Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fish. AND chips. Because morocco. [Guest post!]

From my house guest, with a few minor additions from me. Should have posted it 6 days ago when he wrote it!

And so, the second chapter of my visit to morocco begins with a long, slow train ride from rabat, location of chapter 1, to assilah, coastal town just south of tangier. there Beki and I strolled the streets of the medina, this one distinctive for both the white and blue painted walls of their Spanish heritage, as well as the annual ritual of inviting artists to paint murals on the blank facades, resulting in an outdoor gallery that lasts four seasons. Of course beki chose a lovely town to initiate me to morocco with, and the breeze is cool and intermittent from the ocean only feet away. We wander the alleys and discover sites seen for hundreds of years. the guys in the stores aren't pushy at all, so we can actually look at stuff without feeling like we're being interrogated, which is a plus.

Our second night in town, we find casa garcia, a Spanish seafood joint that wouldn't have looked out of place in Galveston, and had some Spanish omelette and filet of sole. Beki taught me how to properly debone a little fish, as it was served whole, and so now I know! she herself had learned in France or Tunisia, and so life's journey of learning continues. The appetizer for the meal was a version of fish and chips that would cause most pause, we think. It was chips, as in thinly sliced potato, with some kind of long sliced smelt or sardine draped over the top. Rather than the English fried cod and French fries of the same name, this one is literally - fish. And chips.

Second day we took a grand taxi ('grand' meaning in morocco - recycled mercedes Benz from the 70s) down the road to a beach south of town, including a kilometer of dirt 4x4 trail in said taxi. Well it was either that or the "four heel drive" donkey cart, which is a little slower and unupholstered. As well as not having doors, floor, or a roof. They are hard on their cars here, but do get their value out!. We travel via a street market. Imagine a one lane country road with shade trees along one side. Add people strolling thick among impromptu shops of goods strewn on blankets and sold from the backs of vans, including full furniture sets, hardware, and clothing - groups huddled around particularly interesting deals, mothers with children in tow. Bicycles and wheelbarrows crisscrossing. This went on for a kilometer, at least. Cafes with grilled fish, open air meat, turkey, I think, dangling from a wire, flies abuzz. now Add two way thru traffic, like us, in the grand taxi, and the donkey carts, and motorcycles, mostly at a crawl. THAT was the Thursday street market in the country on the way to the beach.

The beach is lovely, straight, clean and empty on the Atlantic coast. It sits wedged into the feet of a hilly outcrop that is serenely free of any development not shaped like a grass hutch, though the sandy rutted road down the way could use some grading or drainage work to cut back on the washout sections. I'd not want to drive there in a rain for fear of accidentally parking upside down a hundred feet below. A half dozen little tent bodegas built out of, it looks like, whatever floated up on the beach today are set up for the post peak season straggling tourist crowd. And all silently fight for the thirty total gringos now wandering the surf. Paleys in sagging faded bathing suits who surely must go from one beach to another in their futile and yet seemingly ubiquitous attempt to become tan while also smoking cigarettes by scorning shade. Now plus two, minus the bit about cigarettes, shade, and tans. We picked a forward set of deck chairs situated under a canopy of rebar and hay for some serious relaxing closest to the water, but first need to be properly softened/beaten up by the brisk early fall surf. Heavy crashing Waves about chest and stomach high buffet us about after wading in to the knee deep chilly. Is there such a thing as a light wave when you are trying to stand in it?  Some waves catch us off guard (sneak up on us?) and we happily get knocked on our butts. One older gringo busies himself with pulling up a crab fishing line the locals have set, and gets in to an ongoing discussion, very animated, but sounding to us only like more waves crashing in the crisp September sun and surf.

We laze about and talk, and listen, and are busy doing not much at all. But we are happy and it is calm, but for the noisy earthmoving water. We Walk a bit and see the surf from a different angle then return to our gear, which has been helpfully moved out of reach from the slowly rising tide by our cabana man. A trio of camels employed as tourist photo backdrop can no longer nap head down in the sand, but must stand improbably in the surf runoff and also wait patiently for their blue turbaned minder to come lead them to higher land, lest they get wet. And who has ever heard of a wet camel? They might melt. The sun starts to move a little faster than us, finally, and it's time to eat a little tagine, the cumin heavy chicken stew, with dipping bread and a side of sliced vegetables before leaving. We take turns paying a dollar to hose off (beki suspects the guy who unlocked hers then proceeded to peep at her from the cubicle next door, but what do you do with no proof?) before getting back in the taxi for the climb out to town and the train station, our ride to meknes and chapter three.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


You can thank T and V for these.

First, let's start with leaving Rabat. I don't know if the main AC at the airport had broken or what, but there were crews installing these standing units here and there. And I'm assuming they were temporary due to the way they were dealing with the excess water - see the bottle? A lady came around to change it about every ten minutes, when it would be half full and starting to get close to spilling out. She had several empties in her hand, so I think she probably just kept walking around, switching out the bottles and emptying them.

Brussels! On the Grande Place (Big Square) that it is known for. Pretty, no?

This is looking at the main belfry from a couple of streets away. I like all of the shops down below, with the buildings above, with the belfry still towering above them all. Apparently that's the typical Flemish style. It's not part of a cathedral or church, they usually aren't, but a kind of watch tower.

The obligatory peeing boy. Can you see him up there?

Belgium is proud of their comics. I'm not quite sure what this one is, but Brussels has painted walls of different ones around the city and they are pretty neat. I like how it keeps the style of the actual face of the building next to it and the windows and all.

Art near outside a design studio right near my hostel.

Cool/creepy statues in a very pretty, calm square with a very big pool. The decoration kind, not the swimming kind.

And the belfry all lit up at night. Super impressive.

Pictures like this remind me that I have actually learned something about how to get a decent shot over my 10 years of traveling. It's not terrible, but what would I want over half of the picture to be the cobblestone square itself instead of the amazing things around it? No wonder some of the random people who have asked me to take their pictures have seemed genuinely happy when they saw the way I took it for them.

Hall of the hostel, where you can see it's an old converted factory. I think the hall is as wide as my room was long. There were 4 beds in the room, 2 regular and one bunk.

I am not sure what this is about, but it looked cool. It is in the arts and museum area.

Look, the waffle has stuff in it! Filled waffles are typical of one city (Liege?? I forget) while other cities have stuff on top. The traditional is just powdered sugar on top, but of course now you can get fruit and chocolate and icecream and even nuts, I think.

Antwerp's Grande Place

Castle near the river in Antwerp, with more modern architecture right across the street.

I thought this statue/fountain was cool. Still Antwerp.

Fries! This accidentally ended up being my dinner that night. I think the guy switched my size up because it cost more than I thought it should, but I couldn't figure out exactly what happened until I saw it. I was too hungry to be thinking straight and catch the jerk in his overcharge, I guess. At least he gave me the big one since I paid for it (even if I couldn't eat it all.)

Super awesome coffee shop! I like how they have the little filter holders ready for up to five cups. It's apparently kind of 'their thing' which made me laugh since that's the way I make it for myself at home. I haven't seen the filter holders in Europe much, though, so I guess it's unique there.

One of two instances of cappuccino art I saw in Belgium. Most of the time the milk was just poured in however.

Bruges! Or Brugge, if you want to go with the Flemish/Dutch name.

I liked these guys holding up the benches. Maybe they are water dragons? Not sure.

A square I found by accident at 5AM on my way home. Turned out it was 2 blocks from my hostel, ha.

And the same square a couple of days later! This was on Saturday, after I wandered through the market and bought myself breakfast, then found a covered terrace from which to sip a coffee and read. It was raining. And wonderful.

Bike path along a canal between Brugge and Damme, a small city nearby. I did a bike tour and it was really fun, despite the rain.

If you enlarge the picture, you can see it says "here is my bank" across the top. And then clearly it really is MINE, since it says bpost.

More Bruges.

Ghent! I stayed in a hotel along the left, and you can see the castle over to the right. Yep, a castle-y castle. Right in the city.

Here is a better view of the castle for you. It looks so American-fairy-tale to me. Square tall part in the middle, round turret-y things around the outside, castle pointy parts and everything. Get an architect if you want the right words.

I have no idea, but found it awesome. And disturbing. Made me think of Le.

I read that you haven't seen Ghent if you haven't seen it at night. They are apparently very proud of their lighting. I thought it was pretty cool myself.

Europe and Africa, trying to touch. They're actually only 14 km (8.7 miles) apart and crazy people swim it for fun.

So there you go, you can't say I never gave you anything.