Saturday, July 23, 2016

Fes to Medilt

Now back to our last evening in Fes.

After resting up ( the high 43+ heat really zaps it out of you), we had a phenomenal meal at our raid. It was our best meal here so far. So moist and tasty. We ended the evening with Moroccan mint tea on our roof terrace.idir ((our hotelier) chatted with us for awhile as we looked at the ancient medina from our high vantage point.

After another delicious breakfast at our riad, the  guy dragged our bags down the steep stairs, loaded it onto the cart and heaved it through the sometimes hilly and narrow alleyways until we reached the car park just outside of the medina walls.

Our driver, Abdul is dressed today in desert garb, galabaya and head scarf.

Leaving Fes, the landscape changed as we drove into the Middle Atlas. Kind of like the foothills except we pass lots of donkeys and herds of sheep.

We stopped in the beautiful Swiss inspired town of Ifrane. Ifrane is a ski resort in the winter. Like Switzerland, it has chalet type buildings and is very clean, orderly and expensive. It has a very exclusive university. This is obviously a very expensive area. We took our picture with the lion limestone statue which was placed their to commemorate the last lion that was shot in Ifrane in the 1920s.

Continuing on we next stopped in Azrou where we hung out with the wild Barbary Apes/monkeys. I use the term wild loosely. They show no fear of humans, coming very close in order to be fed nuts, fruit and chocolate bars. I wonder if they even know how to get their own food anymore. It was quite fun to watch their antics.

The rolling hills are slowly turning to a more desert-like terrains. We pass Barbary nomad huts from time to time. There are still some plants and trees because this area gets some snow in the winter and some rain in the spring.

We have now just stopped for lunch at a lovely kasbah resort in Medilt.

Friday, July 22, 2016

In and Around Fes

This morning we had a lovely breakfast served in a sma
ll dining room off the courtyard; Morrocan tea, hand squeezed orange juice, cakes, olives, cheeses, bread, Moroccan pancakes, honeys and jams. Yum.. This riad and it's wonderful staff (Idir) is wonderful. It is called Riad Tafilalet 

The streets were all cleaned up in the morning, most donkey pooped cleaned up ( or sawdust put over) and garbage mostly gone.

We had a guide for our full day in Fes. 

We first started out in the New City. The new city was built in the 14th century. It is called the new city because the old city where we are staying dates back to the 8th century. It's all relevant, really.

We visited the main gates of the royal Palace. There seems to be a lot of royal palaces in Morocco.

We next toured the old Jewish area. Quite pretty in many parts. The tile work, balconies, and intricate doorways are ancient but still swarm with everyday life. Much of it needs to be restored but it is still quite lovely. 

We then checked out another intricately tiled on one side, green on the other.

Our guide is excellent...a wealth of information and very proud of his beautiful and exotic city.

We got back into the minivan. Because the guide is with us today, they had to pull out the middle seat which I ended up sitting in. It was kind of wobbly and at times made me feel like I was on a Disney ride. Fortunately, that was just for this one portion of the day.

We drove up to a high vantage point where we had an amazing view of the city with its ancient walls, miniarets and medinas.

We next toured a tile/pottery factory.  Really informative and of course I bought some pottery....couldn't resist.

We left our van back at the ancient medina and continued our tour on foot. We went through many souks (markets) including the leather and tannery souks. As we entered the tannery, they gave us mint to counteract the smell of the dyes. We also food markets, meat market (we saw camel meat...I wouldn't mind trying some), cloth market, copper market, knife sharpening area and more. We saw Morocco's oldest university which was ironically started by a female in 859 and many mosques, tiled fountains, beautiful gates and doorways. All this while snaking our way through the complicated alleyways.

Carol and Cheryl both noted that these narrow alleyways were crowded by people coming and going but everyone was quite respectful; no pushing and shoving. The only time when we felt pushed and shoved was when a large group of tourists came through. The other thing we noticed was that we were not hassled much to buy stuff.

By 4:00pm we were ready to rest up at the riad. We ate at the riad. It was delicious, our best Moroccan meal so far. We ended our evening admiring the city and drinking mint tea on the rooftop terrace.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

From Rabat to Fes

This morning we had a delicious traditional Moroccan breakfast served in the dining area beside the pool. It consisted of Moroccan baked goods, mint tea, hand squeezed orange juice, a Moroccan type pancake and a mushroom cheese omelet. Yum.

I would very happily return to this wonderful Riad in Rabat. The place is lovely, a cool, calm refuge in the centre of everything. The place was pretty, clean and most of all, the owner and staff were warm, welcoming and anticipated all our needs. It is called Riad Zyo at

 Our driver dropped us off so that we could visit the Kasbah. Very pretty. Great views of the city from the wall.

After driving a few hours, we arrived into the city of Meknes which is known as the the Versailles of Morocco. We first went to the Granary and Haras de Meknes.

Carol and I had to go to the washroom. We started to go across the street to a public toilet, but the driver and person from the Granary, quickly herded us towards some washrooms deep inside the ancient site.... I'm not sure what we would have seen in the public washroom but from the reaction of the driver, I'm sure it wouldn't have been pretty.

It was cool inside the granary. We had an amazing guide who really knew his stuff and took pride in the heritage.  The architecture was well advanced of the time it was built. As was the attached Haras de Meknes which used to be a huge stable complex.

We then went for a rather disappointing ( but expensive) lunch at a supposedly Moroccan Restaurant called Daffir ( or something like that). They gave us menus and then said we couldn't order from them. They verbally gave us a choice of two overpriced items.

After lunch we went to see Bab Mansour which is one of the finest and most ornamented gates in Morocco.

We next visited Habs Qara, the underground cells that were allegedly used to house the sultans army of slaves. We paid an entrance fee but The guide there was not very good and rushed through the tour which lasted under 10 minutes, then complained that his tip wasn't enough. Really.

We didn't get to see the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail because it was closed for construction.

On our way to Volubis we passed Moulay Idriss, which is a sacred site for Muslims. We would have visited but the temperature was over 42 degrees and it was high on a hill in full sun.

Our highlight of the day was Volubis; a well preserved and extensive Roman ruin. It was well worth the money to hire the guide who made the ruins come alive for us. Despite the heat, it was an enjoyable way to end the afternoon.

On our arrival to Fes we parked just outside of the walls of the ancient medina where our riad is located. Since there are over 9000 alleyways, many of them narrow, there is no car traffic in the ancient city. We were much relieved when a guy with a cart met us and rolled all our luggage to the riad.

We are staying at the Riad Tafilalet right in the old Medina. We were immediately surrounded by a calmness as we walked into the lovely traditional courtyard with a star-shaped tiled fountain trickling in the middle. We were immediately seated at a table and served Moroccan mint tea and home made almond biscuits as the guy dragged all our luggage up the steep and narrow stairs...( remember, I had to pack for seven weeks).

Our spacious suits are cool and traditionally decorated with curled grillwork, ornately tiled floors, metal cut-work lamps and stained glass. I definately feel like I'm in Morocco.

Our hotelier took us up more narrow stairs to the rooftop patio. From its heights, the whole ancient medina with its intricate mazes of alleyways was laid out below us.

It was quite late (9:15pm) when a guide showed up to walk us to a traditional Moroccan restaurant. We needed to be guided their because of the above mentioned alleyways. Some of these alleyways were so narrow that both shoulders practically touched when you walked through the narrowest ones....I can't imagine how a larger person would get through. Maybe slathered in olive oil and pushed through.

As I also mentioned earlier. There are no cars in the medina so any heavy type transport is done by donkeys. Henceforth, there is always a slight smell of donkey poop in the air and you have to watch where you step.

By nighttime, there is also a lot of garbage left in the streets, much of it clawed apart with choice tidbits eaten by the many stray cats.

We had a lovely meal at the restaurant before being escorted home by our guide.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Off to Morocco- Casablanca to Rabat

As usual, preceding a long trip, the past few weeks of preparation were crazy busy. I hadn't slept much. I dressed for the flight in my usual travel fashion, I prefer to refer to it as "Airport bag lady chic". The look is accomplished by layering as much as possible in order to save space in your won't be far off if you visualize the Michelin man...which is quite the feat when the thermometer in Toronto is hovering at 32 degrees. I changed before meeting up with my sister in Morocco since she is extremely verbal regarding her opinion of my travel garb fashion statement.

The flight was uneventful, I took a sleeping pill and slept all the way to Morocco...I even slept through supper!

Morocco is hot. After literally being the last to get through the very long and slow moving security line, it took forever to get our luggage. Our driver/guide from Destination Morocco met us outside the airport.

We stopped at my sister's hotel, brushed our teeth and headed into Casablanca.

Casablanca is a large, busy, and crowded port city. We stopped at Hassan II mosque which is the  third largest mosque in the world; surpassed only by the mosques in Mecca and Medina.

The mosque is beautiful and classic. At only 22 years old, it only took six years to build. It is built at the edge of the water and its roof can open in three minutes and close in two....kind of like the sky dome.

After touring the mosque, we were all famished because we hadn't eaten since supper. Our driver, Abdul, said that if we could wait, we should eat at a lovely fish restaurant in Rabat. When asked, he said it was 40 minutes away. was the longest 40 minutes I ever experienced. I think Abdul runs on Caribbean time.

Rabat is a lovely city. The restaurant was fine dining with a beachfront view. The food was delicious. After eating, we all felt much better.

Our next stop was the Mausoleum of Mohamed V and Hassan Tower. The entrances were flanked by majestic looking guards on horses. The entrances to the tombs were also flanked by guards on of them was the spitting image of Grey Worm from "Game of Thrones".

Our final stop was by far my favourite of the day; the Chellah Necropolis (1300's I think) which also had ruins from Roman times. You could walk freely through the ruins and the gardens were shaded and beautiful. There were many families of large Storks nesting in the highest parts of the ruins. They made loud clicking noises in the backs of their throats.

Every corner turned offered something new and wonderful to see. A fabulous must see site.

Our driver Abdul then dropped us off at our beautiful,squeaky clean accommodations, the Riad Zyo (a riad is a traditional Moroccan mansion/now boutique type small hotel) in the old town. You walk into an open air courtyard with a small pool bordered by metal frogs with jeweled eyes. We were seated on couches in a relaxing living room near the pool where we were served traditional Morrocan mint tea ( delicious), mouth watering salted shortbread cookies, hand squeezed orange juice and water....perfect after our busy day.

After showering ( and the guys had a beer and a dip in the pool), we went out to find some supper. Suddenly a large fire erupted in the crowded street. People reacted immediately and a panicked crowd scattered in all directions. It's a sad state how everyone's initial thoughts run to terrorism. In reality, someone's grilled cooking top/BBQ/whatever, caught fire and they threw it out into the street.

Although exhausted, we still tried to find the kashah, but got all confused with the map so we went back to our area, had some of the yuckiest tasting shawarmas ever and us girls headed back to our traditional riad while the guys headed out.

Before going to bed, we headed upstairs to check our rooftop terrace garden. There as a full moon over Rabat. Gorgeous.

This morning we had a delicious traditional Moroccan breakfast served in the dining area beside the pool. It consisted of Moroccan baked goods, mint tea, hand squeezed orange juice, a Moroccan type pancake and a mushroom cheese omelet. Yum.

I would very happily return to this wonderful Riad in Rabat. The place is lovely, a cool, calm refuge in the centre of everything. The place is  pretty, clean and most of all, the owner and staff are warm, welcoming and anticipated all our needs. It is called Riad Zyo

After breakfast, our driver dropped us off so that we could visit the Kasbah. Very pretty. Great views of the city from the walls.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Getting Ready for the Big Day

My bags are packed (well mostly) and I am in the midst of the last minute trip preparation panic. I also have bed and breakfast guests arriving tomorrow and other friends are moving into my house while we are away. Yes, tonight I will be house cleaning.

However, I have taken an hour now to breathe and relax with a pedicure.

Monday is the beginning of our seven week African adventure. You are welcome to join me as I blog from Morocco, Portugal, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania and United Arab Emirates.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Making the Most when Paying for your Flights

Gone are the days when calling the airline or visiting a travel agency was your only option to book a flight. Now there are so many on-line sites offering myriads of flight options in a variety of prices to get you from point A to B.
Many of these sites also compare findings from other sites. This is a great way to compare prices and itineraries.

My current go to site is Skyscanner Canada.

Other favourites are:

Google Flights is good for researching flights, but often the options you find are unavailable when it comes time to book.

All of these web sites cover different airlines and have a variety of different combinations to get you there and home.....which is important because, like booking points, it gives you the option to choose a long layover. Please see my previous blog post to find out more about layovers.

In my last post, I discussed taking advantage of a long layover. If the layover is long enough, you can do a sample tour of a city.

My husband and younger son booked their flights to Cape Town and home from Nairobi, deliberately with a long layover in mind. They will stop for almost twenty hours in Abu Dhabi on the way to Africa and for the same amount of time in Dubai on the way home. Fortunately, I managed to get a long layover in Dubai on the way home for my eldest son and myself at the same time so the whole family can check out the city.

Don’t forget that when paying for your flights, as mentioned in my last post, you still want to keep track of extra fees and taxes.

So now is the time to flex those fingers, and get ready to flight shop.

Please feel free to drop me a line if you have any other tips or questions about this topic.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Booking Flights through Aeroplan Frequent Flyer Points

 When it came down to booking our flights for Africa, the first thing I did was check my frequent flyer points.

Frequent Flyer points are a beautiful thing. They usually (not always) save you money and they add options that I can’t always afford when paying outright for flights.

I’ve been saving my Airmiles for over a decade, so I checked there first. It was no surprise that despite having lots of points, I couldn’t get any flights to where I wanted to go. I will talk more about Airmiles in a future post.....probably on a day that I’m in the mood to rant.

The next place I looked was with Aeroplan. Because I use my Aeroplan points fairly frequently, I only had enough points to get two tickets to Cape Town, South Africa. If we wanted the whole family to be on the same flights, it gets really expensive to pay for the other tickets. We decided to travel in pairs, save some money and meet up in Cape Town. Since my eldest son, Graham and I have flexible schedules, we decided to take a bit more time and book using the points.

Points allowed Graham and me to take advantage of one stop-over option as well as having an open jaw itinerary. (An open jaw is when you fly into one place and out of another). Unfortunately, the Aeroplan web site does not have the capabilities to book an open jaw flight together with a stopover; you must use their call centre to book that type of itinerary...and there is a $30 per ticket fee to book through their call centre.

Graham and I decided we wanted to fly from Toronto and have a one week stop-over in Morocco before flying to Cape Town to meet my husband and younger son, Cameron. At the end of the trip we will fly back to Toronto from Nairobi. So we knew the dates and locations we wanted to fly to, so it was time to use our points.

I prepared before dialing Aeroplan’s call centre. 

It’s a good idea to study the flight options for your destination on the Aeroplan site. Their web site shows the same flight options that are available to the Aeroplan phone consultant. Decide ahead of time which flight options you want so that you are not rushed for a decision when on the phone with the Aeroplan consultant.

In my case, there were many possible airline combinations for the three main flight legs of our trip. I studied the details of all the options.

When looking at the options, the Aeroplan site shows you:
1. How many flight changes (layovers) there are.
2. How long each flight takes.
3. Which airports/city the layovers are in.
4. How long between flights.
5. The total number of hours of the layover.   
6. Total travel time from departure to final destination.

Most people look for the most direct route that takes the shortest time to their final destination. I often look for the longest total travel time because this usually means that you have a very long layover somewhere (hopefully somewhere exciting). If the layover is long enough, say 8-20 hours, you can leave the airport and tour the city.  Our family did this on two separate occasions; once in Barcelona and another time in Istanbul. It’s a great way to get a taste of the city.

If you plan to do this, check how long it takes to travel from the airport to the city centre and factor that along with the time it takes to depart the flight and a minimum of two hours to check in for your next flight. Decide if that gives you enough time to see what you want to see.

Graham and I will have an eight hour layover in Lisbon on our flight from Morocco to Cape Town. We will also have a fifteen hour layover in Dubai, on our way home from Nairobi. 

Plan the details of your layover ahead of time. Do the research so that you can maximize your touring time when you are actually there.

Booking on points is not free. You still have to pay for taxes, fees and surcharges. Sometimes you can pay for these by using extra points or you can pay by cash/credit card. These fees vary greatly depending on which airport you are arriving and departing from, what countries you are in and which airlines you are flying. Literally it can mean hundreds or even over a thousand dollars difference in flight itineraries. For example Air Canada has very high surcharges (including a fuel surcharge that hasn’t gone down with the price of gas), whereas Ethiopian Airlines has very low fees.

The best way to get an indication of what the extra costs are is to go on the site and look at how much it costs if you booked each leg of the flight separately.  As I said, this just gives you an indication of the extra fees because more fees are added if you book a whole itinerary instead of booking each flight separately....Don’t ask me why. That is just the way it is.

If you have any questions, comments or advice on this topic, please drop me a line.

I will let you know about how we got a great price that includes a few layovers with my husband and younger son's paid flights in my next posting.