2/8/15

sahara
At the end of our time in Fez, we picked up a rental car. I was scoping out options online before we left and booked a little Hyundai for $250 for 8 days. Awesome! However, picking up the car was not so awesome. They didn't have any GPS units even though we had booked one and they wanted us to take a car that had the ominous "check engine" light blinking. We were not keen about taking said car into the desert so we asked for a different one. They kept saying they didn't have another one and we kept saying we didn't want to take this one. Then suddenly another one drove up that was in perfect working order so crisis averted! And we bought a map.

We drove to Midelt, stayed overnight, and then took off for the desert the next morning. There was a bit of a sand storm the afternoon of our arrival so the overall vibe was super creepy. It's such a desolate landscape! We checked into Hotel Kasbah Mohayut and hung out by the pool a bit before the  blowing sand forced us into our room for awhile. Desert treks were cancelled that night due to the sand storm. Thankfully we were staying more than one night so it didn't affect us. I was just praying that the wind would stop blowing so we could head out in the desert the following day!

The next morning we woke up for sunrise... and totally missed it. We were misinformed of the time, but it didn't really matter as we just amused ourselves by scampering around the dunes right behind the hotel. The rest of the day was spent lounging by the pool. I cannot recommend enough booking a place with a pool! It was insanely hot (low 40s!) and pretty unbearable to sit in the shade for more than 20 minutes or so.

That evening, we headed out into the desert on camels! It was the perfect evening to do so. It was a bearable temperature once the sun went down and there was no wind! We were on the camels for about an hour before arriving at our camp. We had an awesome meal under the stars and then we all lugged our beds out of the tents so we could sleep outside. This sounded quite romantic but in reality it got quite windy so it was a fitful night of sleep. But the morning! Waking up in the desert was just unreal. The light was so soft and the dunes seemed to go on forever. I can't even describe it. This absolutely stands out as one of the most phenomenal things we've done in our travels.

Eventually we had to bid the dunes adieu. We had some mint tea and then hopped back on the camels. The hotel was awesome and let us keep in our stuff in our room during the camel trek and use it the next morning to shower/clean up. We packed up our car and then headed towards Todra Gorge. Coming up next!

1/25/15

fezpost
Mark down Fez's medina as one of those places that I'm glad to have visited, but not sure if I'll return to.  On one hand it's colourful, energetic, and exotic. On the other hand it's chaotic, overwhelming, and claustrophobic. We spent a few days wandering (and sleeping) in the medina. I guess I had a bit of a romanticized idea of the busy markets and leather tanneries. The reality was harsh. "Guides" were constantly popping up, trying to lead us to places we didn't even know if we wanted to go to. Likely due to Ramadan, many people seemed on edge. The medina's walls were high and the passageways were narrow. I kept waiting for it to open up into a main square (like in Chefchauoen) but we didn't find one. Also, people (as we found everywhere in Morocco) were very resistant to having their photos taken, hence the lack of portraits in this post.

However, I would still recommend it on anyone's Moroccan itinerary. Fez seems like a key piece of Morocco's puzzle and I'm glad we got to spend a bit of time with it. We stayed at Riad Mikou - a really beautiful spot in the medina owned by twin brothers. They were so kind to us and frequently offered to share meals with us. One of the brothers picked us up from the medina's main entrance on our first day and also helped us catch a bus on our way out. It was so nice to come back dirty and dusty from the medina to their beautiful guesthouse. I also want to give Cafe Clock a little shout-out. It is another oasis in the medina. Their servers are laid back and really open to chatting. The food was delicious and the whole vibe was just awesome. Lastly, they serve camel burgers so you can cross that off your bucket list!

Coming up next: the Sahara desert!

1/16/15

maroc2

Here are a few more snaps of Chefchaouen. Favourite food & drinks in Morocco (some pictured above): mint tea, chicken tajine, harira soup, and banana shakes for breakfast. So good!

1/12/15

maroc1(1)Hello again! I know it's been awhile since I last posted, but I'll just pick up where I left off. After Pamukkale, we flew to Morocco!

Morocco was so incredibly different than anywhere else we've been. Many other places we've been to (especially in South East Asia) are extremely set up for tourism and it's just so darn easy to get around. In Morocco, even though we definitely went to some touristy spots, things were a lot more difficult. There were also a lot of cultural differences to figure out and then on top of all that, we were traveling during Ramadan. I wouldn't recommend doing so if you were able to choose when to go, but it's just what worked out with our holiday time. Some of my favourite travel memories are from this trip, but I also came away with some tough, uneasy travel experiences. However, we learned a lot, got out of our comfort zones, and navigated through some crazy medinas!

When I started researching our trip to Morocco, Chefchaouen jumped out at me right away. And it turned out to be the perfect introduction to Morocco. The medina was much smaller than the ones we later encountered in Fez and Marrakech (which were... overwhelming to say the least!). Also, even though it was Ramadan, most restaurants were still open during the day. It was still a sensory overload, but totally manageable and enjoyable!

In Chefchaouen, we wandered the blue medina for hours, hung out in the main square, visited the kasbah, got some black henna (we later found out that there are some potential health risks involved, but we thankfully didn't have any problems with it!), and hiked up to the lookout to see the sunset over Chefchaouen.

We stayed at Casa Amina. It was a bit tricky to find but overall it was pretty nice and reasonably priced.

*Someone kindly pointed out on instagram that the Arabic was backwards. When Mike copied it, I guess it pasted backwards in photoshop. Strange! I think we fixed the problem, but let me know??

11/16/14

pamukkale
After a few days in Olympos, Krista and I took two buses to meet up with Mike in Pamukkale. Pamukkale is home to stunning calcium carbonate travertines. It was a surreal landscape! We learned that some of the travertines are left empty so that they can be further bleached by the sun. Consequently, a lot of them were empty which we were a bit bummed about (you can see the empty ones in the photo third from the bottom). However, we were still able to find some that were filled with water at sunset. We were treated to just a killer sunset and were running all over the place taking a million photos. We walked back down at dusk and then got some hilarious dondurma. HA!

10/14/14

Untitled-1
After Cappadocia, Krista and I temporarily parted ways with Mike. He wanted to spend a few days in Istanbul as he had never been there before. Since we had spent a lot of time in Istanbul a few years ago, Krista and I decided to check out Olympos in the south. We took an overnight bus (which broke down, of course!) and then a mini bus to get to Olympos Orange Pensions.

Olympos is known for its treehouse accommodations, but from what we read, they're a bit over-rated. So we decided to stay in a tiny room with AC which turned out to be a great choice. The pension had a nice big courtyard to hang out in and communal dinners which were included in the accommodation fee. It was so nice to not have to worry about dinner each night! The dinners had lots of different options and were really tasty. The staff members were also really helpful and ended up not charging us for a lot of stuff  (free lunch & snacks!) so I will give them a ringing endorsement.

We hung out by the nearby beach one afternoon but then decided to go on a boat trip the following day. We signed up for one through our pension and it was just what we were looking for - simple, laid back, and lots of opportunities to jump off the boat and swim in that turquoise water.  And oh yeah, an ice cream boat!

10/8/14

cappadocia2
One blustery morning in Cappadocia, we got up well before the dawn, bundled up, and got in a hot air balloon. The landscape below us was gorgeous, the lighting was amazing as the sun came up, and the hot air balloons around us seemed so magical. I had been told that we simply could not skip this in Cappadocia. So glad we took that advice.