rabat, morocco

After spending a day and a half in Fes (see more here), we took the train back to Rabat to finish out the last day and a half of our trip.  We opted for first-class tickets again (now, don't be thinking "OH who do they think they are now?!"  Refer back to our Fes post for our reasoning on that, but basically, it afforded us a bit more space and guaranteed seats for a few more euros...so we 'splurged.') and had another good experience.  Danny ended up sitting next to a (friendly, English-speaking) military cadet for a majority of the journey...and you'll see more of him before too long :)

D - This was really one of the highlights of the trip for me.  While I was working on my Spanish one of the cadets leaned over and asked me "What's so interesting?"  (I guess we just project the image of English speakers).  From there, we started a conversation and really talked about everything under the sun!  It was great talking to an actual Moroccan who wasn't trying to sell me something!

Even though we'd flown into Rabat on Thursday night, it was dark out when we arrived and we went straight to our Airbnb.  In the morning we went directly to the train station (again, in the dark), so we saw very little of Rabat, meaning that we felt like we were seeing it for the first time on Saturday - and we really liked what we saw!  

D - I wasn't sure what to expect coming into Rabat.  I definitely had higher expectations for our time in Fes.  But, as I've said in other posts (and I'm sure you've probably really gotten tired of reading over and over again), I've found that having low expectations usually equates to better travel experiences.  

Once we dropped off our bags at our Airbnb, we went out to explore a bit.  We walked down by the water a little bit (Rabat's on the Atlantic coast), and then started wandering some streets that we thought were a part of the Kasbah (a historic citadel that is on the site of the original ribat, or fortress-monastery, that gives Rabat its name) that has whitewashed houses, most with blue borders along their bases.  Well, as we discovered the next day, we weren't actually in the Kasbah, but we did walk through a nice area, so (shrugs shoulders), oh well!

D - At times during our stay in Morocco, I felt like an idiot because of some mistakes I made with planning and organization.  This was another one of those moments.  However, I'm learning that it's important to give myself grace and not dwell on mistakes but just enjoy the moments.  Choose laughter.  Choose joy.  It's super cliché, but it's really true.  Okay, so what if we wandered around the wrong neighborhood?  It was still pretty nice (though it doesn't hold a candle to the actual Kasbah which you'll see in a moment)!

From what-we-thought-at-the-time-was-the-Kasbah, we walked to Rabat's main medina, or market.  We found Rabat overall to be much less overwhelming and much more manageable than Fes, and the market was no exception.  We felt little pressure to buy, and everything was much lower-key - fewer tourists, more real, local people browsing and shopping, and almost no one calling out to us, trying to convince us to try out their restaurant or tour.

D - We had heard that Rabat was more low-key for tourists than Fes, and definitely found this to be true.  It was really refreshing for us!

We do not have a good reputation (with ourselves?) for eating the healthiest while we're away from home...and for some reason it usually looks like loads of bread products.  In Rabat we had our fair share of different breads being sold by street vendors - the one below was one of our favorites and I think we had it a couple of a times throughout our trip...

Okay so besides the street food, one of the best things about Morocco was that none of the sights we visited cost money!  It wasn't intentional on our part (to visit only free places), it's just how it is.  The main attraction in Rabat is Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V - two separate sites, I suppose, but they're on the same site, and I thought they were under the same title until I just looked them up...oops.  Hassan Tower (I did know this!) is part of an incomplete mosque, and what's there is about half of what was supposed to be the largest minaret in the world.  Well, the sultan overseeing construction on the mosque died in 1199, and work halted, and what we saw is all there was at the time - it's not so bad to look at - although I did find myself imagining what it would have been like had it been completed.  We've seen some stunning Islamic art and architecture so I can only imagine what might have been...!

I have to say, though, the Mausoleum of Mohammed V was my favorite.  The building itself is only 45 years old, and it is just gorgeous.  As the name might infer, a few royals are buried inside, and guards were on duty during both of our visits but friendlier than we might have anticipated - they were open to being photographed and even posed for a few that I saw being taken!

Backstory on this photo: Danny asked a young guy to take our photo in front of the mausoleum, and in the first photo he took, it was us lined up perfectly with the large family behind us.  Okay.  Great, but not really.  Then his friend (who you see pictured below) was like, "One more," and well, that's the second photo we got.  (Sky) conditions were really prime for a gorgeous photo, but alas.  Who knows, maybe the guy that ended up in our photo will be famous one day? 

D - And here we see one of the major differences between traveling to Morocco and traveling to, say Paris, for example.  In Morocco, you stick out.  You are sometimes sort of a rarity.  Random people who you've never met might want to take a picture with you.

We finished out the evening with a walk along the Bou Regreg River.  As alluded to before, Rabat felt safer to us, so we had no issue with staying out once it was dark (as opposed to how we did things in Fes - we turned in just before 6pm as that's when the sun was setting).  The atmosphere along the river was lively and fun as families came out for a stroll, a snack, or to rent little electric cars for their kids to drive around on the boardwalk.

And also dinner!  We asked our Airbnb host for a recommendation and I thought she would give us the name of a hole-in-the-wall local place close to the apartment, but upon arrival, I immediately realized (or thought!) we were out of our league.  From the outside, this place looked like it wasn't messing around, and when we walked down the corridor to get to the host, there was someone pouring hot water out of a fancy basin for guests to wash their hands...so we looked at the menu to be polite, but I had no intention of staying.  Well, I guess that's Morocco for you, but we had both had nice entrees and mint tea and our total was less than €13.  More than we would have paid for falafel (or something similar) on the street, but the experience was really nice and not something we could get for the same price in Madrid.  

Our last day began with another breakfast feast!  You want amazing breakfasts, I give you Morocco!  Our Airbnb host is Turkish, so I think our breakfast was Moroccan with a bit of Turkish influence, but whatever it was, it was great.  I start my day with vegetables...almost never...so props to a place that encourages me to do that.

Remember our train ride from Fes to Rabat the day before?  Where Danny sat by the friendly English-speaking military cadet?  That's him (Saad) below, on Danny's right, along with three of his friends.  He was on his way home from school for the weekend, and suggested we hang out the next morning (and a few messages later asked if he could bring some friends, and what could we say?!).  The six of us walked around trying to find something but it was drizzling and then raining and then REALLY pouring so we spent some time in a coffee shop just talking and then once it downgraded to rain again we went to the market and Saad kindly helped us pick up a few souvenirs and very likely saved us a bunch of dirham in the process.  

D - It was so fun spending time with Saad and his friends.  Though at times we got a bit wet (okay, soaked), we got to experience Moroccan hospitality first-hand and make some new friends!  During our time together, and repeatedly since, Saad invited us to come visit him and his family anytime!

Souvenir shopping complete, we found the actual Kasbah and took too many photos of doors.  Potentially also just too many photos, period, but definitely too many of doors, I will give you that.  The Kasbah was really neat, and I'm glad we ended up 'finding' it, taking our time walking around different streets, and that we had clear weather for a bit of a bit of time on an otherwise very rainy Sunday.

D - Because we walked around what we thought was the Kasbah the day before, we almost didn't visit the real thing.  I am so happy that we did though, cause it was the coolest little neighborhood I've ever been to!

After parting with our new Moroccan friends, Danny and I had lunch at a random place serving a variety of dishes on the street.  The workers were so kind and really went out of their way to help us have a good experience - I saw one of the guys using his phone to look something up and then come to our table and try out a new English phrase.  He brought a pitcher of water, then napkins - for free! - both of which aren't really common practice outside of America we've found, and when Danny offered to take a photo with them, he asked us to be friends on Facebook!  

D - What can I say, I caught the taking-photos-with-random-people bug.

I've never said this after traveling to a place before, maybe because it's kind of cliché or perhaps because I feel like I've never truly experienced it myself, but in Morocco I felt like the people we encountered were really kind.  I could give maybe 10 examples of times over the weekend when I felt like people went above and beyond, or were more gracious than I would expect, and even more times when people were just really friendly.  It was nice.

Not lunch.  Just more bread, of course.

It was raining so we were getting ready to settle into our Airbnb for the afternoon before flying home in the evening, but after a little while I realized it had stopped so we decided to go back to Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum, because why not?  How often are we in Morocco?  

And along the river again, since we'd only seen it in the dark...

...and back 'into town' grab to another piece of street bread, our bags, and our ride to the airport.  (This was the street we stayed on.)

Well, as I'm sure you can tell if you've made it this far, we made it out alive from Morocco - I'm still typing and clicking away here in Madrid.  In fact, we had a great time in Morocco and would love to go to Marrakesh, to the desert, to Chefchaouen, and perhaps a few other places in the future.  As I mentioned before, Moroccans on the whole were kind and welcoming and the weather was just what we were looking for in the middle of a chilly Madrid winter (we went in mid-February).  If pressed, I think we'd both choose Rabat as our favorite city between the two as it was less touristy, was less conservative, and overall we just felt like we could relax a bit more there (although our riad experience in Fes was really special...and so was our lunch at Café Clock...so like I said, if pressed!).  Our first experience in Morocco and in Africa was challenging and frustrating at times, but that's how traveling and trying new things goes sometimes.  Overall, the good far outweighed the bad, and right now, when we had snow and below freezing temperatures yesterday, I'm ready to go back today!