Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Travel Tuesday : Tangier, Morocco

After completing our Carros de Foc trek we flew to Morocco for the next leg of our journey. Our plan was to fly into Tangier, go to the train station, and get a couchette (sleeping bunk) on the overnight Marrakesh Express train... singing Simon and Garfunkel the whole way.

But sometimes travel gets messy. Our flight from Barcelona -- the one we struggled mightily to book! -- departed an hour late. Though we were able to get off the plane quickly, it took a long time to get through immigration.

First we massed through a "health screening" -- basically past some sort of heat scanner, hoping to spot people with elevated temperatures. This was, after all, the summer of swine flu. We then got to the immigration hall, where we joined a short queue at a window with two woman attendants who were both studiously ignoring the person standing there. He eventually picked up his things and walked to another window. Note there was no "we're closed" or anything.

So we also went to another queue, and finally got to the front of it... and then were asked to go to a health check, which meant taking us to a room off to the side, but luckily together. Our temperatures were taken and we were asked a lot of questions about where we had been for 10 days, whether we had been around anyone who was ill, etc. It was only later that we learned that the UK then had the second most cases of swine flu, so it was probably a good idea they were checking.

We raced through to grab our bags, then ran out to catch a taxi to the train station. Time was extremely short, but we hoped that perhaps the train might be delayed, too. But traffic was bad, and after being scolded by the grandfatherly taxi driver when we accidentally overpaid him, we arrived just in time to see the train pulling out of the station. Gutted.

We were, however, able to buy couchette tickets for the following night, so at least that was settled. But that meant we would have 23 hours and 45 minute to spend in Tangier.

We left the station, got another taxi, and went in search of a place to stay. I was a little worried about looking for a hotel at 9:30pm, so I picked one from our travel guide that wasn't to far from several decent places. We ended up at the Marco Polo hotel in a big triple room which allowed us to stretch out a bit.

Around 10pm we went for a walk along with swarms of people. We had pizza in a beachfront cafe with a very friendly waiter -- almost a Fawlty Towers "Manuel" sort of way -- before heading back to the hotel to relax.

The next day we walked from the hotel to the seafront, and then up into the medina. We stumbled into the Grand Socco, where we watched lines of school kids crisscrossing the square. Really aimless as we had no particular place to go.

Then back into the Kasbah, where we somehow managed to avoid the siren call of Jimmy's World Famous Perfumerie.

We did stop in a tiny cafe called the Restaurant Afrique. I had my first mint tea -- real mint tea -- at a table in a tiny square that suddenly filled up with two competing tour groups, one Spanish, one German. Clearly we had come to a popular spot.

Later we came across a strange viewpoint with a handful of locals -- a big rocky expanse with what looked like graves cut out of it. Hard to say. But it was breezy and peaceful.

Eventually we made our way to the El Minzah Hotel, a classy old hotel that is home to Caid's Bar.

The place was nearly empty -- it was mid afternoon in July, decidedly low season in Morocco -- but we ordered a pair of expensive cocktails. I had a delicious whisky sour, Wil had a gin fizz.

Caid's is the inspiration for Rick's Cafe in the the movie Casablanca -- in the evening there's a piano player, lots of dark corners, etc.

On we wandered, down to the seafront for an ice cream at the "Glacier Igloo",

strolling past a volleyball tournament on the beach,

nosing around a supermarche -- so much Laughing Cow cheese!

Finally we went back to the train station, where we smiled at a little funfair full of excited kids

and then just camped out in a corner waiting to board the train.

Finally it was time to board!

We found our couchettes and were happy to see that our compartment-mates were a pair of Aussies on an "intrepid tour" of 10. Friendly but quiet, we happily had the lights out before 11pm. And I probably only hummed "Marrakesh Express" once.

I slept fitfully on the top bunk, Wil reported he slept really well on the bottom bunk. I woke up in the middle of the night to discover the train stopped at a small station. I could see a park nearby that was full of teenagers playing basketball under fluorescent lights. And then I slept.

Travel Tuesday is a new project where I'm going to revisit old trips and post them here. For the next several weeks I'll be posting stories from our trip to Morocco and Egypt in 2009. Hard to believe it's been 10 years!

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