A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: gaddingabout

Casablanca to Dublin - Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Bye bye Morocco - Hello Ireland

semi-overcast 20 °C

Hotel - The Shellbourne Dublin - Room 767

Well, I thought today would be a pretty average day - just travelling from Casablanca to Dublin - with not much to write about. Turns out it was quite a memorable day with plenty to record.

We set the alarm for 5 am and were showered and dressed when our breakfast arrived at 6 am. We had ordered juice, fruit, muesli, yoghurt, croissants, tea and coffee. What arrived was croissants, jam and honey, yoghurt, and coffee and warm milk. We phoned and asked about the juice. It's in the mini bar. Okay, where is the fruit and the muesli? He couldn't find any muesli and didn't even mention the fruit and no answer either about the tea. It really was okay because at that time of the morning, a light snack is all you need.

So, meeting Abdou at 7.15 am and had to have an emergency trip to the "bathroom" which made us a bit late leaving the hotel for the airport, but in the scheme of things, it didn't really matter.

It took about 35 minutes to get to the airport in reasonable traffic. Abdou pulled up on the side of the road a little way away from the airport, but it was the designated drop off spot. We said a quick goodbye and Phil gave him his tip in a closed envelope. Hope he was happy. We will never know!

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Check in was smooth. Our bags are now 24 and 25 kgs but it was okay. Immigration was a bit slow as there were only a couple of people working but the queue wasn't very long. We found our gate and sat down to wait to board. Phil had 600 dirhams to change into euros but when he went looking for the money changer, he was told that you have to do it before you enter the airport. Gee! thanks! now we are stuck with this money that you can't change anywhere in the world. So, he thought he would go shopping and found that the duty free shops at Casablanca Airport don't accept Morrocan dirhams. A few of the junk shops do, so he bought some chocolate biscuits and a revolting necklace. We still have about 200 dirhams left.

The flight to Paris took 2 hours 45 minutes but we were late leaving Casablanca by about 30 minutes because a passenger didn't board, so they had to take her luggage off. We were a bit worried because we only had about a 40 minute turn around to catch our flight to Dublin. The seats on the AirFrance flight were so narrow, they were uncomfortable, even for me! We will never fly AirFrance again (if we can help it). And of course, to add to the drama, they were on their annual summer holiday strike up until yesterday, so we weren't even sure we would get out of Casablanca. What a pathetic excuse for an airline, they are.

We landed in Paris and as soon as we touched down, everyone clapped. How funny. Because we were sitting towards the back of the plane, it took ages for us to get off and we had no idea how far away our departure lounge for Dublin was. We raced up the finger only to discover a queue of people off the plane with two airport police checking everyone's passports and boarding passes. So, Phil made his way to the top of the queue saying "scusee, scusee" as he was going and tried to point out to the male policeman that we only had about 20 minutes until our next flight was leaving. He didn't understand English and pointed to the female policewoman. We tried to explain to her the urgency of the situation but she wouldn't listen and said we were rude for jumping the queue, and put our passports and boarding passes in her pocket and made us stand over the other side of the passage way. Phil was about to explode but I told him to shut up and just wait. When she had finished checking EVERYONE'S passports and boarding passes, she came over to us. I said we were sorry for pushing in but really needed to catch the flight so she checked our passports and boarding passes and gave me directions to our new gate.

It wasn't too far away, thank goodness, but we still had to put our carry ons and handbags etc through the security check again. We ran to our gate, only to find everyone queued up waiting to be processed to hop on a bus to be driven miles and miles to AirFrance's Hop City Jet. Phew! we made it. In our rush to get to the gate, some guys came running down the escalator running to the same plane, and as I stood aside to let them pass, I lost my balance and nearly fell down the escalator!!

We waited on the tarmac for ages for another bus load of people to board and the good news was that we could see our suitcases sitting on the tarmac, ready to be loaded on to the plane. Well, thank goodness that they had made it too!

The flight to Dublin was one hour and we landed about half an hour late.

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We took quite a while to get through Immigration as there were only a couple of officers on duty and each case seem to take a while. Finally, we went to collect our luggage and only my bag was there. We waited and waited for Phil's and eventually about half a dozen of us were directed to the AirFrance desk. They knew that all the missing bags were left in Paris, for one reason or another. At least they know where they are. We had to fill in a form and his bag will be delivered to the hotel by lunch time tomorrow. The girl at the desk told us that this happens all the time and the flight before us left 20 bags behind! Can you believe it? That is the last time we will ever fly AirFrance.

However, I was very happy that my bag turned up. Can you imagine - no makeup! Eeek!

Our transfer driver Damien, was waiting patiently for us and drove us to our beautiful hotel - the Shellbourne. It is in a great part of town and is just lovely.

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I gave Phil's luggage papers to the conceirge and he said he would keep on their backs, and chase it up for us. Apparently this happens all the time.

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We were settling into our room when we heard drip, drip, drip and noticed that water was dripping out of the ceiling in the bathroom. Urgent phone call to the reception desk and the handyman arrived. We were then moved two floors up and we now have a room with a balcony, plus a complimentary bottle of wine and a cheese and bickies snack. Very nice. Is this Friday, 13th or what?

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We went to the ATM, got some Euros and had a nice dinner at Marcel's Restaurant.

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We had our first Guinness and Phil had bangers and mash and I had a pear and blue cheese salad.

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We can have a sleep in day tomorrow as we don't meet our group and tour director until tomorrow evening.

As I said, a very eventful day.

Posted by gaddingabout 14:16 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Marrakech to Casablanca - Monday, 1 August 2016

Visit the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech. After lunch, head to Casablanca.

sunny 36 °C

Hotel - The Hotel and Spa Le Doge - Room - the Lartigue Suite

Before we went to bed last night, I gave Phil a teaspoon of Huile de Nigelle (Black Seed Oil) that is supposed to stop snoring, but more importantly, help with his congestion and coughing at night. Well, it didn't stop the snoring (may be it was a bit ambitious to expect THAT after only one dose) but his cough is much better and he didn't have a coughing fit during the night. He took another teaspoon full this morning and has hardly coughed all day - so just maybe it might be doing him some good. We certainly don't want to be infecting our new tour group with this virus. It's a shocker. Phil has had it since 21 July and has had some dreadful coughing fits - going red in the face and being unable to get his breath. It was really scarey.

We were up early this morning, had breakfast and met Abdou out on the street at 9.30 am. Before we left Marrakesh, we visited the beautiful Majorelle Gardens. The Majorelle Garden is a twelve acre botanical garden and artist's landscape garden. The edifice was designed by the expat French artist Jacques Majorelle in the 20s and 30s. The garden hosts more than 15 bird species that are endemic to North Africa and has many fountains and a collection of many different cacti.

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The garden has been open to the public since 1947. Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Berge bought the garden in 1980 and when Yves Saint-Laurent died in 2008, his ashes were scattered in the garden. It is very cool and peaceful strolling through the garden. There are huge bamboo trees that keep the garden cool.

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We met another Australian couple in the garden - Sue and David Earle from Forbes. They are flying home from Casablanca tomorrow.

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We then drove to Casablanca and stopped half way so Abdou could have a break from driving and his morning nos nos. Casablanca is about 187 kms from Marrakech.

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The landscape is very dry and barren.

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On arrival in Casablanca, Abdou drove us to see the Hassan II Mosque down by the seaside. It is the largest mosque in Morocco and the 13th largest in the world. Its minaret is the world's tallest at 210 metres (60 stories high) , topped by a laser, the light from which is directed towards Mecca.

Work commenced in 1986 and the mosque was finally consecrated in 1993. It is the only mosque in Morocco that non Islam people are allowed to enter.

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We then drove by Rick's Cafe, but Rick wasn't there!

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Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco and has a population of about 5 million. It is a very modern looking city but lacks the Medinas (old walled cities) of the other towns we have visited during the last ten days.

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We drove through the modern streets and then turned down a very narrow street (I am amazed that Abdou didn't scratch the car) and pulled up in front of our hotel - Le Doge. It is just lovely. Very art deco.

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The staff were friendly and welcoming and we were taken upstairs and given a welcome Morrocan whiskey (mint tea) and a pastry. We have been upgraded to a suite and wow, wow, wow.

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Our room is called Lartigue but the manager told us it is really called the Lover's Suite. OMG! It is really nice and very, very roomy which is good, as we have to repack our bags and move all the shorts and tee shirts to the bottom of the bag, and the warmer clothes to the top, for cool, wet Ireland.

We had an early dinner in the sumptiously decorated dining room - Moroccan spring rolls and smoked salmon and blinis for me and rib eye fillet for Phil and salmon for me. Totally enjoyable.

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After dinner, we thought we would take a little stroll around the block, but the conceirge advised us to take the hotel security guard with us. That is a first! I felt like a celebrity! It was such a pleasant evening, with a cool sea breeze blowing.

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Early to bed as we have a 5 am wake up call booked. A lovely last night in Morocco.

Post Script - during our ten days in Morocco, we have been on half board, which means breakfast and dinner provided by the hotel/riad, prepaid in Australia. It has worked brilliantly, as opposed to our half board trip in America from New York to Miami which seemed to cause our guide no end of trouble as we were the only ones in the group on half board. In Morocco, we ordered off the a la carte menu every night, and nothing was denied. All we had to pay for was our drinks. And from a safety issue, it was probably a good decision, not that we ever felt threatened - we didn't. And we had a great choice of food, and most nights we ate Moroccan. Very sensible way to go.

Posted by gaddingabout 13:47 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Marrakech - Sunday, 31 July 2016

Guided tour of Marrakech - Palace of the Bahia, the Saadian Tombs, the Koutoubia Mosque and the famous Djemma el-Fna. Visit the souk.

sunny 44 °C

Hotel - Riad Kniza Marrakesh - Room 2

Had a great night's sleep and didn't want to get out of bed this morning. These late dinners are killing me!

Breakfast was funny. There are no menus in this Riad. For dinner last night, the guy at the reception desk gave us a few choices during the afternoon for dinner and we chose a couple of dishes. No wine list either. They just tell you what they have, and if it sounds okay, you order it. Same for breakfast - but you don't get asked. It all arrives on a tray - juice, yoghurt, cereal, tea, coffee and warm milk, and bread and cakes. We then ordered a fried egg and an omelette.

There is no designated "dining room". People eat in their rooms, on the roof or in little salons, tucked away all throughout the Riad. It is very lovely and the beauty of riads is that there aren't that many rooms and the staff are totally attentive and caring. I am loving it.

We met our driver and our guide for the day, whose name is Abdou too. It is 30 degrees at 10 am. We drove a short distance and then parted ways with Abdou our driver until later in the day and we got out of the car and took some photos of the Koutoubia Mosque.

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Then we commenced our tour of the Palace of the Bahai. As palaces go, it is quite a modern one, constructed in the 19th century but no king lived in it, just the Prime Minister who had four wives and 24 concubines. In fact, for such a modern palace, it looked very old because it is quite run down. But nevertheless, the courtyard garden was lovely and the empty rooms had their own stories to tell.

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We are wiseing up, so right from the start today we told Abdou that we weren't interested in looking at carpets, fabrics or anything like that. We would be happy to visit the herbal cosmetic place but that was it. It felt good to set the ground rules and be in control from the word go!

First up, we went to a jeweller and had Phil's Turkish puzzle ring fixed. One of the bands snapped early in our travels when he picked up a heavy suitcase. We all squeezed into a tiny little shop. Job well done.

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I bought some very Moroccan biros for the Macquarie kids from a shop in the square.

We wandered through the fresh fruit and meat market. It is SO hot and raw meat and fish are displayed without any refrigeration and the smell as almost overpowering. I just couldn't stand it long enough to take a photo. Commercially grown roses are a thriving industry here and a lot of them are exported to Europe. They are grown in Rose Valley at the foot of the High Atlas. Their perfume made a nice change from the odours of the market!

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This guy is making philo pastry. It was very hard to get a shot as there was a lot of movement in the preparation - swirling and throwing the sheets through the air. I could have stood there watching him all day.

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Next stop - the herbal spice and cosmetìc shop - Aux 100,000 Epices. It is great visiting Morocco in the low season because there are no tourists here. We had our own private demonstration and were interested in the herbal cosmetics that are based on Argan Oil. The Argan tree grows in arid and semi arid areas in Morocco. The kernals are pressed for the oil. It contains many essential, unsaturated fatty acids. It comes in a few different forms - creams, liquids, and even an oil for the kitchen. We bought a lovely anti ageing cream, a cream to get rid of brown spots on skin, a liquid to stop snoring and clear up chest infections, some perfume for me and a natural deodorant for Phil. Let's hope it all works!

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We then visited the Saadian Tombs. The Saadian tomba date back from the time of the sultan Ahmad al-Mansur (1578-1603). The tombs were discovered in 1917 and were restored. The mausoleum comprises the interments of about 60 members of the Saadi Dynasty that originated in the valley of the Draa River. Among the graves are those of Ahmad al-Manusr and his family. The building is composed of three rooms. One contains the grave of the sultan and his nephews. One contains the graves of babies and children who died during a plague. And the last one contains the graves of the women. In the grounds, are the graves of soldiers and servants.

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Time for lunch and Abdou, the driver, pointed us in the direction of some kebab places and we had a nice lunch with Abdou the guide of Moroccan salad, beef and chicken kebabs and fries. Just enough and then we headed for the Main Square. It is SO hot, 44 degrees and I am sick of drinking water. There is just so much water that one can drink.

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We watched a couple of snake charmers with cobras and rattle snakes, but didn't take any photos because they aren't free. We headed for the taro card readers and I had my Taro cards and my palm read. Before we started, Abdou told me they only tell you good things. It was so hot and five of us were trying to crowd under a little umbrella. The reading, as translated by Abdou said - I am healthy, happy and my husband loves me very much. I have come from far, far away. I am retired and am going to buy a car. I am thinking about buying a house and will have a lot of money. I will live a long and healthy life. My husband loves me very much - she kept repeating that!

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So, it is now about 44 degrees and we are dying of the heat, and we are expecting Abdou to call Abdou the driver and arrange for him to drive us back to the hotel. But, as we are looking for water, he suggests popping into an antique shop, where they will give us free water. (For a price of course!!!)

I spied a lovely tuareg teapot, made of camel bone and it was on. The game was - sit the teapot on the table, then Phil and the owner sat down and each one wrote what they wanted to pay / or wanted to receive in payment for the item. This went on for about eight times, a price was agreed and we left with a teapot from the tuareg tribe in Africa. Just like the leather jacket - not quite sure how all that happened but we got our free water and a rather unique teapot!!

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It's hot, so back to our Riad and into the pool quick swim to cool off.

Early dinner in our salon of lamb and chicken tagines and now repacking the bags for the final leg of our trip to Casablanca tomorrow.

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A new "band" entertained is at dinner tonight.

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Posted by gaddingabout 15:15 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Ouarzazate to Ait Benhaddou to Marrakech - Sat, 30 July 2016

Driving through the High Atlas Mountains to Marrakech. Visit the Djemaa el-Fna, the centre square of the medina

sunny 44 °C

Hotel - Riad Kniza Marrakesh - Room 2

Had a good night's sleep, in fact I was still in dream land when the alarm went off. We have been thinking that our driver reminds us of someone, but just couldn't put our finger on it. Then suddenly it came to us - OJ Simpson! Yipes!

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Ouarzazate is a very popular place for movie making. Films include Lawrence of Arabia, Jesus of Nazareth and The Gladiator. There are a couple of film studios here and apparently the light is great. Nicole Kidman also filmed Queen of thd Desert in this area too.

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We drove a short way to Ait Benhaddou to see where these movies filmed.

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Then the trek over the High Atlas Mountains. The road was steep and winding and for some reason, Abdou is not in a very good mood this morning and is driving a bit fast and erratic. In fact, I am very glad I am not sitting in the front seat. Poor Phil has a bird's eye view of the coming traffic on this very narrow road.

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Saturday is market day and lots of people are in the towns as we pass through.

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We stop at a half way point for a nos nos (coffee) and then continue on. Abdou seems slightly more friendly but then reverts to his morose self. Don't know what is wrong as he has been quite happy and pleasant so far. He stopped along the way to buy some goat's meat to take home. He lives in Marrakech and is going to spend a couple of night's at home. She is a Berber and likes eating goat.

Lots of road works on the mountain.

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We reach the highest point and then start our descent.

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The colours in the mountains are lovely and the closer we get to Marrakech, the redder the rocks are becoming.

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Phil mentioned about stopping for lunch and Abdou says that we don't eat lunch. We said that that was just yesterday when we had eaten a big breakfast and weren't hungry at lunch time. Moroccans have their main meal at lunch time as opposed to us, eating our main meal in the evening.

The air is thick again with tension, so we decide not to worry about stopping for lunch, but find something some where in the medina after we have checked in.

It was quite a long walk to the Riad from the road, through the market, dodging donkeys, motor cycles, stalls and people.

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Our room is on the second floor (top floor), with a bath, but Phil wants one on the ground floor so we don't have millions of steps to walk up. We can swap rooms but the new one won't be ready until 8.30 pm. Fine. Phil thinks we'll sit around downstairs until the new room is ready. 6 hours!! I don't think so!! So we go upstairs, freshen up a bit and then decide to go out into the medina to find something to eat.

It is hot and busy and nothing looks very appertising. I think we are walking in the wrong direction. We bought a couple of pastries, nearly get skittled a couple of times by motor bikes and donkeys, and then decide to go back to the Riad for a swim. Best decision we've made all day.

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The water in freezing but refreshing once you are in. There is an English family from Bristol by the pool - mother, daughter and son - so we spend some time speaking with them. They are flying home this evening.

Have you ever seen a pool with a chandelier?

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We have now moved into the downstairs room and have a rock and roll band playing outside our door in the courtyard!

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At 9.00pm we wandered across our courtyard into a small room with a table set up in it. There are people eating dinner in all different rooms which is very private and quite nice.

We shared a chicken and almond thing with cinnamon and icing sugar (strange starter but delicious), then a lamb tagine with apricots, prunes and dates and we finished with a creme pastissiere and a mint tea. Very, very lovely.

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The owner, who we met at the pool today, popped his head in to see how we were going and we complimented him and his chef.
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Posted by gaddingabout 14:48 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Erfoud to Ouarzazate - Friday, 29 July 2016

Visit the Todra and Dades Gorges on route to Ouarazate

sunny 39 °C

Hotel - Berbere Palace, Ouarazate - Room 310

After a very big day yesterday and a great sleep last night, we were a bit slow to get moving this morning and rushed to meet Abdou by 9.30 am.

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It's hot - 34 degrees already at 10 am but we all happy and drive along chatting. We are driving behind the High Atlas Mountains which are 700 miles long and 200 miles wide. They are stunning. The photos just don't do them justice. They remind us a lot of the Grand Canyon.

The first stop today is a local fossil shop. We have a guided tour of the yard and he explains how the sheets of rock are cut and shows us the fossils contained in them. There are calamari, snails, plants and all sorts of things. I have never seen so many fossils in pieces of rock in all my life. It is really quite amazing. There was one fabulous piece of rock that had these flowers fossilised in it. I would LOVE it to display at home but it is pretty much priceless. Also, there are bits of grass sticking out the back which would be a "no no" for Customs in Australia. Also, the cost of shipping such a weighty thing would be phenomenal. We bought a couple of little things as a memento.

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These fences are built all along the edge of the road to try to keep the sand in, especially in a sand storm.

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Photos of some locals and a berber tents. We saw quite a few of them yesterday, just plonked in the middle of nowhere with their sheep and goats grazing not too far away.

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These are old wells. They have dried up now and are not in use but many years ago they were used as hide outs and ambushes against the marauding Christians.

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We drive through the desert and then all of a sudden a bustling town appears, with great buildings and wide, well made roads. It's market day.

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We stopped at Tingdad for morning nos nos. IT IS HOT! Phil and I have an icecream.

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The scenery is amazing and I can't nod off or I might miss something. It is so dry and barren and then a lush green belt will appear.

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We drove to Todra Gorge which is 600 feet high. It is steep and very popular with the locals as it has a small stream running through it. We got out of the car and walked for about a kilometre through the gorge and the peacefulness of it was spoilt by a guy trying to sell us some jewellery. He would just not take no for an answer. So we just walked on and ignored him and he finally gave up.

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We called in to a berber carpet shop. We told them we were not interested in buying anything but they still wanted to show us their carpets, so we were presented with some sweet mint tea (that we are becoming to love), then our hands were sprinkled with rose water (just gorgeous) and then out came the carpets. I have always found Persian Carpets too busy for my liking, but I just loved these red berber carpets. I think the big one was about $1,000 AUD but we have no where for it to go in our house so we left the shop. The owner called me back and asked me to tell him how much I was willing to pay for it. I said I was sorry, but no, we are trying to down size, not add to our possessions and besides, it just wouldn't suit our house. His reply - "if it's in your heart, it will fit in your home"!

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We decided to continue on to Ouarazate and not stop for lunch. We are eating too much, but I was worried that Abdou probably wanted to eat something than just an apple that he had.

Where are the gendarmmes when you need one?

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They stop people all the time and always seem to be writing tickets for them. Abdou has been very happy this trip because when they see us in his car, they just wave him through. He said that when they stop him, they always find something wrong (even if there is nothing to find).

The changing landscape.

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We arrived at our hotel at about 5 pm and it is just lovely. We have a suite of rooms. We went for a swim and the water is freezing. I just don't get it. It is an outdoor pool so you would think it would be quite warm - quite the opposite.

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We had a nice buffet dinner in the dining room and then had our photo taken. We are supposed to be flying Air France from Casablanca to Paris to Dublin next Tuesday, and we have heard they are going on strike. Our travel agent in Canberra has made some more bookings with another airline for us but it will cost about $700 extra. Phil is emailing our Travel Insurance people to see if they will cover the cost, because we have to be in Dublin by a certain date to commence our next tour, that is booked and paid for. Fingers crossed!

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Posted by gaddingabout 15:43 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

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