Days 2-3: Madrid to Meknes with a coating of slush

a snowy/icy Palacio Real

I could not sleep for a second in my hostel bed because I ate too many late night churros and chocolate. So after a long night, I woke Missy up early to see the Palacio Real before heading over to Barajas airport. To our dismay, 3 inches of icy slush covered the ground as more sleet pelted us from the sky. The uncomfortable and short visit of what supposedly is a magnificent palace was only the beginning of our troubles.

Cold, wet, and sick of Madrid’s weather, we returned to our hostel, picked up our bags, hopped onto the subway and head to the airport. With little surprise, we came across a throng of pissed off would-be passengers, discovering their flights were canceled. We were one of those passengers. We were supposed to leave at 1pm and were transferred to an 8pm flight, so Missy and I began brainstorming how best to kill 7 hours in a Spanish airport. The prevailing idea- eat 25 chicken McNuggets at the McDonalds and pass out on the dirty dirty floor…. We woke up 4 hours later and checked into our flight, which would also be delayed and did not leave until 2am.

After landing in Casablanca and going through customs, it was 4am, so we decided to kill some time in the airport before catching the 6am train that would bring us to Rabat. We did not shed any tears missing our stay in Casa because we heard there was nothing special, and instead it allowed our first impression of Morocco to be made by the imperial city and political capital. Now a this time I have slept for less than 5 hours in the past 2.5 days, so I am delirious to the point of hallucination but after we took the cab to the Kasbah Oudaias, not even a scizophrenic on LSD could fantasize something so surreal and magical as this village overlooking the river Bou Regreg. The kasbah- which is basically a medieval fortification or castle- was built in 1150AD and flourished today as a neighborhood with wandering streets with blue, turquoise and cyan colored walls broken up by elaborate and ornate doors that would make you feel as if knocking was a form of desecration.

After grabbing the freshest glass of just squeezed orange juice (literally just picked off the ubiquitous orange trees), we walked into the medina- or market place where no cars but noise permeated as we got a small taste of commerce in an Arabic city.

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Morocco_2009-2010 018We hailed a cab and returned to the train station and went to Meknes and checked into Riad D’Or. A riad is a restored old manshion, usually undertaken by Europeans capitalizing on affortable property values and labor in Morocco to return the splendor and mystery to the old walls in a modern interpretation. Riad D’or is truly something special, with every turn beckoning wonder to the intricacies of Islamic decor and there were many turns and nooks in this home.

We napped heavily and then explored the relaxed Medina before settling into the restaurant- One Thousand and One Nights which was basically like eating in someone’s home. Literally. There were little kids running around and there was a bed sitting right next to the kitchen. It was here that we met Melody and Christoff, a Belgian couple our age finishing their meal as we ordered who we started chatting with and would become instrumental later on in out trip.

Next Day: Fes (click here to view blog)

Tips

-In 2010, the Rabat train station did not have a bag check (as the Frommer’s guide mentions) so we took a taxi to the busiest station- a 30 dh taxi ride away- to hold our bags during the stay

-Make sure you have a cab put on the meter in Rabat and Meknes

-It is normal for the taxi driver to pick up extra passengers while bringing you to the destination if there is room

-Haggling can be fun, just realize there is a science behind it- whatever price they initially give you, assume that half that amount is really the cost, so try as hard as you can to get bellow that number (half initially mentioned) as possible. Your best tactic- walk away. If you name your goal price- assuming it is fair- pretend to walk away when they do not meet it and they will bend. Don’t get lured into the tricks they use such as “name your last price” or quick hand shakes or compliments. Stick to your price and you will get it as long as walk away. They will usually be pissed off after wards, but that is a sign of a job well done.

Hotels

Riad D’or ***Recommend

We paid 500 DH for the top room. Small bathroom but beautifully well furnished. h owner was a very nice Italian who spoke little English.

 

Restaurants

1001 Nights (Mille et Une Nuits)- the food was not the best Moroccan food we ate, but the setting was cool. Located off the place el Hadim (main square) follow signs from the northeast corner.

Next Day: Fes (click here to view blog)

Days 1: Madrid 2009

Madrid, Spain

Morocco_2009-2010 092Missy and I escaped the 25 degree frigid Philadelphia weather to land in the sunny, Mediterranean, Spanish capital of Madrid. The temperature here was also 25 degrees. I can’t tell you how many times I heard que Frioooo! At least Missy and I, walking down the cobblestone streets, admiring the intricate Spanish Colonial architecture with booger icicles forming on our noses were not the only ones uncomfortable.
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Morocco_2009-2010 091After checking into our hostel, we went restaurant exploring and came across La Maceiras, a loud, colorful, crowded, I guess the key descriptor would be energetic tapas place. Missy and I downed a bottle of wine with our dinner and then headed to a Cerveceria (or Madrid bar) where we sat down, ordered one beer and they gave us a tiny (like 6oz) glass of beer and a plate of pork chunks with bone, they literally took down pieces of pig leg hanging from the wall (oh yeah the place smelled like pig soaked in eggwhites), chop it up into meals and save the trashy parts as a chewy go along when you order beer. Pretty awkward.Morocco_2009-2010 002

The next day, a Sunday, we had a hardcore tourist day checking out El Retiro, La Reina Sofia and El Prado. To see a description of my museum impressions, see my blog on El Prado/La Reina Sofia.

So it was totally cool to park in the middle of the street in Madrid
So it was totally cool to park in the middle of the street in Madrid

Madrid teems with a unique flair. It is regal, yet fun, with a sense of history that permeates both the walls from the narrow, cobble stoned roles and the wide promenades that have seen many historical figures- Pizzaro, Cortes, Franco, Columbus to name a few- march through the streets with blood and glory on their shoulders.

little did I know that the chocolate and churros would have the last laugh
little did I know that the chocolate and churros would have the last laugh

Continue my adventure: on to Morocco

Nuts and Bolts

Hostel: Albergue Juvenil Municipal www.ajmadrid.es c/ Mejia Lequercia, 21

Very clean, standard hostel, large, many floors, kind of too sterile with little personality, bunk beds, they charge for towels. Say you are less than 26years old or they charge you (significantly) more. We paid 45 euros a night for the two of us in a 6 person room.

Flat 5 Madrid- www.flat5madrid.com c/ San Bernardo, 55

This hostel is amazing. We paid 55 euros for a very nice bedroom with TV, shared bathroom. Great staff, clean, new, great location. Highly recommended.

Food

In Madrid, there is the museum of ham. They love pig. A typical daily eating experience is a tiny breakfast, a big lunch and late night dinner of tapas. We were not blown away by our culinary experience, but it may have been circumstantial because we may not have gone to the must eat spots.

Restaurants

La Maceiras- Tapas place, the food was just okay, it is Galician and hearty. You go for the atmosphere which is crowded and fun.

Azul Cafe- cute little coffee/lunch place that serves yummy food. I recommend it for a little bite to eat.

Restaurant Botin- the oldest restaurant in the world and if life forms on other galaxies do not have restaurants then the oldest restaraunt in the universe. Pretty cool ancient brickwalls inside, despite being touristy. Try to eat in the cellar- serving food since 1590. The food- suckling pig- was good not great and in all the cheasy nearby touristy restaraunts this was the most expensive. You go here to say you ate at the olderst restaurant.

Chocolateria de San Gines- Churros and chocolate. Deliciously dangerous. I ate too much because one Missy dared me and two it was too delicious. Afterwards, worst night of sleep ever. I had nightmares of churros turning into snakes, grabbing my ankles and drowning me in a dark brown sea.

Continue my adventure: on to Morocco