Morocco, Spain, Paris 2012

Here are a few notes from my latest trip. It was fantastic. RABAT: I landed in Rabat and met up with my travel partner who was already there teaching an English course. This was my first trip onto the African continent. When we reached our riad, we got a taste of the Moroccan hospitality when we were offered mint tea and cookies at check-in. A restaurant I can highly recommend is Dar Naji. We were surprised with dinner entertainment by enthusiastic Berber drummers. If you are looking for a place without a lot of tourists and even fewer Americans, come to Rabat. (continued)

Posted by Brad
Charlotte, NC, USA
214 posts

FES/FEZ: We took the train to Fes. In general, the French-built train system in Morocco is pretty good. Everyone says you should take first-class, but the second-class compartments seemed ok as well. When we reached our riad, we were (of course) treated to mint tea. Walking through the Fes medina was like traveling back in time 1000 years. Donkey carts, fruit sellers, artisans, narrow alleys. The call to prayer comes in stereo from 10 mosques at once. It was an unbelievable experience. We did the medina on our own, but we also spent a day with a licensed guide. You will see ten times more here with a guide and understand much more of what you see. Our guide took us to his mom's home where we were fed an amazing lunch. We were treated like old friends and we watched dramatic Mexican telenovelas translated into Arabic. We met up with a driver who took us to the Jewish Quarter and the perimeter hills that surround the city for photo ops. A day in Fes is not like a day at Buckingham Palace. It's hot, dusty, dirty, but it is a truly remarkable place to be alive. CHEFCHAOUEN: There is no train to Chefchaouen, so we had a driver for the day (it's really not expensive). This is the town that's famous for the blue-painted structures in the medina. It's also famous for the drug trade and you can smell the marijuana fields as you approach the town, although they are not visible from the road. The drive into this picturesque mountain village is incredible. Just be careful where you eat (learn from our mistakes). Or bring Cipro. (continued)

Posted by Brad
Charlotte, NC, USA
214 posts

TANGIER: We spent the night in Tangier to prepare for the trip to Spain the next day. I have mixed feelings about this place. The new town is a modern, European-looking place that is establishing itself as another option for the Costa del Sol crowd. This is a city in transition and in a few years it will be a nice place for European beach-goers. The medina, however, was sad and disappointing compared to the medinas of Rabat and Fes. I know Rick touts the day-trip to Tangier, but if you really want to experience Morocco, do yourself a favor and do it right. Go at least as far as Fes. You won't regret it. MOROCCO IN GENERAL: Wow, what a country. I would love to go back. The people were incredibly friendly and hospitable. It just seems to be part of the culture. There was no anti-Americanism that I detected. Everyone seemed to be happy to have us there. Moving around the country was relatively easy, but I would not recommend driving there (we saw some Europeans try it). The Moroccans are simply better drivers than you and the lines in the road are mere suggestions. The artisans, the medinas, the food were all experiences unlike any you will find in Europe. Brush up on your French phrases and learn a couple of Arabic words and you will have a great time. I really feel like I have finally graduated from my European travel security blanket. I'm ready to take on the rest of the world. (continued)

Posted by Brad
Charlotte, NC, USA
214 posts

RONDA, SPAIN: We took a taxi to Tangier Med (30 minutes and a nice drive) and then a ferry to Algeciras, Spain. Most tourists cross over to Tarifa, but to me it made more sense to go where there was a rail connection. From there we caught the train to Ronda. And yes, it is as incredible as it looks on tv. SEVILLA: We really fell in love with this city. Aside from Fes, it was the highlight of the trip. We luckily chose a hotel in a great neighborhood, the Itaca Sevilla near Plaza Alfalfa. Rick doesn't list this place (it's part of a chain... but we saw lots of guests carrying the blue book). Very nice hotel, a little pricey at 120 euros, but I don't think we could have made a better choice. When we saw how touristy the Santa Cruz barrio was, we were very happy we did not stay there. In Sevilla, there were daily pasos, even though it wasn't Semana Santa. We just really loved the laid-back attitude of the people. Everyone comes out at night to just enjoy life. And churros con chocolate is as good as advertised. The Real Alcazar is a remarkable complex. Don't miss the Museo de Bellas Artes (I think they were supposed to charge us, but we got in free). The flamenco show at Casa de la Memoria was even better than I expected. I'm already plotting how I can get back to Sevilla on my next trip. CORDOBA: The Mezquita is one of the most unique structures in Europe. Learn a little about the history of the building and it will enhance your visit. It only takes 45 minutes to get there from Sevilla, so it's an easy day-trip. (continued)

Posted by Brad
Charlotte, NC, USA
214 posts

MADRID: This was my second trip to Madrid in 11 months. After the first time, I wanted to see more. When I last left, there were people protesting in the streets. When I arrived this time, there were again people protesting in the streets. There was a heavy police presence around the Puerta del Sol and the cops were determined not to let things get out of hand like last year. A tip for the Prado: Rick says it opens at 9, but it really opens at 10. Regardless, you will want to be in line when it opens to avoid the crowds. Unlike last year, this time I got a chance to really enjoy the art by getting there early. For me, the Prado has my favorite collection of paintings. The Musee d'Orsay has been knocked down a notch. TOLEDO: While the cathedral is impressive, the Spanish gothic style is not my favorite. The treasury, however is spectacular. We also went to Santo Tome. I expected the El Greco painting there to be over-hyped. It is not. PARIS: Paris is the most written-about city in Europe, so there's nothing I could add here. But this city never fails to impress me. This was my third visit and I look forward to more.

Posted by Stephen
Houston, TX, USA
1 posts

My wife and I are heading to Morocco in late june/early july. We will be visiting our daughter who will be studying and Volunteer work in two cities (Rabat & Mekenes (sp)). Liked your comments....where did you find the drivers for your tours and how did you find your places to stay? We will be in Morocco for about 4-5 days and then to Spain.

Posted by Brad
Charlotte, NC, USA
214 posts

We used Journey Beyond Travel. They really wanted to put together something more extravagant for us, but we told them we wanted to keep it simple and cheap. There are quite a few other companies as well that will put together a custom itinerary for you. You might check out reviews on Trip Advisor. All over Morocco you will see the minivans escorting tourists from place to place.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4764 posts

Very nice report about Morocco. We were in Agadir a few years ago and also found the people to be extremely friendly. Would love to go back some day.