Friday, October 10, 2014

Tangier, Morocco

Thu, 21/8/14

Rabat - Tangier

Today we would be bidding farewell to Rabat and moving on to Tangier by train. We decided to take the 12.37 train because I wanted to buy the Moroccan teapot I saw yesterday at the medina but didn't buy. The shops at medina would slowly start at 8am with the convenience stores opening first, then the souvenir shops starts opening at 9.30am

Breakfast today was delicious, as always. The riad staff keep on adding food on our table with a variety of breads and then making omelette. While enjoying our never ending food supply, an older couple who was sitting beside us striked up a conversation. The elder man is an English teacher in Germany and was travelling around Morocco for the summer holiday with his wife. They shared their travel experiences around the world. The man had stayed in Indonesia before for a while so he still remembered a few words and practised them on us. Cute!

breakfast at Dar Yanis

After breakfast, we ventured out to the medina to find the teapots, but most of the souvenir / artisan shops were still closed. After buying some mint tea powder, we walked a bit until the Avenue Al-Marsa by the river Bou Regreg to kill time. We watched some kids fishing and swimming there. We turned back to the medina at 10am and saw that some souvenir shops had already opened. We only found an artisan shop open after the third round of going through Rue Souika. We  wasted no time and bought our teapots there. We bought the medium sized teapot (suitable for 2 persons) for MAD 60 (RM 22) each.

artisan shop

From the riad, we walked to the train station about 1km away with our luggage. It didn't seem too far as we were passing by shops on the way to the train station.  The journey to from Rabat to Tangier is about 250km and took about 4 hours. Rabat is not the first station on the Morocco - Tangier route so we couldn't get any seats until we reached the second station.


We passed by a sea side city - Asilah on the way to Tanger. Otherwise, the view was more desert and some plantation. We arrived at Tangier around 16.30 hrs and then walked a bit to evade a taxi driver who was pushing us to ride his taxi. Unfortunately, we couldn't get any petit taxis who could speak English and didn't know the location of our Hotel Royal. So we had to turn back to the train station and managed to find a taxi driver who spoke English and who knew where our hotel was. However, he did not use the meter and charged us an amount I could not remember now. We had to agree to it as we couldn't find other taxis who could bring us there.


Gare Tanger Ville

Tangier is a sea side city at the northenmost tip of Morocco and is separated from Spain about 38km away, only by the narrow Strait of Gibraltar where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Tangier is also the birthplace of the famous voyager Ibn Battuta, his tomb is located in this city. You can find many Europeans here as they can easily enter via the ferry from Spain, only 1 hour away. Europeans can also bring in their vehicles via the ferry so you can also see many European registered cars here. With the influx of Europeans, the city has become more westernized compared to the other Moroccan cities, as evident by the many restaurants serving liquors along the beach front promenade at Avenue Mohammed V.

This time we were not staying in a riad but at a 'hotel'. To tell you the truth, it is more like a motel. Hotel Royal costs EUR 28 (RM 115 ) per room per night. I didn't feel the need to book a fancy hotel as we were just staying the night to catch a ferry the next day to Spain! Based on the location, this hotel is near to the ferry station which is within walking distance and near to the beach.

It is better to stay at another place rather than this one as there is no air cond in the room! , not clean (cockroaches running around), no lift (we had to climb the stairs to the 3rd floor), no breakfast, the wifi signal is not strong - we had to go down to the lobby to get wifi and it was noisy at night - you can hear noises from the other rooms - people talking, taking shower etc - reminded me of staying in dorms in university. But then again, this is the price to pay for staying in a budget hotel.

'Hotel' Royal room

We quickly made our way out to find dinner at the nearby restaurants - not really by the beach but by the walkway facing the sea on the other side of the road. We ordered beef cous cous and seafood paella - already craving for Spanish food! The cous cous was good. However, for the paella - it is better to leave it to the Spanish to cook (it tasted like fried rice).

cous cous

After dinner, we walked to the ferry terminal to purchase the ferry ticket to Tarifa, Spain for the next day. However, we were only allowed to buy the ticket upon boarding the ferry, i.e. we had to buy our tickets the next day. The first ferry out is at 8.30 am, followed by 10.30 am. We planned to catch the bus from Tarifa to Seville at 12.30 hrs the next day, so both timings would be able to accommodate us. The ferry ride would only take 1 hour.

We returned back to the street at our hotel but continued ahead to the medina of Tangier. We didn't buy anything here, just taking pictures. Since we forgot to go in Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech and didn't go to any mosques in Imlil and Rabat, we took a picture of a mosque nearby the medina of Tangier.

cinema in Tangier

inside the mosque near to Tangier medina
outside the mosque near to Tangier medina

Fri 22/8/14

Goodbye Tangier, Goodbye Morocco

We walked to the beach in the morning since we didn't get the chance to do so in day light yesterday. Since our hotel did not provide breakfast, we went to a cafe in front of our hotel to get a breakfast set of bread with jam, tea and juice with additional omelette.

Tangier beach at night
Tangier beach in the morning

Tangier beach
own breakfast

After breakfast and checking out, we walked to the ferry terminal and purchased our tickets to Tarifa, Spain for the 10.30am ferry. Our ferry costs MAD 390 (RM 145) one way per person. Our ferry would take 1 hour to Spain. The immigration check at the terminal was smooth, there were not many people in the queue, perhaps most of them were already in the ferry, since it was already 10.15am.

The ferry is air conditioned and also carries vehicles. There's a cafe inside, however it only accepts Euro. Looks like we had to bring back some spare MAD home as souvenir.

inside the ferry


goodbye Morocco!
bye bye Africa

It was a great experience travelling thorugh Morocco in the short space of time (7 days ) and we only visited Marrakech, Imlil, Rabat and Tangier. We would have wanted to visit Fes and Meknes but didn't have the luxury of time as we would be travelling to Spain in the next 7 days. Thank you Morocco for the invaluable experience, we certainly enjoyed the journey and learnt a few things on the food, culture and language. We hope to come again and complete our adventure!


Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Rabat: Sea & History

Wed, 20/8/14

Sun, sea and beach

Our breakfast today was prepared by Amine and we had breakfast at the rooftop. Breakfast was nice as usual. Perked up with breakfast, we made our way towards the Kasbah des Oudayas as yesterday, but went further up until the end of the road where it meets the North Atlantic Ocean. Families were having fun picnicking and swimming, enjoying the summer holidays at Rabat beach. We also saw some surfers bringing their surfboards, probably to the Oudaya surf club nearby.

 road to North Atlantic Ocean
North Atlantic ocean
Rabat beach
Kasbah des Oudayas by the beach

surfers making their way

After soaking in the sun, we proceeded to Hassan Tower, about 2.3 km away. Woah, we didn't realize it was that far as we walked along the beach, then by the Bou Regreg river, crossed the Avenue Al Marsa until we see the the tower.

We were greeted by guards on horses at the entrance gate of the Hassan tower. Entrance is free. According to Wikipedia, Hassan Tower is the minaret of an incomplete mosque. Construction begun in 1195,but in 1199, Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour died and construction on the mosque stopped. The tower reached 44 m (140 ft), about half of its intended 86 m (260 ft) height. The rest of the mosque was also left incomplete, with only the beginnings of several walls and 200 columns being constructed. Instead of stairs, the tower is ascended by ramps. The minaret's ramps would have allowed the muezzin to ride a horse to the top of the tower to issue the call to prayer. Wow. The tower used a similar design plan for Hassan's sister tower, the Giralda in Seville, Spain and modelled on the minaret of Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech. It does look similar.

guards on horses
Hassan Tower and the columns
the columns
another angle of the minaret tower (ignore the models)

door to mausoleum

Hassan Tower also houses the Mausoleum of Mohammed V which contains the tombs of the Moroccan king and his two sons, late King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah.

inside the mausoleum

From Hassan Tower, we walked back to the main road and hailed a petite taxi to go to Chellah which is about 3km away. The taxi used a meter and we were charged MAD 12 (RM 4.50) . We didn't have small change so we asked the driver to wait for a while and we went to purchase the entrance ticket to Chellah (MAD 10 or RM 3.70) per person. The taxi driver was understanding and waited for us. We were fortunate to get honest taxi drivers in Rabat.

kasbah wall otw to Chellah


By the time we reached Chellah it was already mid day and the sun was scorching hot. We trudged on nevertheless. There were a few groups of school students who were doing a field trip to the Chellah at the same time and they were really amused to see us, so they asked to take pictures with us. Of course we relented.

Some excerpt on the rich history of Chellah from Wikipedia:
Chellah existed since pre-Islamic times and contains complex of ancient Roman Mauretania Tingitana and medieval ruins. The Roman town was known as Sala Colonia, referred to as Sala by Ptolemy. It contains ruins of a principal Roman way, a forum and a triumphal arch. One of the two main Roman roads in Morocco reached the Atlantic through Iulia Constantia Zilil (Asilah), Lixus (Larache) and Chellah.

The site was abandoned in 1154 AD in favour of nearby Salé. The Almohad dynasty used the ghost town as a necropolis (large ancient cemetery with elaborate tomb monuments). In the mid-14th century, a Merinid sultan, Abu l-Hasan, built monuments and the main gate, dated to 1339. These later Merinid additions included a mosque, a zawiya (Islamic religious school), and royal tombs, including that of Abu l-Hasan.

Chellah ruins: a minaret tower
Chellah ruins
ruins of a mosque
white storks (ciconia ciconia) nest on top of the minaret tower

Roman ruins at the Forum

There were not many tourists at Chellah at the time so we couldn't find a taxi to go back to the medina. We decided to walk a bit to the main road and get a taxi from there. Alas, there wasn't any vacant taxis passing by too! So we walked all the 5 km back to the medina in the scorching hot sun. What a feat!

On the way back, we passed by a viewpoint of the bank of the Bou Regreg river which was quite a spectacle.

Bou Regreg river delta

Hungry, we decided to settle with whichever food stall that we encounter first at the medina - and it was the row of stalls selling  fish fillets. The stall operator did not speak English so we couldn't explain that we wanted to see the menu. Since we were hungry, we just sat there and waited for whatever dish that they were going to serve. It turned out to be fish fried in flour with salsa dip and bread which costs MAD 128 (RM 47). Very expensive in our opinion, for street food. But perhaps seafood is more expensive here than chicken and meat.  It looked nice, but it didn't taste as good as it looked. Again, I reckon it is better to stick with Moroccan dish. Nevertheless, the experience of trying it out was just as important.

fish on display
fried fish with bread and salsa dip

We then made our way back to Riad Marhaba to take our bags and shift to Dar Yanis which is just 600m away. Pictures of Dar Yanis are in the previous post of Rabat here.

After the long walk under the hot sun, we sought refuge at our riad and rested until sundown. We only ventured out to the medina for dinner and some groceries shopping. We had a tasty chawarma for dinner which costs MAD 13 (RM5) at the Hamza Food stall on Avenue Mohammed V section of the medina. We saw an obese cat grooming himself nearby, possibly already full after eating all the kebab and meat leftovers. It was a really big cat! We then made our way back to riad and retire for the day.

Nice chawarma :)
Garfield resting

Dar Yanis entrance... good nite!


Monday, October 06, 2014

Rabat : Riad, Kasbah & Medina

Tue 19/8/14

Marrakech - Rabat

As mentioned in the previous post, we managed to get a private grande taxi for MAD 250 (RM 93) from Imlil to Marrakech train station. The driver, like the first taxi driver also drove really fast so we buckled up although sitting at the back. We departed from our riad at 8.30am and arrived at Marrakech train station at almost 10am, enough time to buy the ticket to Rabat scheduled to depart at 10.45 hrs and arrive at Rabat Ville at 15.10 hrs. Our train ticket for second class (free seating - first come first serve basis) costs MAD 120 (RM 45) per person. Based on our internet search, we cannot buy the ticket online so we bought it at the train station.

Gare de Marrakech (train station)

waiting for the train
ticket from Marrakech to Rabat

For second class tickets, there are 8 seats in an enclosed cabin where the aisle is by the side of the cabin. The train is air conditioned, but since this is summer it did get stuffy in there with excess passengers who couldn't get seats. Apparently, the railway company ONCF, sell unlimited tickets for the second class as we saw many passengers who boarded the train from a later station standing, including families. Since Marrakech is the first station for the train bound to Tangier to the north east, we managed to get seats.

people who cannot get seats stand by the side
seats in the cabin (sorry we couldn't get any pictures with empty seats -there was none!)
The view along the way was of the North African desert terrain with the occasional planted trees (possibly argan and olive) and the abundant cactus. Cactus are also sold as fruits at the stalls in Morocco, but we didn't try any.

dessert view
occasional plantation

If you get hungry, do not worry. You can buy drinks and sandwiches from the restaurail where the railway staff pushes his cart from time to time, just wait for him to come by. We bought an orange juice (MAD 15 or RM 5.60) and a beef or viande sandwich (MAD 20 or RM7.50) . It was quite tasty and filled our tummy until we reach Rabat.

orange juice and beef sandwich

Word of caution though - there is no announcement on the next station of arrival. Therefore, you must be alert and always on the look out on the stops near the expected time of arrival at your destination. For us, we asked the local people around us, who fortunately could speak English and told us when to alight.


We arrived Rabat Ville station as per schedule. We had received an email from our riad on the directions to there, where to get a taxi and how much it would cost. So this time we knew what to expect and could avoid being cheated. Before we took the taxi, we posed for some pictures at Avenue Mohammed V just in front of the train station.

arrive at Rabat Ville
Avenue Mohammed V

Rabat is the capital of Morocco (not the more famous Casablanca - because of that movie or the charming Marrakech). Why we decided to go to Rabat and skip Casablanca and Fes, apart from time limitation was because Rabat has a few features all rolled into one - it is located at the coast of the North Atlantic Ocean, it has an archaeological ruin site (Chellah necropolis), Medina, and a Unesco World Heritage Site. Of course, being tight on schedule, we had to pick a city that is within the route to Tangier. Another interesting city, Fes required a detour and so needed extra time to make the journey there and back to the north east bound line. I'd definitely go to Fes (and Meknes which is on the way to Fes) if I have the opportunity to go to Morocco again.

After taking pictures at the Avenue, we walked back to the train station, took a petite taxi  and asked to go to Avenue Laalou, near to the Kasbah des Oudayas. We were charged about MAD 18 (RM 7). Ah, finally some peace of mind knowing what we were in for. From the Avenue Laalou, we asked around to find the Rue Jirari, a narrow lane leading us to our riad. We managed to find it and were greeted by friendly Amine at the riad. As with the custom in Morocco, we were welcomed with a Moroccan mint tea, this time at the rooftop terrace (no mountains here though). Amine then briefed us on the places of interest in Rabat and how to get to the places, all within walking distance. Even the train station actually, but it would be easier minus the luggage. Amine is well versed in English and also other languages - French, Arabic, Spanish, Italian etc.

our petite taxi

Riad Marhaba entrance

Something we noticed in Rabat is the modernity. Perhaps this was because we skipped the Ville Nouvelle in Marrakech. Also, accommodation is much expensive in Rabat. Our Riad Marhaba in Rabat costs EUR 55(RM 215) per room per night , including city tax at EUR 2.5 / person / night (the cost of 2 nights in Imlil and almost twice the price in Marrakech). The price also includes breakfast, which was served at the rooftop.

We booked for 1 night only at Riad Marhaba as it was fully booked. We would be moving to the nearby Dar Yanis which also cost the same. However, Riad Marhaba only accepted cash while credit card payment is possible at Dar Yanis. We found that Dar Yanis is more strategically located, just next to Avenue Mohammed V and just a straight forward walk to the train station. So if you're looking for a riad in Rabat, we'd reckon Dar Yanis due to its location.

You can do your comparison. Here are pictures:

Riad Marhaba
rooftop terrace
view from below
bedroom door

Dar Yanis

common room


Kasbah des Oudayas

After resting and freshening up, we made our way to the Kasbah des Oudayas, only about 10 mins walking (650 m) away. Kasbah des Oudayas is a fortress by the river mouth of Bou Regreg flowing into the Atlantic Ocean. It was built during the reign of the Almohads. When the Almohads had captured Rabat and destroyed the kasbah of the Almoravids in the town, they began reconstructing it in AH 544 / AD 1150 (excerpted from Wikipedia). Entrance is free.

Kasbah des Oudayas from the road
Kasbah des Oudayas by the river Bou Regreg

main gate of the Kasbah des Oudayas

There is also the Andalusian garden next to the Kasbah which we paid a visit and took pictures. Entrance is free.

Andalusian garden

There is also a funfair by the River Bou Regreg. Families and young people throng the area as it was during the summer holiday. Water sports such as jet skiing is also available here. Locals also swim here at the river mouth.

families and young people enjoying summer

We were then feeling hungry as our last meal was the shared sandwich on the train. We made our way back to the medina where our riad is. We followed the map given by Amine via the Avenue Souiqa. As the name suggests, this is the main street of the souk. Like Marrakech, but less extensive, a variety of goods are sold here.


mirrors and decoration

mirrors and lanterns

Tonight we had a huge portion of chicken (poulet) with rice and fries for only MAD 45 (RM 17) . It was delicious, plus we were already very hungry. After dinner, we tried to make our way back to our riad via the medina but it was not possible as the narrow lanes were filled with people to the brim. So we made our way to Marche Central, walked via the main road Avenue d Egypte and back to Avenue Laalou into Rue Jijari. Walking outside the medina is further but it was too crowded and was impossible to move inside. We passed by a tram line at the main road, another sign of modernity in Rabat.

roasted chicken
poulet with rice and fries

tram line