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Asilah, small town Morocco

sunny 23 °C
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Asilah, Saturday August 29th

Rather than zoom all the way to Tangier from Fez, a five hour trip, then catch our ferry to Algeciras and then on to Lourdes and Huseyn’s place all in one long day, we decided to take a small break from big city Morocco and stop in the little town of Asilah, approximately one hour before Tangier. The train from Fes stops here, and it should be relatively easy to catch the train into Tangier from here. The train, by the way, is very well priced in Morocco. Our four hour trip was 80 Dirham for one adult, approximately $10. By way of contrast, our five hour trip from Merida to Madrid was 40 Euros, approximately $56. The Moroccan trains seem to be reasonably modern, although the fabric seats were rather grubby.

We stayed in Asilah twenty years ago, when it was a sleepy little beach town. It has what appears to be the world’s tiniest, cute medina, all whitewashed houses with vivid coloured accents, surrounded by an “overly restored” wall built by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century. After being in the souk of Marrakesh and the medina in Fes, Asilah’s medina is extremely tame and delightfully quaint by comparison. There is a reasonable selection of souvenir shops, selling much the same stuff as found in the souvenir shops in the much bigger cities, and the prices actually seem to be very competitive. Asilah is supposed to be a little more laid back than its more conservative inland neighbours. It still has the same cafes filled exclusively with men, sipping coffee or tea, while the womenfolk are either out of sight or sitting in a line in the public square, watching the young children.

Apparently, the shop owners in Asilah are used to it being much busier, as some of them seemed to be much more anxious to chat politics and philosophy than they were in actually selling something. Alison and Sunny bought some cute miniature painted tajine dishes from one shop owner, and when Susan asked him the price for all three items he launched into a complicated discussion about his pricing philosophy and the state of his health and his recent retirement. This discussion lasted at least five minutes, and we were only talking about 40 Dirham in total. By contrast, when I asked him the price of an attractive but large plate, he simply stated that it was 150 Dirham, but that he could haggle a bit, and that actually we could have it for 120 Dirham. When Sunny asked for her items to be wrapped in a particular piece of newspaper with Arabic writing, he gave us a less than concise summary of the contents of those pages, an explanation of why he couldn’t give us that particular piece of newspaper, and then a slightly briefer explanation of the contents of the piece of newspaper he felt he could afford to give away. He was very pleasant and charming and a nice change of pace from the often rather more single minded shopkeepers in Fes.

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According to a different shopkeeper we were talking to, Asilah has grown considerably in the past several years and is no longer quite such a sleepy little town. First, Moroccans discovered its charms, and began holidaying in significant numbers and purchasing and developing property. More recently, Europeans have begun buying and developing vacation and rental homes. This proliferation of homes that might be vacant for the off season has led to a fairly recent, new scam: unscrupulous hustlers will break into vacation homes and then rent them to unsuspecting tourists at fire sale prices. Having rented the property, they disappear from the scene, and the tourists will be liable should they be discovered. Interestingly, as we made our way over the bridge into town, we were offered a very nice place to stay, with two bedrooms and a kitchen, for a mere 50 Dirham a person. That’s about $25 total. Susan politely declined that particular offer, having already done her homework on Asilah, and we made our way into town to find a suggestion of the Lonely Planet, the Hotel Sahara, where we stayed the first night in a downstairs quad for 300 Dirham, or $37.50, qualifying it as the CHEAPEST HOTEL of our entire trip! A close runner up was our two doubles in Evora, for 30 Euros, or $43, and the bronze medal goes to the fondly remembered Premier Inn at John Lennon Liverpool Airport, 29 Pounds, or $43.50. Sadly, most of our hotels have been much closer to $100 a night.

I asked the shopkeeper what he thought about all these foreigners buying homes, and he was surprisingly philosophical about the situation. He gave us quite a detailed explanation, in somewhat broken English (but far superior to my Arabic or French), about the fact that people of all different races, religions, or nationalities are essentially the same, with the same blood running through their veins. The many factors that appear to differentiate us and perhaps divide us are illusory, as we are all human beings and children of god. This is a delightfully sane philosophy, and I only hope that the group of eleven year old boys who were leering at the girls and throwing sunflower seeds at us while we dined tonight will eventually grow into this type of mature, human centred outlook.

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Posted by teamkarim 15:13 Archived in Morocco Comments (1)

Big list of videos

rain 18 °C
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Saturday, November 5th

We are sitting in Gregorio´s apartment, eleven floors in the air, looking out at an uninterrupted view of the Mediterranean, with Gibraltar large in the distance. Well, actually, I´m obviously looking at the computer, although I am sitting right next to the window. Everyone else is watching Phineas and Ferb. It has been raining more or less the entire time we have been in Torreguadiaro, enforcing a long rest period quite unlike the last many weeks. But it´s been nice to have a good rest and change of pace, and not to have to think about where we are going to stay next, or how we are going to get there. We are chilling. We´ve had heaps of rain, a spectacular thunderstorm, and a baptismal party at the restaurant next door that started at 9PM, with a spectacular fireworks display literally right outside our window at 4:30AM, featured loud music and singing until 5:30AM, and ended about 6:30AM. It was cool. We have been enjoying very short walks outside, mostly to Cafe Leila and Mi Punto (the small local grocery store), and hanging out with Lourdes, Huseyn, Firoz, Mariam, and Nadia. Firoz is enjoying a week off school, and the girls are both walking and specializing in being adorable.

On Monday, we will go to Malaga to begin our 13 day Royal Caribbean cruise, ending with four days in Puerto Rico, and arriving home late November.

I´ve put together some of the videos we´ve taken during our trip. They´re generally all quite short. They´re more or less in chronological order. One of my favourites is the "Call to Prayer, Selcuk" near the top.

wild boar, Dusseldorf
We went to the Wild Park in Dusseldorf with Uncle Nizar. The wild boars were quite medieval looking - all bristles and tusks. They particularly liked to eat spaghetti. They had a large "herd" of deer as well which were quite tame and ate oatmeal out of our hands.

Jorvik Viking Experience, Chester
Alternate Jorvik video.
Chester was a great town to visit. It was a good place to walk around and admire the "Ye Olde English" town atmosphere. Even without the atmosphere, Chester would be worth a visit just for the Jorvik Viking Experience. This video shows the one "ride" that takes you through a recreation of the town, with animatronic villagers. Our favourite villager was the very last one, who had an authentic smell to go with his sound effects.

Topkapi Palace band, Istanbul
The Topkapi Palace in Istanbul is a magnificent Ottoman Palace, now a popular tourist attraction. This presumably traditional band was playing.

Sulemanye Mosque interior, Istanbul
It´s so hard to capture accurately in words the look of the interior of the mosques in Istanbul. Alison recorded this view.

Blue Mosque interior, Istanbul
The interior of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

Rustem Paşa mosque interior, Istanbul
The Rustem Paşa mosque is not nearly as well known as the Blue Mosque or the Suleymaniye Mosque. Susan had been there with Angela on her first trip to Istanbul. This time, we had a spot of trouble finding our way in, but we enjoyed watching some urban football take place in the alley containing the entrance we knew about. The entrance concealed behind the cafe was more popular.

call to prayer, Selcuk
One of the best parts of being in Turkey was hearing the call to prayer many times a day. It was really very beautiful. This is the call to prayer at a local mosque in Selcuk, opposite the train station.

call to prayer, rooftop restaurant with Mehmet, Istanbul
In Istanbul, we had lunch with Mehmet on a rooftop patio. It had a spectacular view of the Blue Mosque. While we were there, we heard the call to prayer.

Boat trip, Bodrum
A small slice of our amazing boat trip in Bodrum. We loved our day on the boat, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who visits Bodrum. It wasn´t just a ¨foreigner¨tourist activity either, as there were plenty of Turkish tourists aboard. Plus, it was the cheapest boat trip of any we saw along the coastal part of our trip.

boat with music coming to harbour, Cesme
This is one of the boats in Cesme that take people on day trips. We considered going, but eventually decided to enjoy a day at the beach instead. They were playing some extremely loud, very soul stirring music as they came into the harbour.

changing of the guard, Presidential Palace, Athens
The Presidential Palace in Athens fronts onto Syntagma Square. Once an hour, they change the guard. It's a bit weirder than the Buckingham Palace version.

rain in hotel courtyard, Trani
Well, this is a bit of a weird thing to video, I admit. It´s just that it was such a heavy rain, and the very first rain since we had been in England. We had been absolutely soaked the previous day, coming back on the train from Barletta.

a capella Klapa singers, Diocletian's Palace, Split
This traditional Klapa group was one of several based in Diocletian´s Palace in Split. They had an excellent acoustic space.

sea organ, Zadar
The sea organ in Zadar was so cool. It was a very spiritual experience, watching the sunset and listening to the otherworldy sound of the organ. To get a feel for it, turn the volume and the subwoofer up, then sit near the subwoofer.

greet the sun, Zadar
The Greet the Sun installation is right next to the Sea Organ in Zadar. It stores solar energy during the day and lights up at night. It was cool, but lost a bit of its lustre by being right next to the even cooler Sea Organ.

view from Campanile, Venice
The view of Venice from the top of the Campanile in St. Mark´s Square is spectacular. Here, we recorded the ringing of the bell to mark the hour. The two ´´Moor´´ were not originally known as such, but gained that appelation as the colour of the sculptures darkened with age.

bell ringing in Campanile, Venice
There is a large bell at the top of the campanile in St. Mark's Square in Venice. At noon, the bell rings. We just happened to be up there at the right time. It was LOUD.

Alison relates story about column, Venice
In Venice, one of the columns on the exterior of the Doge's Palace has elements which tell a tragic story. Alison relates the story.

russian singers in cathedral, Carcassonne
We enjoyed listening to these Russian singers in the cathedral in Carcassonne, a mostly Romanesque structure. They reminded us of the Klapa singers in Split, a significant difference being that the Klapa singers were in their traditional habitat, whereas these Russian singers were a long way from home. Still, we enjoyed them sufficently that we bought the album.

latin beats band, Carcassonne
Clearly, this type of band isn´t likely to be traditional to the area of Carcassonne, but it was fun!

view of Toledo from bridge
Coming towards the old part of Toledo from the train station, you get a very impressive view of the city. This is what we saw from the bridge crossing the river that curves around the city.

Place Jemaa el Fna, Marrakech
I tried to capture a bit of the atmosphere of Place Jemaa el Fnaa at night. It´s busy, loud, and chaotic.

Posted by teamkarim 06:13 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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