all I can look forward to now is spring break! Nikita, Wendy, and I made it onto the Trip to the South through the Explorer's Club on campus. From Saturday, March 7th, to Wednesday, March 11th, we will go to the desert of Merzouga, watch the sunrise and sunset in the desert, go on a camel ride, spend each day with students from AUI, and enjoy a variety of other planned events. For the rest of the week, Nikita, Wendy, and I are planning on spending our break in Agadir ("the Florida of Morocco") and Essaouira. We hope to enjoy the beach, maybe surf again, and the rest will plan itself out!

Posted by htoberman 13:16 Archived in Morocco Tagged fes Comments (0)

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