Twin cities of doom (Fes + Meknes)

Day 09 – 09th of March – Fes
On which germs strike
Bad night at youth hostel in megadamp room of mould, Sofia is coughing hard, Manu feels really ill.  Early rise, very chilly. We get 8 pain au chocolat for breakfast! But it’s not enough to make up for shitty room.
We look for another hotel for the next night, but check out is 10am so we get basically kicked out at 5 to 10. Check in at Splendid hotel, super luxury. The thermometer confirms how Manu feels, quite sick, so he spends rest of the day in bed.
Girls go out for a walk and to a small playground nearby. Picnic lunch and dinner in the room, with our poorly patient. Rains hard all afternoon.

Day 10 – 10th of March – Fes
On which girls visit medina + Manu recovers
Manu still very tired in the morning but starting to feel better. Girls go with a guide to visit Fes medina, see a few shops + workshops, and get squashed by donkeys and hand-cart pullers in tiny streets.  Lunch at italian restaurant – verdict: it sucks, Manu is happy to have some pizza though.  Afternoon in; it’s raining hard outside again. Dinner at cheap soup place, pea soup with cumin and oil.

Day 11 – 11th of March – Fes – Meknes
On which we leave one city for another
Early rise – kids up at 6:30
Check out from Fes.
We visit Dar Batha museum – nice garden
Quick look round Fes medina – but noticeably very few fes for sale!
Lunch with tasty meat sarnies at cheap sarnie place

Off to Meknes on motorway – toll!
Check in at Majestic hotel in Meknes
Afternoon in, we’re all tired.

Day 12 – 12th of March – Meknes/Volubilis
On which we get soaked around ruins and medina
Hard narrow beds and cold room make for a bad night, sore throats. Heavy morning rain. Arguments with parking touts for wanting again 20Dh in the morning and with policeman. Heavy headed we head towards Volubilis.

Volubilis looks good, muddy. Unfortunately mood is greyer than sky. Mosaics, triumphal arch, roads, columns, fountains. A lone pair of storks look very wet and cold perched on their nest on one of the columns. We come back soaked but slightly brighter sky and mood.

Lunch at local fancy rotisserie, raw salad again.
Afternoon in, too much rain.  Later we take a crazy bus to the medina, interesting walk around by night, a glimpse/smell of the spice market, shiny olive towers.
Torrential rain sweeps the square, we go into a restaurant overlooking the square. Not cheap, not especially good, More raw salad, ripped off on bill, but we watch Barça owning Milan.

Day 13 – 13th of March – Meknes – El Jadida
On which we get back to the sea
Wake up not too early, breakfast not too good, Fi was sick overnight.
Get out some money with English card.
Car has been scratched with a key on the side overnight. After the argument the previous day, I can only suspect parking touts mafia. Well glad to leave the city and this place. Manu refuses to pay the parking tout who is asking for 20Dh as we leave, pointing to the scratch. He curses us pointing to the sky and calling ‘dieu’. Not impressed.
Drive is long even on the motorway. We stop after a couple of hours at a service station, have 2 sarnies for lunch, worst ever!
Then we drive along the coast, which is nicer, Fi not well so Manu does all the driving.
We go straight to find the apartment agency and manage to get to see an apartment on the roundabout. Very big, somewhat noisy. We take it, too tired to do anything else.
Grocery shopping at Carrefour, we’re all exhausted and just want to get home. Pasta for dinner, stomach relief, no meat no fried food. In bed early, beds are wonderful.

Moroccan northern coast (Al Hoceima + The Rif)

Day 5 – 5th of March – Al Hoceima
On which we walk on the beach.

Breakfast in the hotel room, then we go find a beach. We end up in Amir plage, which is a pretty little beach just around town. Spend some good time there. Then we visit briefly another good looking beach with a nice park behind. We’re also trying to find the tourist office, not easy. When we manage to spot it, they don’t have a lot of info about the national park but they’re nice and helpful.

We go to the Espace Miramar for lunch, a place with games overlooking the town beach. It’s all right. After siesta we try and find another beach West of town, we drive around for a while and get lost. Get back to the square, it’s dark, take some pictures, watch kids on rollerblades, then head off to port fish restaurant, Club Nautique. It’s good enough, Fi has a beer! Back home, a little internet cafè for me then sleep, not great.

Day 6 – 6th of March – Al Hoceima – Cala Iris
On which we learn about local boats
We get up early enough, buy some croissants from a patisserie and eat them at a cafè together with more breakfast. Exchange some money then we set off. We get a little lost initially out of town and end up at some nice beaches, including the one we were looking for yesterday.

The drive to Cala Iris is easy, smooth, nice views but not spectacular.
We get to the campsite and it looks the part. Overlooking a beach in the middle of nowhere, nobody else around. We’re offered a choice between caravan and little hut, bungalow not ready, we get advised against tents and the caravan by the campsite guy. After realizing the caravan has no curtains we take his advice and go for the hut.
Lunch at some empty restaurant on the road back to main road, recommended by campsite owner, Rachid. It’s just us and the boys who serve us don’t speak to us, not even for the order.
We take a quick look at Torres, it looks cool but not much other than the tower on the hilltop.
Afternoon we go back for siesta, then go down to the beach East of the small port in Cala Iris even though it’s raining on and off. Beach is nice, windy.

Talk to the captain of the navy station there in French, English, Spanish. I ask him about boats for Bades, he can’t say much other than ask at the port. He’s very nice and tries to play with Giugiu a bit.
We go back for a shower, first one since we left for me, to be had in the bungalow.

Our only option for dinner is to go down to the port, where we’re turned away from the first place recommended by Rachid. We move on to a more upmarket restaurant, meaning it has a sign in French. The only people inside are eating together and as we enter they invite us to join them. We realize it’s the owners. There’s only two bits of fish, some green salad and very little bread left, but it’s nice of them. After Giugiu and Sofia have eaten something they offer to cook us something, like in a proper restaurant, although ramshackle is a better description. Fried calamari and red mullets for everyone, a feast! Also our first raw vegetables.

We go to bed thankful for having eaten.

Day 07 – 07th of March – Cala Iris/Bades
On which I swim and cause a diplomatic incident
Nice and hearty breakfast at campsite
Try our luck at the port, but sea is rough and fishermen say they’re not going out, so we decide to drive to our destination of the day, Bades

Road is nice and easy till the village, we find the dirt road very easily and it’s a beautiful drive: slow but steady, no cars no people, go through a valley with a wide riverbed next to us and hills dotted with caves on the sides. Just the road is worth the trip.

Bades is a beautiful bay at the rivermouth. Almost cause a diplomatic incident, didn’t realize the Spanish were so edgy about this little rock in the sea. The border is marked by a blue line on the sandy beach, it could be a beach volleyball line. I am told not to trespass it by a laid back Moroccan guard. Obviously this means I want to get as close a look as I can, but the Spanish guard standing just behind the line looks very nervous as I approach, and my attempt at conversation in Spanish doesn’t seem to help much. Nor does my question about taking photographs. Shame because the rock makes for a great subject.
Then chill out on the beach, get some sun, it gets really hot, we go for a walk to the other end of the bay.
Nothing open to eat in Bades, we just eat some bread and go back.

Afternoon around campsite in Cala Iris. As we walk out of the campsite to go down to the beach a van stops just by the campsite entrance, a guy with a rifle gets off, shoots in the direction of the next door house, then he gets back on and the van leaves. My brain can’t make sense of the thing, Fi is freaked out, so we turn back. Rachid comes to reassure us, hare hunting. We’re not very convinced, but whatever it was, it was not directed at us.

Not too hot on the beach, cloudy but warm wind. I get all my wetsuit bits on and go in the water. I float well above the surface! Heart races but no feeling of frozen limbs. Water very blurry, can only make out some urchins and a couple of small fish, so I get out quickly.
I walk back with Sofia, it starts raining and in the 5 minute walk back to camp we manage to get soaked.
Rainbow just before sunset, notice it’s double only after taking some pictures and looking at them.
We wait for dinner in cafè, nice tajine that we can’t even finish, too much food.
Sleep little that night, bed wasn’t so comfortable.

Day 08 – 08th of March – Cala Iris – Fes
On which we cross crazy kif country to get to the city
Leave as soon as we’re ready, which is not too early. Breakfast in the car
Drive up mountains to reach about 1500m a.s.l. Narrow road, need to drive off the side every time a car comes from the other way. Beautiful scenery.
Drive through crazy places: Ketama and the Rif – kif area.
Roads are bad and lots of drivers try to sell their product from cars, driving next to us on opposite lane at some 60 km/h. Sometimes they overtake and slow down right in front of you, beep, flash lights, wave little packets, fingers. One gave us a complete hand gesture talk while driving in front of us, worth reporting:
– Wanna buy some?
– 20Dh
– You don’t want it now?
– No problem, you can call me later
– I’ll leave you my number
… ended with his hand waving a little note presumably with his phone number
Also saw some people by the roadside selling bagfuls, of what we’re not sure
It’s a beautiful route but impossible to enjoy
Stop in Taounate, back in civilized land, for lunch, fried egg with moroccan bread and tea.
Arrive in Fes quite knackered, look for a hotel, after seeing a few ones pick the youth hostel for the pretty garden.
We spend some of the afternoon in the room and realize it’s a bad choice, room is dark, cold, very humid with some mould growing.

Wander a bit for dinner in the rain, end up in a cheap rotisserie which is a good pick, harira and chicken are both good and warming, since we’re pretty soaked and cold from the rain. We go to sleep already feeling the discomfort of the beds and walls.

Across the Med (Bologna – Morocco)

Day 1 – March 1st – Bologna – Nice
On which we set off for a new life

Our plan was to leave around 9 o’clock. But we have breakfast with the rest of the family, and we’re not completely packed up so that we don’t actually leave until a bit later. I’m satisfied though because the car is not completely packed full, and I interpret that as a good sign, leaving some room for the good things to come. Fiona is busy with lists and organising everything, Giugiu and Sofia are in a good mood. Off we go.

The drive is quite smooth and fast. Play car games until excitement is provided courtesy of many many tunnels. Quick stop for orange juice, until we reach the coast in Liguria, turn west and stop for lunch in Noli. Noli is a very nice little village, but expensive, like most of the coast here.We see the sea for the first time of the year but I am disappointed to realize that it doesn’t smell. Expectation not met.

After lunch we resume, drive into France, pay some tolls, arrive in Nice, get lost a little bit but not too bad, park quite easily, check in our reserved hotel near the station. It’s the evening, we’re all tired but we head down towards the centre along the main road looking for a decently cheap place to eat. No luck, the result is that we never really get to the centre or the famous promenade, Sofia is looking like she could fall on the floor any minute and I feel the same. We enter the first restaurant with dishes under 10€. Only after we get the menus do I realize it’s a Vietnamese restaurant. That doesn’t help my feeling sick, but once we start eating everything gets better and we all enjoy the soup. Giugiu and Sofia enjoy the ‘castle’ beds in the hotel and we sleep well.

Day 2 – March 2nd – Nice – Sete
On which I find out that friendship need not fade away

After breakfast in the hotel room we set off on our drive through France. The road leaves the coast and goes through pine forests and mountains. We pay a lot of tolls. We’re meeting Flo in Aix-en-Provence. A few days before leaving I thought we could stop in Nice to sleep, and I associated that city with Flo who I think used to live there. I searched his name on Google and found his email address, wrote him 3 lines and as easy as anything he replied ‘let’s meet in Aix’.

Flo is an old soul mate of mine. We shared life in Katelios for a few months back in 2002, my first year in Kefalonia when we both volunteered from the spring into the summer. We connected from the beginning and we had made good friends, then we both went back to our lives and didn’t talk much after that. My brain says that we met again on a trip to France during winter 2005, but can’t find any information related to that. Anyway we arrive in Aix on a beautiful sunny Saturday. We meet Flo and Paolina on the Rotonde, walk around a bit, grab some sarnies, go to a playground, spend a long time talking about the sea, swimming, fish and such things, walk some more till we get tired and say goodbye. I deliberately tried not to think about this meeting too much beforehand so I wouldn’t have any special expectations. In leaving I am hit by a wave of how surprisingly easy it was to communicate and find common ground even after more than 10 years. I think it’s mostly due to the fact that we were similar types and over the years we ended up liking similar things anyway. He invites us to camp in his garden on our way back or whenever and to do some snorkelling together, and I don’t need to hear it a second time to take it on. When the time comes I’ll make sure we dedicate a few days to a stop in Southern France.

The rest of the drive feels long, my back’s aching a bit, the girls are now feisty from spending too many hours in the car, we don’t really appreciate that it’s the Camargue. The worst part of the day is yet to come though. We finally arrive in Sete, stop at a supermarket to buy some dinner and food for the boat, get to the port, I queue for tickets 3 times after forgetting papers or simple misunderstanding, we queue before passport control, we queue after passport control and we all lose our patience a bit. Then we get on the boat, where the crew is all Italian, the cabin not so clean but we’re on, we leave on time and that’s good.

Day 3 – March 3rd – Sea crossing
On which we cross the Med

We spend the whole day on the ferry. In the morning we spend some time in the playroom with a bunch of Moroccan kids. Giugiu is quite open to them, and it’s the first but not last time she’ll surprise me with this change in her shyness. Sofia is not feeling too well still, and I blame mostly that for her insecurity but I don’t know how right I am.Fiona says it’s that the kids are older than her, but not all of them are. Anyhow we hang around the boat for the rest of the day, I play with the gps which tells us we’ll arrive in Nador much later than the declared 6am, spend some time out on the deck. We have dinner at the self-service, big portions of pasta.

We go to bed knowing we’ll be in Morocco the next day, with the boat rocking decisively.

Day 4 – March 4th – Nador – Al Hoceima
On which we hit our first destination and have our first close encounters with the local population

We are woken up by the boat announcements that we’re approaching Nador, we get out and there it is. Morocco, Africa in its full rainy gray splendor.
Breakfast at the self-service again. Thanks to our long experience in boat travels, we do not follow the crowd in its pointless frenzy to get off the boat. Instead, we take it easy, walk along the deck, smell the air, watch the coast, and wait, not too long. It’s all very quick, it’s still earlyish morning when we land. I thought it might take a while to go through the Moroccan customs, but my expectations are exceeded. We park the car in what resembles a multi-tentacled queue and myriads of touts turn up. One grabs my passport, scribbles on some paper, keeps the paper then points me to another queue. In this other queue, where people stand in a line, things go normal if somewhat slowly. This is where we need to get all our passports stamped, and I am amazed a) to see that, of the hundreds of people on the boat, there seem to be only 20-30 people here; b) that they don’t visually check all the people coming into Morocco, women and children are exempted, there are only adult males here. I also consider that c) there are 2 officers to check the whole boat, all in all not a lot and d) as I am waiting in the line a couple of people come to me with some questions, addressing me in Arabic as the most normal thing in the world, even after I stare at them in complete blankness. We pass onto a second queue for the car, much quicker. They have a quick look and let us go. I reject the tout’s offer to get to the front of this second queue because he held the place for me. I am puzzled by the lack of request for an insurance, a case not contemplated in the guidebooks.

First task is exchanging some money, easily accomplished because the bank is just there. Then to get car insurance. We’re directed to one and find out it only does Moroccan cars. I drop off the family at a cafè and get on the ask. I ask at some other office, but I get hijacked by some other touts. Eventually I find a small insurance office that evokes a lot more third world images than what I have seen so far. The insurance guy literally rips me off charging some 150Dh over the nominal price, I feel already overwhelmed by what seemed like an impossible task for a good half hour so I give in without much protest. After I’ve paid he asks for more, which pisses me off, and off I go. Then I have to tip the tout who followed brought me there, and the one who looked after the car.

We leave the port behind, drive through Nador which is quite big, get a little lost. Then we take the coastal road West, and it’s beautiful. It’s a new, fast road, the sea on the right and the mountains on the left. Impressive rocks and colours. Olive trees. River beds. Not many cars or people.
Maybe distracted by beautiful scenery, we get stopped at yet another police check, this time they say I’m speeding, 80km/h on a limit of 60, on a clear straight road, the end of limit sign is just 100m ahead. 500Dh fine, welcome to Morocco. Then we stop for petrol, at least that’s cheap, about 80c/l, half than in Italy.

Arrive in Al Hoceima. It’s big, fairly modern and of a size that we can find our way around easily enough. I scan the cheap hotels just after tajine lunch. Hotel is cheap and looks all right, but actually there’s no water coming from shower and windows have a funny blue tint. Not too clean either on second look, and room very humid.
We walk to the main square and spend the afternoon there, overlooking the city beach. Then go back to hotel, Fi gets some sarnies to eat in the room for dinner and we sleep early.

In Morocco

So we got to Morocco, on a grey and rainy morning. Still the temperature is quite warm, a very welcome change.


The highlight of the trip so far was meeting with Flo and Paolina in Aix-en-Provence. I was quite surprised to find out that over 10 years after meeting him for the first time, and seeing him only once briefly since then, we ended up liking very similar things. That is snorkelling, fish, the sea and anything related.

The worst part of the trip so far was getting a 500 Dh (almost 50€) speed ticket on our first day here in Morocco, no comment.

Other than that, the drive from Nador port to Al Hoceima today was very scenic even against a greyish background. We got to Al Hoceima in the early afternoon, tired but elated enough. Energy ran out just before getting to the beach on our afternoon walk though, so that will be left for tomorrow.

Nice, quite nice

Well our first day was pretty successful, we made it to Nice still in one piece.  Fortunately  giulia and sofia are disproportionately excited by tunnels, of which there were plenty, given the amount of mountains between France and Italy! So that occupied most of the journey.

We stopped at Noli briefly for lunch, and saw the sea again for the first time in months. Then we had a short walk around Nice and a tram ride before dinner, which was a surprisingly good vietnamese. Yum!

Not all those who wander are lost

We’re off! After delaying our departure from Bologna for a month due to illness + Manu’s lifesaving course we are finally all ok and ready to go.  First stop, Nice.  But before that, bed, as we’ve been last minute packing all day (+ night)!

For concerned relatives + friends (yes mum, I do mean you) – check out our Route page, which I will try to update frequently as we develop our plans.

For now, buona notte