an chronicle of my adventures in Ifrane, Morocco and travels within the surrounding area

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chaoen 2.0

So with just two weekends left in Morocco, it was a tough decision of where to go, but I had loved Chefchaoen so very much the first time, and given the opportunity to show around some friends who hadn't been there before, I jumped at the chance. We made a short trip of it- just going Saturday and returning Sunday, but it was absolutely worth it. The ride up through the countryside

was gorgeous as can be,

and when we got there we headed up to the rooftop balcony from which I had watched the sun set the last time. Well, we arrived a little early and had some tea while we waited for sunset. When it got to be about time, I got up and walked to the end of the balcony (the best view around the next door house), and as I discovered possibly the most beautiful sunset of my life,

the call to prayer begins going off and echoing between the mountains. I tried to capture that moment here, though my crappy cinematography takes away, you get the idea of just how magical this moment was.

We spent the rest of our brief time in Chaoen eating some good food

(this Moroccan salad, now my favorite thing, is full of things I wouldn't eat before leaving- please make note) and hanging out in our hostel. We made a few feline friends while eating

and did some shopping for last minute gifts before heading home. The thing I will remember most from this trip is certainly that moment on the balcony, though. It may be one of my greatest in Morocco.


As the end of the semester nears, time is beginning to get short for accomplishing the things I'd hoped to do in Morocco. As money also begins to run short, I've begun taking one day trips to save the cash and maximize the weekend time in Ifrane (sometimes you have to do a little bit of work...).

Two weekends ago, a friend and I made the trek to Casablanca, which, despite being the most internationally known Moroccan city, really has little to offer unless you're in the market to shop or eat good (yet very expensive food). The only draw my friend and I saw was the Hassan II Mosque- the third largest mosque in the world (after Medina and Mecca), and one of only two in Morocco that non-muslims are allowed to enter.

While I tried, very hard I might add, none of my pictures were able to capture just how enormous this place is. I'm not sure I've ever seen a larger structure in my life. I guess it's all relative, though.

Even the doors were probably 200 feet tall!

In front of the mosque there's an enormous courtyard with gardens, little nooks everywhere, and some very ornate mosaic work which we perused while we waited for our tour.

I was completely awestruck upon entering the mosque. Needless to say, it was as big inside as it is outside!

It was built to hold 25,000 people at once for prayer, but this must be broken down into just 5,000 women and 20,000 men, as worship spaces are segregated by gender. The women stand in these raised platforms

while the men worship on the floor. The interior of the mosque, which was built in only 6 years (1987-1993), is delicate and ornate in every part of its craftsmanship, with lovely marble floors,

carved, painted wood ceilings, and a view of the ocean out the west windows. All of the materials used to make the mosque were Moroccan save the chandeliers, imported from Italy (where else?).

As if this weren't enough, there's a hamam (Turkish bath) underneath the mosque which is open to the public,

and did I mention it's right on the ocean?

Despite quite a crazy travel experience, due to a broken taxi on the way there and a jam-packed train on the way back (there was a protest in Casablanca against some Spanish party that day), the trip to Casa was worth the trip- going into the mosque was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Friday, November 26, 2010


So what does one do with a ten day break from school while studying in Morocco? Well, like most of the international students at AUI, I decided a Eurotrip was most appropriate. Originally, the plan was to go see my long lost high school mate Leah in Z├╝rich, but due to Visa issues Leah's been exiled to London indefinitely, so off to the land of fish and chips I went!

While in London, I had a very anti-tourist experience. I spent most of my time eating all of the delicious vegetarian food offered all over the city

and cooking vegan delights with Leah on the daily. While my digestive system was less than excited about my choice to eat only vegetables, but my palate was satisfied for the first time in months. Leah introduced me to quite a few of her friends from the London couch-surfing community which one night led us to hear a really awesome Balkan band.

The rest of the time I spent riding the bus, making art in the window fog,

and observing London and the Londoners.

I did do a bit of sight-seeing, randomly stumbling across Herman Melleville's home one day

on my way to walk across the Thames and see Big Ben,


the always wonderful protest row outside parliament,

and Westminster Abbey (though it was Sunday so I couldn't go in),

then had a nice evening walk through Regent's Park.

I even met the Queen!

And by that I mean had a really awkward time trying to take a picture of myself with a postcard I didn't want to buy.

The next day Leah and I did some silly tourist things, having an embarrassing encounter with a guard in King's Cross when trying to find Platform 9 3/4,

and then trying repeatedly yet ultimately unsuccessfully to get pictures on Abbey Road,

though the delicious cheap Chinese food we started the day with

made it all worthwhile.

After a good stint in London with Leah, I headed to Amsterdam to meet up with a few of my friends from Morocco and explore what Holland had to offer.

I had heard tell of the bikes in Amsterdam, but until you hear the quiet of a bustling bike city in the evening, you really can't understand. I really enjoyed the personal touches many people made to their bikes, as well as the sheer number of bikes parked on any street, plaza,

or canal barrier.

There was also some incredibly impressive graffiti on a row of buildings we walked by.

A friend of a friend is studying abroad in the 'Dam and showed us around one night, and walked us through a part of the Red Light District on our way to somewhere else, and I had a really hard time with it. I think some of the rest of my crew wanted to go see the main part of the District, but walking past all of those windows knowing what was going on inside made me feel totally helpless.

The most moving experience I had while there was visiting the Anne Frank House. I obviously have no pictures, but that's not an experience I'll soon forget. Thanks to Otto Frank for all of his work and his willingness to open the house to the public to keep the story alive.

Overall, Amsterdam was a magical city, with all of the proper accoutrements for a carnival- bright lights,

delicious treats,

and great sights. Oh and let's not forget feminism!

We were lucky enough to get the last few seats a Harry Potter showing, which was quite an adventure into Dutch culture- evidently talking right up until the movie begins, yelling back at the screen, and clapping at any accomplishments are all acceptable and expected in the movie theaters.

Sadly, a stomach bug put me out of commission the day my friends went to the Van Gogh museum, and who wants to do a Heineken brewery tour with food poisoning? Despite my quick illness, though, Amsterdam was a great way to end by break, though I'd rather return sometime in the spring or summer when the sun is up longer than from 8am to 4:30pm.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


So I know I've said this before, but Chefchaoen is absolutely positively the greatest place I have yet seen in Morocco. Situated in the Rif Mountains about an hour south of Tangier, the city is a haven of blue paint, winding, hilly alleyways and breathtaking views. The blue paint which covers most of the town supposedly helps with the mosquitoes but may also be related to the city's history as a Jewish enclave.

The entire bus ride from Fes to Chefchaoen was inspiringly beautiful- I could hardly sleep for want to keep my eyes open.

When we finally arrived, the scenery just got better and better.

There were some extremely happy and healthy looking cats and dogs in Chaoen, which is very strange for Morocco. This one especially seemed happy, or at least very strategically housed.

As we followed the guides who offered to help us find a hotel up the winding alleys and walkways of the town, I really began to believe I was in a story book. When we arrived at the hotel and saw this tiny stairway and little blue wagon scene,

there was no longer a question in my mind- Chefchaoen must be the creation of Dr. Seuss.

After checking into the hotel and freshening up from the CLIMB up to our hotel, we headed down to the main square to have some tea and watch the sunset.

We found the perfect rooftop from which to do so, with a great view of the town on one side

and the mosque complex on the other.

We spent the rest of the night exploring the town and had some more rooftop fun on the terrace of our friends' hotel.

The next day was a cloudy, rainy one, but it turns out the mountains are still beautiful in the rain.

We decided since the weather wasn't too great for shopping in town we would take a taxi ride to Akchor, a nearby mountain town. Let me just say we made the correct decision. The entire trip to Akchor,

our time spent drinking tea in Akchor,

and the ride back

were punctuated by the sound of my camera clicking photos incessantly,

maybe having a little too much fun with the effects of the bumpy road. I couldn't stop trying to capture what my eyes were seeing.

When we got back to Chefchaoen, we began searching for something to eat, and stumbled upon a little hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop where we got the largest, most delicious sandwiches I have ever experienced all for just 8Dh ($1) each.

I kid you not, this sandwich rice, pasta, tuna, olives, peas, carrots, onions, and french fries on top.

After eating those sandwiches we were thoroughly exhausted and headed back to the hotel, watched a movie and headed to sleep. Our bus the next day was early and prohibited any more sight-seeing before heading back, but my attempts at channeling Ansel Adams continued for the rest of the trip home.