Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Travel Tuesday : Volubilis, Morocco

Got up early(ish) and went to the nearest medina gate to pick up a taxi. I had been thinking about taking a bus or a shared grand taxi, but we bumped into Josephine on the way out of the riad and she convinced us to take the train. We got a taxi right away and were at the station in a few minutes, then easily got 1st-class tickets to Meknes and settled in for the short ride.

Got off at the right station (the second one) -- so thrilling not to have luggage! -- and out into the street. A man quietly said "Taxi? Volubilis? Moulay Idriss?" and we said no thanks and moved a little bit away to get our bearings. LP said to go to the Institut Francais to haggle for a taxi and to try to get the price down to 350 Dh.

While I was looking for the map, the man approached again, again very quietly and politely, so we asked how much. He described the trip: 20 minutes drive to Volubilis, 2 hours to walk around the site, then a 5-minute drive to a panorama above Moulay Idriss, and then 20 minutes back... for 350. Which is exactly that I wanted to / expected to pay. So w/o haggle or hassle we agreed.

The driver was nice -- chatting in French and telling us about the upcoming festival for the king, about prickly pear (cactus), about olive oil, etc. We understood about 50% of what he was saying.

Soon we arrived at Volubilis and I could barely believe my eyes -- the site was huge!

Volubilis itself was surprising -- like Ephesus must have been in the 70s -- some bits cleaned up, but lots of piles of rock, a few arches, lots of fallen pillars, and only a handful of signs. A big museum, very modern looking, is being built, but seemed to be a couple of years from opening. (The building was apparently completed in 2011) But once open it should help the place -- which just needs money to improve the signage, etc.

The mosaics are remarkably intact, other than the ones which have had their faces or naked bodies scratched out.

The Hercules mosaic is particularly lovely.

And this elephant is remarkably realistic:

And I liked the arches, especially the triumphal arch. And I like that storks have built their nests atop two of the tallest columns in the basilica. Very nice that someone still makes a home there.

We were pretty much done after 1:45 -- there's no shade to speak of at the site, and it's very dry. We couldn't even be bothered to go to the cafe for a cold drink -- we just went back to the car and our driver.

Leaving Volubilis ("I told you you would only want 2 hours!") he drove up the hill to a nice view of Moulay Idriss, explaining that it's the tomb of Moulay Idriss I, and the tomb in Fes is of his son, Moulay Idriss II. "Poor man's Mecca", because 5 trips to Moulay Idriss during the saint's festival = 1 trip to Mecca. A fossil seller sidled up and tried to sell us fossils, while telling us about Moulay Idriss but he kept slipping from German to English which is pretty much what I do when speaking Spanish or French.

Then back in the car and back to Meknes, where the driver was a bit disappointed in us that we didn't want to explore his city. But we only had 20 minutes until our train at 13:29, so we didn't want to risk it. So to the station we went, and discovered the train would be 35 minutes late. Okay, fine. Well, the train was eventually 90 minutes late. Boo. And when it came there was no A/C. Double boo. But it came, we got on, and had no trouble getting a petit taxi back to the medina.

Spent the afternoon resting (oh, after having a date shake at Cafe Clock...) and then in the evening went back out for a saunter, looked at some slippers, and ate.

The slippers thing was tough -- I think I *wish* I wanted them, but in part I didn't want the hassle. But we went to a shop, Wil tried on some yellow slippers (the best!), and we looked at the different quality. I think the guy just normally sold to locals, so didn't want to haggle -- but he also gave us very inflated prices. So we said no and walked away, and he didn't follow. I realized that flat slippers really wouldn't do much for my feet, so I dismissed the idea as well. So no slippers for us.

Dinner at Café Clock, again -- got a great table we sniped from another couple (who left a bag with a melon, and then slunk back for it). Wil had the cheese and veggie grilled sandwich, I had the falafel/tabbouleh/hummous platter (not as nice as last time?) and two big waters. We watched the sun set over Fes and relaxed.

Then "home" to our riad, a cold drink on the rooftop, then bed.  

lovely Albert Moore-ish scallop / fan shape at Volubilis

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