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Week 2 in Morocco

Week 2 in Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch  |  February 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents

MAP

Week 2 saw us drive from Fes to Erg Chebbi, 454 kms

Day 8: Fes; Monday 4 Feb

Today was a much needed admin day after a big day out in the medina of Fes yesterday.

The afternoon saw us jump on our bikes and head into the Carrefour supermarket.  While we were out, we hunted down an electric fan heater as the nights are cold here and we don’t want to use our motorhome heating because we have to conserve our LPG to make it last two months.

The ride into town was thankfully fairly uneventful while we rode in with Kaz and Nik our camping neighbours.  Unlike the great cycle paths we became accustomed to in Europe, here you are forced to use the roads, as even the footpaths are not suitable for bikes.

We headed back to the camping ground and lunch was now long overdue. As often seems to be the case with us, we couldn’t find any eating place en route that attracted enough of our interest to inspire us to stop.  As we had plenty of food back in Betsy, that was no problem.

Tonight we have been treated to a cooking class and Nik and Kaz’ motorhome by our guide Wafi.  He is making a beef and prune Tagine with fruit for dessert.

For the recipe click here.

The almost finished product

Spiced Meat

Onions Piled High

Tomatoes placed on top

Tomatoes Skinned & Chopped

Serving Time!

Day 9: Azrou; Tuesday 5th Feb

It was time to move on today and we pointed south to Azour.  We had read ahead of time that they hold their souk (market day) on a Tuesday and we were hoping to arrive in time to experience our first one in Morocco.

On the drive to Azour we climbed high into the mountains.  Being such a clear day we stopped at the top to take a photograph.  Here we had our first of many experiences of roadside stalls with vendors selling all manner of fossils and mineral stones.  The kind gentleman showed us several gorgeous specimens, which look like any ordinary stone from the outside but when opened revealed a hollow centre lined with crystals in vibrant silver, green or purple.  I couldn’t resist and for €10 we came away with a lovely purple crystal stone and a polished quartz egg-shaped rock (we call this shape eggular).  The seller wanted to swap clothes for his wares but Alan doesn’t have excess clothes so we politely declined.

We resumed our journey, climbing the steep mountain passes and inevitably came across slow-moving fully laden trucks.  Picture the scene as Alan indicates to pass uphill.  Betsy isn’t the most powerful of vehicles but we eventually built up speed.  He pulled out to pass and halfway through the manoeuvre we heard a toot. A car is passing us… as we are passing the truck… uphill on a narrow windy road… with the straight road ahead rapidly disappearing!  There was nowhere for us to go safely except to continue passing.  The car driver did the same while fists appeared out from every window.  We all passed safely (phew) and the car slowed down and appeared as if it is going to stop.  The passengers in the backseat continued to stare at us.  This could be an interesting situation developing and I cautioned Alan to not stop under any circumstances; thankfully the driver continues driving onwards.

That was a close call!

We arrived into the salubrious castle themed Emirates Tourist Centre (GPS coordinates 33.44348, -5.19062), a Camping ground of much visual grandeur (on first impressions anyway).  It’s a pity they had no hot water, the men’s toilets were locked, there was no toilet paper, and both the reception and restaurant were closed. At 80 dirhams per night it was the cheapest we had stayed in so far but the lack of facilities wouldn’t have supported any higher fee.  It wasn’t until we had a look around this camping ground that we realised there had been no cooking facilities available in any site we had come across to date.  That won’t help with reducing our gas consumption.  Luckily though, we bought a cheap stand-alone electric hot plate in Spain prior to catching the ferry so we can do most of our cooking on that.  This is a good tip for anyone with the refillable LPG gas system planning on touring Morocco for an extended period of time.

Off come the bikes and we coast down the steep hills for the four-kilometre ride to see the town’s souk.  Unfortunately for us we seem to have arrived as things were packing up.

We need cash and after trying two ATM’s we finally find one prepared to accept our Qantas Australia cash card and dispense some much needed cash.  There are limits on how much the ATM’s can dispense at one time and although the menu offers options to request up to 4,000 dirhams, none seem to cough up more than $2,000 Dirham!  Humph!  It’s a bit annoying when your cash card provider charges A$2.50 per transaction but you can’t take out a decent wad of cash in one go.  Never mind, we are in Africa and this is a cost of being here and is somewhat insignificant in the big picture.  Another pro-tip – we tried our cash card in several bank ATM’s, all of which wanted to charge a fee in dirhams for dispensing our cash.  However, the Poste Maroc ATM’s were free to use so we now look out for them.  We had a similar experience in Turkey where the Post Office ATM’s were also fee free.

We bought a couple of pastries and bread then made our way back to the campsite. Our attention was taken by some delicious looking rotisserie chickens in a roadside restaurant and with fond memories of the succulent, crisp birds we were able to buy in Istanbul for a pittance, we enquired about the price.  Maybe they quoted tourist prices or maybe they wanted to charge full restaurant prices but we decided that the price tag of 80 dirhams was too rich for us.  Remember we bought a three-course meal for 45 dirhams in Fes just last week!

As we trekked back up the steep hill ever grateful for electric bikes, we thought back to the extreme hill-climb up to the Rock of Gibraltar where even with electric assistance we still needed to get off and push at times.  These hills have nothing on that experience.

Back at the camping ground I settled down to write for the next five hours while Alan cooked dinner and cleaned up.   What a great husband I have.

Transporting Sheep Moroccan Style

The Famous Purple Rock

View From The Top

Overlooking Azour From The Town

Cool Street Art

Tagines Anyone?

Emirates Tourist Centre Camping Ground

The Drive Into Emirates Tourist Centre

Betsy No Friends

Day 10: Jurassique; Wednesday 6th Feb

Happy Waitangi Day to us.  For our non-New Zealand readers, Waitangi Day is New Zealand’s National Holiday, which commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the indigenous people of NZ (the Maori) and England.

We left Azrou today, heading for Camping Jurassique in the picturesque Ziz Valley. Apparently the camping ground there has a free washing machine.  Isn’t it funny how something so basic can attract many motorhomers to their site?

Our first stop was for diesel and then we were on the road again.  We started climbing into the hills and Alan pulled off to the side to let the build up of cars behind us pass. We then realised we had an unwanted passenger!  A young lad on roller skates had hitched a ride by hanging off the back of Betsy.  Once we came to a stop, he had let go and was on his way back down the hill.  Wow, that was somewhat frightening and now we are aware to look out for such unwanted company.

Our first stop was to view Barbary apes in the wild.  They are located in the Cedre Gouraud Forest  (GPS coordinates 33.4263 -5.1555).  The narrow rough access road is lined with snow and meeting any on-coming traffic required one vehicle (usually us) to pull off the road to one side.  As we pulled into the guarded parking area, an elderly toothless man asked for the 5 dirham parking fee and also if he can have Alan’s shoes.  Nice try mate.  We explain that Alan only has one pair and he accepted that graciously.  Plus he would have swum in Alan’s size 11 shoes.

All manner of micro commercial enterprises have sprung up based around the ape hangout.  Men have horses available for riding and a small Shetland pony is taken out from the back of an ordinary van like you would carry a dog.  The owner wanted me to have my photo taken with the pony and I oblige.  That’s how they make their money here.  Another man wanted me to climb onto a horse that was stamping and whinnying and making a big fuss.  No thanks!  Further in, a man is selling bags of unshelled peanuts but Alan didn’t connect the peanuts with the apes and declined to buy some.  Thankfully another family had come to feed the apes with their purchased peanuts, which brought them close enough for us to photograph.

The track to the apes is lined with what looks like a shanty town of stalls selling handmade cedar woodcrafts and also the usual (now) fossils and minerals. They make their stalls out of any materials they can find which makes for some interesting architecture.

We manage to avoid buying anything today.  

The Shanty Type Huts With Locally Made Cedar Handcrafts

The Small Huts Open For Business

Barbary Apes In The Wild

We have a lot of distance to cover to get to Jurassique Camping so after some time with apes we were on our way again.  The road wound through some stunning scenery, the likes of which I had never pictured seeing in Morocco.  Of all the countries we have visited, 25 in total now, there have only been in two standout scenic countries, where you are constantly looking around in awe at what you are seeing – Norway and now Morocco.

Alan wanted to take a road shown on Google Maps as a shortcut to save ten kilometres or so but one look at the road had us in stitches.  Not even if our life depended on it could we get Betsy up that track!

Don’t Worry Betsy We’re Not Taking You Up There

We climb again, which seems to be a regular theme around here and came up behind the most overladen truck I’ve ever seen.  It’s crawling uphill at about 15kms per hour and the hay it is carrying hits the top of the roadside trees.  One wrong move, a pothole or incorrect camber and the entire contents would topple the truck over.  I feel very nervous being behind such a hazard but there’s nowhere to pull over or pass so we hang back and wait for an opportunity to overtake.  There appears to be no such thing as a passing lane in Morocco and not once do we see a slow vehicle pull over to allow other traffic to pass.  This resulted in some interesting passing maneuvers.

What Health & Safety Concerns?

As we arrived at the plateau the scenery continued to impress.  Snow topped mountains in the distance stood tall and proud behind red soil in the foreground.  The remnants of the recent snow lingered on the ground wherever it was shaded by trees or cliffs.

Life appears harsh up here.  Housing is oftentimes in the form of makeshift looking huts or shacks. One had plastic and sticks for their roof.  Intermittent roadside stalls sell whatever the locals have available, often eggs and fossils; there are plenty of those here.

The road took us through more townships, some enjoying their weekly souk and are generally in fair condition, but with sections of rough, potholed tarmac with crumbling edges.  I was happy to have our tyre pressure sensor system to give us fair warning of a puncture or slow leak, as you wouldn’t want to have a blow out on this sort of terrain.  A lot of motorhomes these days (including ours), don’t have spare wheels so anything that helps us to preserve our tyres and our safety is money very well spent.  Alan purchased this off Amazon before coming to Morocco after researching what is the most suitable one for motorhomes.  It is amazing what a sense of comfort you get from being able to see your tyre pressures in real time and know that they are optimised for safety and fuel economy.

Virtually every day we drive we see an accident and today was no exception.  An old Citroen car had rolled leaving his bonnet behind.  People from all around were offering assistance as we crawled past the scene.

We had a few close calls today with traffic.  Aside from the young lad who hitched a ride earlier, we then narrowly escaped a head-on – someone passing an oncoming car but misjudged the distance.  Later, two vehicles overtaking a slow truck in front of us had seemingly millimeters to spare before they ducked into a gap the front vehicle is forced to open up.

There is always something to see in these remote rugged roads, from flocks of sheep with their shepherds to donkeys carrying their owner as well as bundles of animal feed or twigs for cooking.

These Are Strong Animals That Work Hard All Day

The Colours and Mountain Peaks Continue To Impress

Water is Rare Here

A Local Home

An Old Kasbah (Hotel)

The Views Are Spectacular

We Weren’t Expecting Snow On The Mountains

As we drove through another township we experienced two kids jumping onto the back of our bike rack.  A younger kid deliberately walked out in front of us to slow us down so the teenagers could jump onto the back of Betsy.  Thankfully a local car behind us tooted at them and they jumped off.  Their weight could break our bike rack so we were unimpressed.  If you’re traveling in Morocco watch out for this behaviour when driving at slow speeds through the townships.

We left at 12.30 for a 211 kilometre journey. While our GPS said the driving time should have been y hours, it actually took us 5 hours 24 minutes due partly to the difficult roads and slow trucks, but also because the amazing and unique scenery compelled us to stop repeatedly to take it all in and capture the moments on camera.

We arrived at Jurassique Camping (GPS coordinates 32.15406, -4.37628) in the Ziz Gorge as dusk approached, with the last of the day’s sun kissing the brown dusty mountain tops.

Alan took the opportunity to throw on a load of washing which dried with no problem overnight despite the low temperatures.

I headed off to the showers and picked the only one where the shower rose is actually hanging on the wall. The water only trickled out warmly but I’m not complaining.  We reckon that many of the houses we have passed on our long journey here today wouldn’t even have running water, let alone hot running water.

With us settled in for the night, it was time to make dinner and connect with family over Skype.  The internet here is reasonable and enables us to keep in touch.

The Camping Ground It All Its Glory

Day 11: Erb Chebbi; Thursday 7th Feb

Last night’s camping ground had very little around it to keep us there for more than one night and we head off.  We wind through the outstanding beauty of the Ziz Valley with constant exclamations at new sights of natural beauty or interesting buildings.  The arid hills stand proud and tall while small townships blend into the countryside with their brown mud bricks which are literally made from the surrounding lands.  These houses are not built to last and the rain and wind immediately start the process of returning the walls back into mud and sand.  Everywhere we see a mixture of new buildings, partially decayed structures, and long abandoned remnants.

Over countless thousands of years, the Ziz river has carved out large canyons through the countryside.  At times the river disappears entirely then emerges again allowing an oasis to bloom at the bottom of the valley.  Civilisation grasps at this opportunity for life and mud-brick houses and townships grace the edge of the greenery.  Date palms line up in groves and evidence of individual gardens can be spotted.

We came across a large supermarket (Acima, GPS coordinates 31.9305 -4.4529) and replenished supplies of meat and other hard to find essentials, such as glass cleaner.  They stocked a good range of groceries and it was well worth a stop before heading further south where larger supermarkets are sparse.  Their vegetables, however, looked somewhat secondhand so we gave them a wide berth.  That proved to be a good idea as later Alan bought a whole bag full of veges and a loaf of bread for 13.50 dirham (€1.25).

Spices In Bulk Bins at Supermarket

From Local Greengrocer

Our planned stopping point tonight was at a camping ground that backed straight onto the Sahara Desert sand dunes at Erg Chebbi.  Following the GPS coordinates in our sat nav, we were directed off the main road and across a barely made piste (compacted dirt and gravel) track towards the dunes.  Betsy was not made for this sort of rough road and none of us enjoyed the deep ruts and sand.  Tip – if you are venturing down here and your GPS tells you to travel off-road then carry on for a couple more kilometres to Mertzouga where you can double back on an asphalt road that takes you closer to the campsite.

As we got closer to the GPS coordinates on the sat nav, it became apparent that the roads shown on the screen did not actually exist and were actually a web of rough sandy tracks.  We followed the directions as best we could until we faced an uphill incline of soft sand, which Alan refused to risk.  I got out, had a look around and saw some motorhomes on the next site over so backed out in search of joining them.

A few more sand tracks later we arrived.  Haven La Chance (GPS coordinates 31.13488, -4.01594) is a large site incorporating an Auberge (accommodation), a restaurant and a very large area for campers which extends into the sand dunes, and gosh how stunning is this place?

We were asked how long we will stay because they have a large group of Dutch motorhomers coming in on Wednesday 13th February.  As it was Thursday 7th February, we knew we would be well gone by then.  ‘Just a couple of days’ Alan said in broken French and all was good.  The couple turned into six nights.

With a sense of excitement we nabbed the perfect spot overlooking the sand dunes so we could soak up the view in front of us.  Never before had we been in such an unique location.  We really felt as though we were in the Sahara desert, that nothing else in the world mattered.  This stunning view had to be from a movie set.  We walked into the dunes to assure ourselves that it was genuine and after returning with half an inch of sand in our shoes we can guarantee its authenticity.

Ali, the brother of Hamed the boss, is in control here and treats us to a tour of the site.  Ali, according to his older brother, is ex military and displays his military efficiency when proudly directing each vehicle into exactly the right position, ensuring maximum happiness for the punters.  There really isn’t a wrong place to park as the view is simply magnificent no matter where you look.

The Stunning Sahara Dessert

The facilities here are excellent with three large unisex showers big enough for two people and three European style toilets.  They even have a very enticing full swimming pool, which would have been tempting to dive into had the temperature been a few degrees warmer.

The nights here are cool, about 6C and during the day it climbs up to 25C.  The air is dry, the humidity is about 11 per cent.  I could feel the parched air playing havoc with my skin, making me reach for the moisturiser regularly.  My hair was frizzy with static electricity and my nails chip, crack and snap off at the slightest touch of something too hard.  I wouldn’t have traded this for anything though, it’s a small price to pay for soaking up the winter desert.

Evening and morning are the best times to see the sand dunes as the light provides shadows giving depth to the valleys and crests.  The clear air and total lack of light pollution result in a night sky bursting with stars which delighted us with a mixture of yellow, orange, pink and blue hues. The longer we look, the more colours expose themselves.

We can’t believe we are here, in the Sahara Desert, in all its glory.  I stand in awe, jaw dropped and excitement in my loins.

I can now see why Ali was concerned that we might still be here when the Dutch party arrives on the 13th.  Apparently is it common for people to plan on a short visit but then fall in love with the place and never want to leave.  Most of our neighbours have been here for many days, some weeks and others even reported they had been here since November last year – four months and counting.  It’s the perfect way to escape the harsh bitter northern European winters and why wouldn’t you?

Our View For The Next Six Days

Day 12: Still at Erb Chebbi; Friday 8 Feb 2019

Dawn’s first light appears about 7am and the sun peaks its head up over the dunes soon after 8am.  Alan braved the cool morning air to shoot some stunning photographs of yet more sunrises.  There’s something rather special about this one however – it’s the Sahara!

The morning sun gives colour to the sand like no other time.

Today was for relaxing and catch up on some downtime.  There is a special stillness, peace and beauty out here that just makes you want to stop and drink in the experience.

Alan sent some photos onto our Moroccan Messenger Group (Zoe, Tommy, Helena & Harkin) and we soon heard back that Helena and Harkin are making their way to us and will be here tomorrow.  After we all went our own way at Chefchaouen a week or so ago, Helena and Harkin headed to the west coast before now coming back across to the eastern side.  We are travelling much more slowly down to the south of Morocco before crossing over to the west.  Their impending visit has us excited to be seeing them again.

The evening sunsets are equally impressive over the dunes.

 


Day 13: Still at Erb Chebbi; Saturday 9 Feb

What better place to have breakfast than in the desert on a stunning, mild morning with blue skies over rolling sand dunes.  Alan made us a yummy breakfast of local turkey sausages and eggs.  The red sausage meat is highly spiced and absolutely delicious.  Make sure you put this on your shopping list if you like sausages.

Check Out That Breakfast View

We heard some scratching sounds and looked to see a rather large dung beetle scurrying about his business.  They make cool tracks in the sand behind them.

Later in the day we wandered into the township of Et Taous to check out the local shops.  Not expecting to see much we were surprised to come across several souvenir shops all selling pretty much the same things, fossils, mineral stones, rugs, scarfs, leather shoes, brightly coloured lightweight clothing and other trinkets.  I felt sorry for the shop owners that we really are not in the market to purchase anything (apparently!).  Alan tells many a seller that even if you give it to us “gratis” (free), we would say no because we don’t have room.  We are travelling for a long time and cannot afford to keep loading Betsy down with trinkets.  I just hope that my future self doesn’t regret not picking up the odd gem here and there.

The town shops included quad bike rentals (although at 300 dirham an hour they aren’t cheap to hire), a couple of supermarkets, one selling telecom data recharge codes (phew), but no ice cream.  What do you expect, Ruth?  There are also cafes and restaurants offering tagines and mint tea.  We stopped off at a fruit and vege shop to find old looking wrinkled aubergines that would be headed for the bin in most other countries, but out here where very little grows beggars can’t be choosers.  The butchers shop had some variety of meat in his cabinet and other, fresher looking, veges that we take note of should we need a top up.

Every village has at least one mosque, usually with red or white minarets silhouetted against the crystal clear blue desert sky.

The roads in the town are compacted sand, the buildings a mixture of mudbrick and straw.  Some of the newer constructions are smooth plastered, the exterior painted in shades of terracotta.

Everyone was friendly, greeting us with either ‘bonjour’ (French for hello) or the Arabic greeting ‘Salaam’, or occasionally the longer version Salaam Alaykum (which literally translates as ‘and unto you peace’) but also means hello.  French and Arabic are the two main languages spoken with Berber coming in a close third.  The Berber languages are spoken only, there is no written form and this is verbally handed down from generation to generation.

With wallet firmly intact, and shopping bags empty, apart from an internet data top up, we returned to the camping ground to find Helena and Harkin (as well as the famous Lovis, their adorable King Charles Spaniel and Poodle Cross dog) had arrived.  It was great to see them again and they too were in awe of the impressive views before them.

Day 14: Yet again still in Erb Chebbi; Sunday 10 Feb

We’re still here, and can you blame us?  Alan woke up early and put the new electric heater on to ward off the chilled desert night air.  The heater, however, is struggling to put out much heat and the electric kettle is taking an age to boil water.  A quick check with an electrical meter reveals another problem we had been warned about in Morocco – low voltage.  The voltage at the plug hovers around 186V, which is the cause of the low heat output and slow water boiling.  He also discovers that our fridge/freezer won’t run properly on the poor power supply and keeps switching back to using gas.

Apparently seasoned travellers to Morocco take with them a transformer, for about €60, which can transform the low voltage into a guaranteed 220V supply.

One of the reasons we stay in camping grounds is to conserve gas as there’s nowhere to refill our Gaslow LPG tanks.  It appears, however, that there is usually enough electric supply for the fridge during the night and if we are not running anything else or having lights switched on.   Welcome to Africa.

We had a laid back day again today, giving our weary travellers time to recover from a big drive yesterday.  It’s not only long distances that takes it out of you when driving around here, but it’s also the mental energy of always being on the look out, navigating roads that range from excellent tarmac surfaces to crumbling edges to narrow one lane roads being used as two lanes.  Then there’s the traffic, the dodgy overtaking, the slow truck and locals that drive seemingly head on not pulling over and expecting the foreigners to make way for them, or so it seems.  Moving through small villages one always has to be mindful of people, cyclists, vendors with carts, donkeys and dogs wandering about on the road anywhere, anytime.  We were brought up to think that roads were for cars, however here, the road is for anyone and anything and vehicles seem to have no precedence.

Interestingly enough the road toll in Morocco is about 3,800 per annum which equates to 209 per 100,000 vehicles on the road.  Compare this with New Zealand which has 12.2 deaths per 100,000 vehicles and the United Kingdom with 5.1 deaths per 100,000 vehicles.  These statistics put into perspective the dangers of driving here in Morocco and the discerning driver must stay alert at all times.

Onto more pleasant topics, Helena made a sponge cake to enjoy for morning tea and we sit in the warm sun chatting about life and winter conditions in Morocco.  They heard from family back in Sweden that there is a foot of snow on the ground.  We laughed while drinking our tea and tucking into another piece of freshly baked delicious cake.

The next decision we had to make, in our difficult lives, is what tour do we want to experience.  We have three options from the campsite, a sunset or sunrise camel ride into the desert for 300 dirhams (€27, NZ$46) each, an overnight self-drive quad bike ride into the desert staying in tents for 500 dirhams each (€46, NZ$76) or a full day visiting several different locations in an air-conditioned fully enclosed vehicle with a driver for 1200 dirhams per vehicle (€111, NZ$168).  We opt for the latter, not only due to the excellent value when split four ways, but also because of the variety it offers.  Four of us, plus Lovis, can all enjoy a tour starting at 10am through to 3.30pm.  We booked this in for the next day.  Oh boy, are we in for a treat?

Stay tuned for our desert tour in next week’s blog and find out about Ruth’s driving experience in Morocco – I know right, especially after sharing the stats for driving here.

Costs for Weeks 1 & 2

As you can see there wasn’t a lot to spend money on in week 2 with diesel and camping grounds being the two biggest (if you can call them that) expenses.  However with over 80% of our time spent wild camping, it’s unusual for us to exceed our €50 per month budget, until now.

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Week 1 in Morocco

Week 1 in Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch  |  February 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents

From Tangier to Fes in One Week, 345 kms

Click to enlarge images

Day 1: Spain To Morocco; Monday 28 Jan 2019

The steps we took to ease into our Moroccan adventure gently can be found here.  We read up about Morocco and what to expect plus we read numerous forums on Facebook.  The best resource we found, and were pointed to on multiple occasions, was a book we purchased on Amazon called Motorhome Morocco written by Julie and Jason Buckley.  This has been an absolutely invaluable resource and should you decide to venture over to Morocco this is a must buy.

The ferry to Morocco was booked for 1pm and we are told to be available and waiting one hour before.  So at 11.55am our long wait of ten and a half hours begins for a 90 minute crossing, immigration and customs.

Here’s how it unfolded.

After nearly an hour we are told we are waiting in the wrong line. “Yours is over there”!  We proceed over there and after another half an hour, as the line finally starts to move, we are informed that the 1pm ferry is ‘fast ferry’ which can only take vehicles with a maximum height of 2.8 metres.

Wouldn’t it have been nice for the ticket seller, who knew we had a motorhome, to give us this information.  The ‘slow’ ferry we need leaves at 4pm!  So, a little annoyed but accepting the situation, we naively continue to wait, expecting our ferry to leave at 4pm (silly us).

The 4pm ferry left at about 6.15pm and arrived around 8.30pm for a 90 minute crossing.   With hot meals and drinks available the ferry appeared pleasant enough and hosted what looks like the world’s smallest duty-free shop.

Upon exiting the ferry there is a long drive where one could be forgiven for thinking we’re out of the official zone.  Did we take a wrong turn?  Have we missed customs altogether? Fear not. The fun is yet to come.

Eventually, you come to a lineup of cars, many of them locals, stacked to the gunnels with all manner of goods inside plus bundles of goodies strapped to the roof, some trying to reach the sky.  Here you wait for the customs search. There doesn’t seem to be a system of who goes first to get their car to the front of the queue.  The more aggressive you appear the more likely you can sneak ahead.

Horns toot, at what we’re not sure.  One will start and the others soon follow suit. It’s like the male testosterone letting off steam.  We let a couple of cars squeeze in around us before we decide to stake our claim on a piece of tarmac and resist any invaders.

People start to unload the goodies from their cars and vans, some even included literally, the kitchen sink.  Not an inch of space is left unfilled.  It transpires that the locals travel across to Spain to purchase second-hand goods with a view to selling these much needed items in Africa.  Every vehicle is overloaded with suspension maxed out.

Men wander around with their car boots open displaying their newly acquired tidbits, waiting expectantly to be processed and are then flagged on.  In most cases the officer digs down through a few layers of goods, peering in with a torch looking for who-knows-what, before either letting the driver go on or directing him up to the X-Ray machine for a full vehicle scan.

I wonder if these over-worked customs agents actually find anything needing confiscation?  So far it hasn’t been obvious.

Two official looking people with police hats walk around looking at this and that, then refer to their documents. No one is moving very far or very fast.

We are lined up across seven lanes and four deep.  If you look hard and long enough you may just see some semblance of order to the chaos around.  The views are entertaining if nothing else.  It’s a game of patience and is certainly no showcase for Moroccan efficiency.

By 10.15pm we arrive at the front of the line.  Our documents are taken away for processing.

A young good looking policeman indicates he wants to look inside Betsy.  Speaking French, for which we don’t understand, he finally asks in English if we have any weapons.  Alan, always the comedian, suggests ‘just ma femme’ (my wife).  We got a smile out of him.  Next we’re instructed to open the overhead cupboards and revealed some dangerous looking spices and a frying pan that Alan suggested could be dangerous in his wife’s hands.  Again another smile and a lifting of tensions.

A quick look inside the bedroom and this young officer realises we are a low risk and leaves us alone.

It doesn’t take long before another policeman came knocking on our door with the requisite D16 temporary vehicle import form, our passports and our Green Insurance card in hand.  With no other instructions we assume that’s our ticket out of here.  We gingerly drive forward, hoping to not get into trouble.  We are travelling in convoy with two other motorhomes behind us and are mindful that we have to wait for them.

Feeling like we have survived and then escaped the clutches of some foreign country (oh hang on we have) we then crawl forward at 10.30pm outside of the confines and make our way slowly to the money exchange offices that are situated as you leave this zone.  Here we had been foretold is a good place (not quiet though) to spend the night in order to avoid driving in the dark to places unknown on our first night in this foreign land.  Alas we are not alone.  The car park is filled with motorhomes all having the same idea and we find the last three slots and tuck up for the night.

I wonder what treasures await us tomorrow.

Morocco, Here We Come…

Goodies on the Roof

Tidbits Including Kitchen Sink!

Car Boot Jammed Full

Day 2: Martil; Tuesday 29 Jan 2019

We woke to pile driving going on behind us and there was no way further sleep was possible.  We decided to head off about 10am and make our way to the Mediterranean coast, as that’s where the sun is supposed to be.

Having read up ahead of time we were aware that people walk randomly on the road and it didn’t take long before some chap, obviously high as a kite, decided that dancing on the road was important to him as three large motorhomes approached.  The entertainment factor was epic!

We made our way across the high mountains and enjoyed the feast in front of our eyes.  Brightly coloured houses painted blue, yellow, pink, red, or white greeted us nestled amongst the rolling hills.  The roads were surprisingly good and the two lanes for most of the way were plenty wide enough to squeeze past the odd parked car.

There was livestock galore to pique our interest, from a donkey all loaded up with saddles, to massive storks, which I thought were pelicans they were so large, to cows, sheep and of course dogs.  Zoe informed me she even saw a camel!

The road took us through the small town of Fnidq and then Tetouan before we arrived at our home for the next two nights in Martil.  We stayed at Alboustane, Camping Caravaning, Martil Marruecos, tel 05 39 68 88 22.  GPS coordinates 35.6289 -5.2773.  There is plenty of space for us and the grounds are situated nearby to the township.  The facilities are clean and adequate for our needs.

We took the opportunity to dump the grey and black water before settling into our pitch and plugging into electricity.  Needing electricity is rare for us, as is being in a campground, but with no LPG in Morocco and a desire to stay for a couple of months, we have to conserve every bit of gas we can.

The local cats came out to greet us and were happy to be picked up and cuddled.  They remind me of Turkey and I realise how much I miss having a cat around.

After a cuppa and a quick bite to eat we headed into town to purchase a local SIM card.  Who would have thought it would take all afternoon?

Maroc Telecom was suggested as the best bet, so off we went in search of them.  Thankfully we had downloaded maps.me before crossing over from Spain so we could find the GPS coordinates and the route to the shop without needing data or the internet.  That made finding the camping ground and the Telecom store easier (GPS 35.6179 – 5.2747).

The language barrier proves to be a challenge as we speak very little French and the man at Telecom spoke nil English.  Thankfully Alan knows a few words and uses Google Translate for the rest.

Alan and Tommy were at the counter while Helena, Harkin, Zoe and I were seated.  It wasn’t long before I noticed a man walk in and make his way to stand behind Alan and Tommy.  Next thing I see this complete stranger put his hand into Tommy’s pocket!  Quick as a flash, I jumped up to stop him and he casually backed off and walked around to another counter, his plan foiled.  No one in the shop reacted, as though it was a natural occurrence or they didn’t know what was going on, I’m not sure which.  Tommy didn’t lose his wallet this time but it was a close call.  We then realised that having someone watch out for you at a distance is a good strategy to employ.

The SIM card cost us 40 dirham (approx €4) from the Telecom shop and then we had to go down the road to purchase data for 10 dirham (€1) per 1 GB.  

We arrived back at the camping ground later in the day, too late to tackle the washing, so that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Helena and Harkin invited us all over for dinner, wild boar and moose stew and we contributed with some pastries purchased at the local bakery.  A most enjoyable evening, treasured times with wonderful friends and great traveling companions.  It was our first time traveling with other motorhomers and it proved to be successful and helped us to feel safe, particularly in such a foreign land.

Our Port of Entry, Tangier

After Purchasing The SIM Card, We Loaded Money Here (the shop on the right)

Tommy & Zoe

Harken & Alan

Ruth & Helena

Day 3: Martil; Wednesday 30 Jan 2019

We woke to slight dampness in the air but that didn’t deter Alan from tackling the washing and gosh how it builds up.  That kept us in Betsy for the day and stationed in the camping ground.  It also allowed me to catch up on some paperwork and have a quiet day in preparation for what was to come.

Day 4: Chefhaouen; 31 Jan 2019 

Heading towards the blue town, otherwise known as Chefchaouen, we meander up through the hills. There are people sitting on the side of the road selling their wares, from onions, strawberries, avocados, pears, carrots and plenty more.  They wave out with large smiles on their face.  We had been told that foreigners are treated like celebrities here so expect to be wave at and ensure we wave back.

The roads are rough with roadworks much of the way and they are needed due to the constant potholes and the edge of the road being broken away.  The speed signs say 60 but get behind a fully leaden old truck and traveling at 30km/hr is an accomplishment.

With a build up of cars behind us we find a spot to pull off and ease the congestion for our sake as much as theirs.  This proves to be an unusual manoeuvre as we learn later on.  Passing lanes are non-existent so the locals take their chance to pass slow vehicles, usually on a blind corner uphill.

We come around the corner to see a truck attempting to pass another truck uphill at 30km/hour.  Not a good idea and he thankfully gave up as there’s plenty of head-on traffic.  How they don’t have a head-on accident is anyone’s guess.  We crawl up at a snails pace and the expected arrival time on the GPS seems very optimistic.  We were told to add at least 30% onto stated driving times but from our experience this could easily be another 50%.

Rounding the corner we came across an example of what can happens when driving skills are put to the test.  This had just happened before we arrived as the cones were being distributed.

Parking Moroccan Style!

Betsy does a great job passing uphill. She’s not a high-powered machine by any stretch of the imagination but when the goal is passing another vehicle slugging away at 20 something kilometers per hour she doesn’t need a big run up.  Who would have thought she wasn’t the slowest thing on the road?

The trees high up here in the mountains are in full blossom, well ahead of schedule as though they are encouraging the spring to come early.

 The locals are spotted washing their clothes in the river below in the fine rain.  Or they are stooped over carrying bales of vegetation on their backs walking beside the road.  Others, mainly men, just stand by the roadside, their purpose unclear at least to the foreign eye.

We arrive into Chefchaouen and follow Tommy and Zoe through the township and out the other side to Camping Azilan (GPS coordinates 35.17579, -5.26701) overlooking the township below.  It’s a fair walk away and steep enough to put the eBikes and riders through their paces.

We are greeted at the camping ground by the resident ginger tomcat, a rooster and chickens.

We park and level up then tuck into a chicken salad for lunch.  The rain is coming down hard so I get the Monopoly cards out and try my luck against Alan (damn he’s getting good, I’ve taught him all my tricks).

The rest of our group decides to take a walk into town while there’s still some daylight as the rain has eased off a little.  It’s quite a walk back uphill so we opt to take Betsy and meet the others in the medina. The drive was a bit hair raising but no-one seemed to care that we wanted to drive on the road while they were using it as a giant sidewalk (except us).

Tommy & Zoe Lead The Way Into Chefchaouen

The Girls Are Looking At The Sights While The Boys Negotiate A Dinner Venue

Brightly Colourful Trinkets Adorn The Shops

Stunning Artwork

The medina is unique.  Lots of little alleys and paths weave their way through the hillside like a spiders web.  There’s no rhyme or reason as to the layout, no shops are the same size or shape, of some hardly have an opening, rather they appear more cave-like than a shop.

Children run around playing, darting in and out while adults stand around, some shouting in Arabic, at what or to whom isn’t clear.

We meet up with our friends in the square and proceed to check out the many restaurants enticing us in with offers of cheap food, photos of specialty dishes and their Google ratings (gotta love technology).  We decide on a little place called Marisco Twins and are treated to good quality authentic tagines. Alan had a starter of shrimp and avocado salad where the shrimps had turned into rather large deliciously fresh prawns served on a bed of lettuce and cucumber.  His main was beef and plum tagine and we both tucked into cream de caramel for dessert.  My entree was a Spanish omelet and for the main, I opted for chicken and lemon tagine.  We don’t venture out for dinner often so this was a real treat and the food was delicious. 

Avocado and Prawn Salad

Beef Tagine

Lamb Tagine

Day 5: Chechaouen; 1st Feb 2019 

It rained heavily last night and the wind blew hard.  Facing African rain in a motorhome was an experience.

We didn’t want to leave Chechaouen before we had a real chance to see all the sights it had to offer without the interference of rain and the forecast was promising a break in the weather.  Therefore we decided to hang out for an extra day and relocate to a parking area nearer the medina (GPS coordinate 35.16603, -5.26162) (at 30MAD compared to 110MAD in the campground).  The money here is called Dirhams, and is written as MAD.  Ten MAD is equivalent to €0.93 and NZ$1.56.  Our parking in the camping ground was €10.20 or NZ$17 for the night including electricity.

This is where we parted with our friends, who are on a tighter timeframe than us and who are in search of finer weather, so they headed towards the west coast.  They found it too, 20C compared with our 8C!

Thankfully the expected break in the weather eventuated and by 3pm we were off exploring again.  This township is truly remarkable.  The influx of Jews escaping the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 brought with them the tradition of painting buildings blue.  Five hundred years later this has become famous, known as the ‘blue town’ and is a tourist destination which is possibly the most unique place we have come across on our travels through 25 countries and two continents.

The locals are friendly and were respectful of our tourist status.   We were offered hashish by one fellow, which we politely declined, and were not harassed or bothered by shopkeepers wanting to sell us rugs or take us off the beaten track to see their family shop.  A few asked us where we were from, some knew New Zealand, others looked blank.  We were freely given unsolicited, helpful information to find our way without asking for or expecting anything in return.  This is a far cry from what we had read about before coming here.  I wonder if this is the city style, as opposed to the countryside towns and time will tell.

We had been given a tip of saying that this isn’t our first time in Morocco, so that we don’t get pestered too much.  So far it seems to be working.

We made our way back to Betsy, buying some eggs, bread and water on our way.  It pays to check out the price of water in particular as it varied from €0.40c per litre to €0.25c per litre.  Whichever way you look at it, the water isn’t expensive.

Arriving back at just before 6pm was perfect timing as the weather started to turn again and it rained constantly through the night, although this time without the howling wind to shake Betsy and us inside her.

Looking Up Towards The Hills Of Chefchaouen From The Square

A Typical Alleway In the Medina

Could You Imagine Checking Into A Hotel Here?

Life In Morocco

Day 6: Fes; 2nd Feb 2019  

It was time to head down to Fes, also spelt Fez, today and off we set.  According to Google maps we were in for a four-hour drive, but Emily, our Garmin GPS had other ideas suggesting it was just a 2.5 hour trip.  However she was clearly not aware of the ‘add 30% to your driving time’ rule and she was way out, Google Maps was right.

We left Chefchoeun at 11am and arrived into Fes at 3.30pm which included a short stop for lunch on the side of the road, a four and a half hour trip.  The roads are average and at times reminded me of Bosnian roads where they are narrow and the crumbling shoulder drops down a foot below the road surface giving a strong incentive to not drive too close to the edge.

Most of the children just wave to us but some stand on the road with their hand up indicating they want us to stop, basically playing chicken with a 3.5 ton vehicle!  Alan toots the horn as a warning and shows that he has no intention of stopping.

The cars here are a mix of new modern ones and old bangers. Mercedes Benz seem to feature regularly amongst the older ones and we wonder how many original Merc parts are still holding them together.

The crops in the highlands are mainly olive trees, the roadside vendors sell jars of olives in some kind of liquid.  On the flats, the crops are orange trees.

The non-mechanical mode of transport here is the donkey, which not only carries humans side saddle, but their panniers are filled with goodies, sticks or produce.

Flocks of sheep, with newly born lambs, and accompanied by a shepherd brandishing a requisite stick are grazing on the roadside.  The men are dressed in long cotton robes that oftentimes drag through the mud. They look heavy and not very warm.

Finding a suitable stopping area to pull off for a rest proves challenging so we keep pressing on.

We come across a fully laden truck toppled over on its side in a paddock beside the road.  It’s the second vehicle to be parked in such a manner that we’d seen in just a few days.  Given it was a straight flat piece of road we wonder how it met its demise. Then not far ahead of us we witnessed a very near head-on accident again on a flat straight piece of road. The culprit was traveling directly in front of us and had been swerving in and out of his lane for several kilometres.  Typically Muslims don’t drink so we ruled out alcohol, however, hashish is plentiful and maybe this was a factor?

The offending driver eventually pulled to the side of the road and looking down as we passed I could see he was glued to his mobile phone sitting on his lap.  Ah, that’s the culprit.  Not just a factor in first world countries eh?

Finding the camping ground Diamant Vert** (GPS coordinates 33.98787, -5.0191was easy and the traffic and roads leading into it were kind to us.  The reception area was of first world standards with a solid building, tiled floors, and two (male) receptionists behind the counter.  A restaurant sat alongside in the hope of catering to the campers – a pity about the reviews, however.  After check-in, we found the way to our parking spot nearby a shower and toilet block, which left a bit to be desired in terms of functionality.  The taps were coming off, the hand drier in bits hanging down from the wall and the showers run hot and cold.  The toilets thankfully are of European standard with real toilet paper and included a toilet seat.  Funny how the expected things in life become welcomed and not so expected in a foreign land.  I figured the trick to a successful shower, was to go at 6pm when there is no one else around.

We are relieved to finally be parked up and take a well-earned break over a cuppa tea.  Alan meets the neighbours, a lovely couple from the UK, Karen (Kaz) and Nik and we are invited to join them on a guided tour into the medina tomorrow.  A medina is the name given to the old walled part of a North African town.  We graciously accept and are looking forward to what tomorrow might bring.

Soon we hear a knock at the door and it’s another English couple, David and Sue, who we were parked beside in Chefchoeun.  They were also accompanying the others into the medina tomorrow and when they heard of a third couple from New Zealand joining them they realised it must be us, so they came over to say hi.

We enjoyed a few glasses of wine together and a warm bowl of pumpkin soup Alan had freshly made for our dinner.  Karen and Nik joined us later for drinks so we could all get acquainted before our medina experience.

** P.S.  We hear that Diamant Vert is now closed and there seems to be a pending legal battle to reopen.  For an alternative camping ground try Camping International Fez which is in Camping Contact (sitecode 21394).  (GPS coordinates 33.99982, -4.97150).

Day 7: Fes: Sunday 3rd February 2019

Today we headed into the medina of Fes, one of nine UNESCO sites in Morocco.

The medina, dating back to the 9th Century, encloses 89 kilometres of narrow passages, some no more than shoulder-width apart.  It houses 220,000 people and umpteen shops of all descriptions including many that defy description in Western terms.

Donkeys are used to transport goods in and out of the medina just as we would typically use vehicles for transporting goods to and from our businesses and homes.  They are strong but small animals and appear to just plod along placidly, often also carrying the weight of the rider, sitting sidesaddle with his goods.

Camel and goat heads are hanging in the market, their meat for sale.  Wafi tells us that the going rate for a camel is €2,800-3,000 so I wonder what price the meat sells for.

During summer, up to 60 degree temperatures are reported in Fes, however, the medina itself with its narrow paths and tall walls stays much cooler.  We enjoyed 18-20C in the sun on our February visit into the medina however with such narrow tall buildings the sun had little opportunity to kiss us or the ground.

The first floors of the medina houses have no windows.  The reason for this is privacy for the women as traditionally it is forbidden to see women without her head covered.

The alleyways between the homes are so narrow I’d hate to think how one would get new furniture or move house. The walls are shored up with timber bracing to stop them from falling inwards.  Although parts of the medina have been rebuilt due to earthquakes and fires, the mainstay buildings dating back from the 9th Century still remain original.

We visited thirteen different places today, nine inside the medina and four outside.  Here’s a list and to read more please click on the link to access the full blog called Fantastic Fes.

1. Royal Palace
2. The Jewish Quarter
3. Al Qarawiyyin University
4. Bou Inania Madrasa (School)
5. Mosques
6. Carpet Weaving and Sales
7. Restaurant Palais Tijani
8. Herboriste Diwan Pharmacy
9. Antiquities Shop
10. Clothing and Weavers Cooperative
11. Chouara Tannery
12. Borg Nord Ruins
13. Ceramic Workshop

If you are going to visit there yourself then I highly recommend a Guide.  When people say you will get lost, they really mean it.  The alleyways don’t follow any logical pattern or flow and as great as Google is, there is no such thing as using Google maps here.  I read that even a compass won’t help to find your way back.

I would also recommend visiting the medina with other people for a few reasons.  One, others often see things that you may have missed and can point these out to you.  Two, you get to share the experience and learn about the travel plans of others and pick up on their top tips.  And three, if you’re not in the market to make expensive purchases (eg a new carpet), then maybe someone else will, which takes the pressure and focus away from you.

So if you are interested in finding a professional certified guide (please ensure they are certified as some are imposters), then please contact Wafi, the guide we used.  He charges $400MAD for a couple (€37), for a full day tour.  Below are his details.

Elouafi Hanaf (pronounced Wafi)
Email: guide-elouafi@hotmail.com
Phone: 00212672040156
Works for the Office of Tourism Morocco

Please let him know you found him through Ruth & Alan from New Zealand, cheers.

Stay tuned for week two when we learn how to make Moroccan Beef and Prune Tagine at a private cooking class in a motorhome.

Costs for Week 1

These costs do not include the ferry ride over (€190).  The petrol is for our generator and the cost for alcohol was from Spain (beer for Alan) before we came over.  Even if you can find it, you don’t want to buy alcohol in Morocco as it’s expensive.

Borg Nord

The Township of Fes

Will We Get Betsy Down Here?

Mosaics Are Beautiful

For more photos and details of Fes, visit our blog Fantastic Fes.

Please feel free to Pin and read later

Fantastic Fes Morocco

Fantastic Fes Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch  |  February 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Fantastic Fes

Reading about the famous medina in Fes and learning all it had to offer was enough to get me excited to actually be here and anticipating a full on day.  We were not disappointed.  Today we headed into the medina of the fantastic Fes, one of nine UNESCO sites in Morocco.

The guide had introduced himself to us yesterday and told us we could join the other two couples from the UK.  You’ll be home by 3pm, maybe 4pm at the latest he told us!  As he dropped us back at the camping ground after 7pm I was thinking that he really knows how to provide value for money.

We woke at 7am in anticipation and excitement of the day to come.  By 8.30pm I was back in bed with stomach pains unsure if we would ever make it on the tour, and thinking we may have to bow out.  A couple of Panadol and rest took the edge off the pain and I was determined not to let this opportunity pass us by.

We met our guide Elouafi, pronounced Wafi, at 9.30am and waited for our driver with the eight-seater van. We were in for a treat visiting thirteen different sites, nine inside the medina and four outside. Our first stop was on our way to the medina where we came across the Royal Palace and Jewish Quarter.

1. Royal Palace

Fes Royal Palace, or the Dar el-Makhzen, is located at Place des Alaouites, in the center of the Fes el Jadid quarter and was built in the thirteenth century under the reign of Mérinides Dynasty.  Formerly the main residence of the sultan, the Royal Palace is still used by the King of Morocco when he is in the city of Fes.

Surrounded by high walls that we cannot look over it spans an area of 195 acres (80 hectares).  We hear that a drone once crossed over the boundaries, daring to take a look inside the mystical palace grounds, resulting in 14 days in jail for the owner.  Perhaps that’s why drones are now banned from entering Morocco? Our guide tells of multiple spectacular gardens being created to represent different corners of the world, inside the walls, however without anyone ever seeing inside, this information is handed down through a trust and belief system and cannot be verified.

There are seven brass doors of different sizes with matching knockers and intricate geometric patterns, surrounded by fine zellige (mosaic tilework) and carved cedar wood.  Although this is the only thing to be seen here, it was well worth the visit and we were grateful to be allowed an up close and personal view of the doors.  At times, there is a 100 metre exclusion zone barrier, preventing the perfect photo opportunity.

Talking about photos, around the corner on our way to the Jewish Quarter there were guards wearing three different kinds of uniforms.  Apparently, in Morocco there are many different branches of armed forces, guards and police and each has their own uniform.  Permission must be asked before taking photos of these guys, and one of our party asked and was refused.  We learn that guards can lose their jobs if a photo is taken which is then displayed on the internet.  In a country where employment is difficult to find, this request must be highly respected.  I read that your camera will be confiscated if you were seen taking their photos and given I take photos on my iPhone I didn’t want to risk having this taken from me.

Kaz & Nik in front of the centre doors of the Royal Palace

Outer doors of the Royal Palace

2. The Jewish Quarter

Located just around the corner from the Royal Palace is the Jewish Quarter or Mellah. Although most of the Jewish population has left the distinctive architecture of the buildings and charming antique shops remain for our viewing pleasure.

Next, we arrived at the medina where the driver drops us off and it’s on foot from now on.  First here’s some background information about the medina  to set the scene of this unique location.

Architecture of the Jewish Quarter

Famous road in the Jewish Quarter

About The Medina

The word ‘medina‘ is used to describe the old walled part of a North African town. This is the second one we have come across and is by all accounts the most impressive.

The medina, dating back to the 9th Century, encloses 89 kilometres! (according to our guide) of narrow passages, some no more than shoulder width apart.  It houses 220,000 people and umpteen shops of all descriptions including many that defy description in Western terms.

Research indicates there are some 9,000 – 9,500 alleyways here but how would you know.  Perhaps that’s one of those urban myths that has turned into fact by repetition.

Donkeys are used to transport goods in and out of the medina just as we would typically use vehicles for transporting goods to and from our businesses and homes.  They are strong but small animals and appear to just plod along placidly, often also carrying the weight of the rider, sitting sidesaddle with his goods.

Camel and goat heads are hanging in the market, their meat for sale.  Wafi tells us that the going rate for a camel is €2,800-3,000 so I wonder what price the meat sells for.

During summer, up to 60 degree temperatures are reported in Fes, however, the medina itself with its narrow paths and tall walls stays much cooler.  We enjoyed 18-20C in the sun on our February visit into the medina however with such narrow tall buildings the sun had little opportunity to kiss us or the ground. The first floors of the medina houses have no windows.  The reason for this is privacy for the women as traditionally it is forbidden to see a woman without her head covered.

The alleyways between the homes are so narrow I’d hate to think how one would get new furniture or move house.

The walls are shored up with timber bracing to stop them from falling inwards.  Although parts of the medina have been rebuilt due to earthquakes and fires, the mainstay buildings dating back from the 9th Century still remain original.

Our guide gave us some basic rules about walking through these narrow streets.  If someone calls out beware (obviously not in English), then you must stand aside so they and their trollies or donkeys can safely pass you by.  These are workers going from A to B and don’t want to be held up by meandering souls.  The second was that photographing individuals is out unless you ask permission first.  Taking general photos of the produce was okay but be respectful of taking photos of people alone.  Just think how you might feel if someone took your photo without your permission.

The Road Leading To The Medina

So Many Choices Here

Donkeys Carry Payloads To The Many Shops

The Narrow Alleyways

Camel For Dinner?

A Feast For The Eyes

3. Al Qarawiyyin University

Also known as the University of Al Quaraouiyine, this institution nestled in the medina dates back to 859AD and as such is the oldest university in the world.  It is still operational today.  

Whilst we couldn’t enter, I did manage to snap a photo of its impressive front gates and then, later on, we got a quick look at the mosque that sits inside the university boasting some of the stunning mosaics ceilings.

This historic university is actually recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest degree-granting university in the world.  

The Doors To The Oldest University In The World!

A Wee Glimpse Into The University

Through A Side Door Into The University

Check Out This Mosiac Display

4. Bou Inania Madrasa (School)

We visited this school, located near the Mosque of Al-Quaraouin which is the most famous school in Fes, built by Sultan Abu Inan Faris ibn Abi-Hassan Marini between 1350-1355.

It is considered the last of the great schools of Morocco in terms of the unique and vast area, building decoration, and its planning.

The school consists of a large courtyard and two classes of teaching.  Students would live for 18 years here learning the Quran and sleeping in tiny windowless rooms on the second and third floors.  

Today the school is a museum displaying the stunning mosaic tiles and intricate woodwork throughout.  The wood is typically cedar and was treated so it would last thousands of years.  This involved drying it out completely then soaking it in a mixture of fats, oils, and garlic (to stop insects from eating it).  This was a one-off process and seems to have done the job because most of the wood is in excellent condition.

School Courtyard

5. Mosques

We poked our head into several Mosques that are centuries old.  Wafi joked that if I, as a non-Muslim, were to enter one of these then Alan would be circumcised.  Enough said.

Mosque For Prayer

6. Carpet Weaving and Sales

The widows of Fes are often left without any form of income after their husband dies. 

If they are able to work, there is a cooperative that provides an opportunity to learn the art of carpet weaving, thereby providing an income. 

The cooperative handles the materials supply and the sale of the carpets and ensures that the widows receive a fair price for their efforts, 80% of the sale proceeds.  It’s painstakingly intricate and skilled work taking months to complete just one carpet.

We are shown a young looking lady weaving a carpet and were astounded to learn that the pattern is memorised.  She kindly slows down to show us how the knots are tied and I noticed the bandage on her finger.  After weaving the thread through two pieces of vertically strung yarn, she then ties the knot over and back on itself and physically yanks at the wool to break the thread and then starts again.  The speed at which she works is incredible and I found myself wanting to purchase her work just to give her some money.

From here we were taken into a room and served mint tea (make sure you say yes to a little sugar in your tea otherwise it can be bitter).  The sales pitch starts and we are shown a number of different carpets made from sheep wool, camel wool, agave silk, silk, and cotton.  Some had half a million knots per square meter and were stunning displays of craftsmanship (or should that be craftwomanship?) 

One of our party purchased a large blue rug for her bedroom floor, making the time they spent with us worthwhile.  As is always the case though in this type of transaction, the final price was much lower than the first asking price because haggling is normal and expected.

A Small Room Housing Three Weavers

7. Restaurant Palais Tijani

Immediately underneath the rug shop was Restaurant Palais Tijani, a delightfully decorated ‘safe’ place to eat.  The typical format for dining out is a three-course meal, starting with salad, then hot tagine for the main followed by fruit for dessert.  A word to the wise, the salad alone was plenty for lunch and we were rather thankful that Alan and I shared a vegetarian couscous main dish. The salad consisted of several hot and cold dishes and fresh bread.  Lunch, including a bottle of water between us, and a ten percent service fee, came to 180 Dirham (€16.50 or $27NZD). 

It was the first time we had come across a service fee and felt that lunch was expensive when compared to a three course evening meal we had in Chefchaouen a few nights earlier for $45 Dirham (€4.10 or $NZ6.80). Unfortunately, according to our guide, safe choices for tourists inside the medina are somewhat limited and no one wants to be sick for a couple of days while on holiday. 

We are left to eat without the companionship of our Guide, Wafi, who went off to pray.  As a devout Muslim, this happens five times a day, every day!

A Moroccan Salad!

8. Herboriste Diwan Pharmacy

We were treated to a pharmacy tour and shown how argan oil is made.  The argan tree (Argania Spinosa) is endemic to Morocco and is ecologically indispensable.  Its deep roots are the most important stabilising element in the arid ecosystem, providing the final barrier against the encroaching deserts. Despite its uniqueness and indispensability, the argan tree sadly faces a variety of serious threats.

Nearly half of the argan forest disappeared during the 20th century – and average density dropped from 100 to less than 30 trees per hectare. This historical pressure on the forest was driven by demand for high quality charcoal (especially important during the world wars) and, more recently, by conversion to agricultural production of export crops such as tomatoes.

In recognition of its ecological value and local economic importance, the argan forest region was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1998.

Argan oil, derived from the seeds of the argan tree fruit, has been an important resource for Morocco’s Berber people for centuries. The oil came to the attention of the outside world in the 1990s and is now highly sought for culinary, cosmetic and medicinal purposes.

Goats are one of the primary threats to the argan forests because they climb the trees to graze their leaves.  The goats, as well as aggressive fruit harvesting techniques from some locals, can damage branches and dislodge buds for the next year’s production.

What is interesting, however, is that goats used to be an important part of the oil making process.  The nuts are incredibly difficult to crack open, so enterprising people poked through goat poop to pick out the valuable argan nuts. Through the magic of goat digestion, the shells of the nuts became easier to open, and processing went from there. These days, most of the argan oil used in cosmetics is harvested without the help of goats, but in some places, the traditional goat-poo process is still in place.

The process, without the help of the goats, is painstakingly tedious.  First, the ladies harvest the pods, which look like small pebbles.  To crack open the pods they use sharpened stones and bang them against a block of wood.  Each nut is opened individually in what is a very manual and labour intensive process.  The kernel is then removed, and it looks somewhat like a flat almond only smaller.  Beware of eating them however as they start off tasting sweet before turning bitter in your mouth.

From here the seeds are placed in a grinder, separating the oil from the residual brown tacky substance left behind.  Nothing goes to waste; the brown substance is turned into soap.

We purchased a 75ml bottle of this ‘liquid gold’ at a cost of 120 Dirham (€12), making this a whopping €160 per litre.  I have seen reports where the price is as high as €263 per litre!  Compare this to the cost of a one litre bottle of olive oil and you get the feeling for the price.  

Painstakingly Cracking Open The Kernels

9. Antiquities Shop

Our next spot was an antiquities shop and my eyes bulged.  It was difficult to take everything in and there were so many goodies that I could have easily purchased.  One was a table that pulled out to reveal a chequers board, backgammon board and a felt card table.

The displays were separated into different ethnicities/origins, for example there was an area for Sephardic Jewish antiquities and another for Berber artifacts.  The prices were a little eyewatering but probably reasonable given the quality, age and generally excellent condition of what we were looking at.

The detail was stunning and sadly we were unable to take photos of individual pieces.  Here are a couple of photos of the broader views that we were allowed to take.

This shop was one of the oldest houses in Fes and had been beautifully restored.  It was apparently unique in that it had balconies on the third floor at each of the internal corners of the courtyard.

The shop is on three stories, each one jammed packed with stunning ancient furniture, weapons, and household goods, each of which no doubt had their own history to reveal.  The owner asked Alan how many camels he wanted for his wife, and when Alan said a random 500, the owner said I was worth more than that, even much more than 600, although he didn’t give the exact figure.  At the going price of €3,000 for a camel, the price tag on my head exceeded €1.8 million and counting!  Hmm, I’m not sure whether to be flattered or worried!

Antiques Glore!

Stunning Building

What Can We Fit Into Betsy?

Looking Down From The Third Story

10. Clothing and Weavers Cooperative

Our next treat was to see a weaver making scarfs.  This is the second time we had seen this (the first being in Chefchaouen) and both times the weaver was a male.  I was keen to take some of these beauties home and really had to restrain myself due to space and costs.  I did, however, find two gorgeous scarfs, one from agave silk and the other made from traditional silk.

Many of the shops are traditional 15th century Fes houses, which have been restored using UNESCO money.  Behind the multitudes of scarves and other weavings, the detailed mosaics, plasterwork, and intricate architectural features can be spotted and appreciated.

A Weaver Hard At Work

Our Guide Waiting Patiently

11. Chouara Tannery

Morocco is famous for its leather goods and no visit to this city is complete without a visit to the tannery.  The tanning industry here is considered one of the main tourist attractions.

Upon arrival, we were handed a fresh mint sprig to disguise the smell of the tannery.  It wasn’t that bad, although I could imagine on a forty plus degree day it would be another story.

The tannery is eleven centuries old and the entire manual process hasn’t changed since medieval times.   They work with lamb, cow, goat, and camel hides and the process takes a staggering three months from whoa to go.

Initially the hides soak for three days in large vessels made from limestone which allows the fur and hair to fall off.  Next, the hides soak in a white liquid for three weeks, which we are told is made using pigeon feces that they collect from the markets below.  Further research indicated it might also be mixed with cow urine, lime, salt, and water.  This soaking cleans and softens the tough skins and we watch as men, wearing waders, tread on the hides in the large round stone vessels.  Next, the hides sit for one month in the coloured dyes.  These chemical-free colourants are made from natural products, such as henna for orange, poppy for red, indigo for blue and cedar wood for brown.

After dying, the hides soak in vinegar for one week, which fixes the colour.  From here they are left out in the sun for drying.

We were taken into the large display rooms where every kind of leather goods imaginable are displayed.  High-quality bags and purses of all shapes and sizes are for sale, as are beautifully crafted coats and jackets, shoes including slippers and belts.  Apparently, camel skin is best for bags because it is lighter but flexible and extremely tough while goatskin is best for leather jackets because it stretches so is more comfortable.

I was impressed to learn that they would take your measurements and make a jacket of your colour choice and style, then deliver it to your hotel in just two hours!  

12. Borg Nord Ruins

We left the medina late in the afternoon and visited the ancient ruins on the mountain overlooking the medina and the old historic city.  From here our guide pointed out that during our eight hours of walking we only managed to explore a small part of the medina.

The ruins of Borg Nord, reminded us of the Greek ruins, and in a similar state of disrepair, although for me that it all part of the attraction.  Below the ruins sit the Marinid Tombs, also known as the Merenid Tombs, which were not part of our tour today.

13. Ceramic Workshop

As the evening light started to fade, the last stop on our packed tour was to the ceramic workshop called Art D’Argile.  Here we were treated to a demonstration of how to make tagines on a potters wheel – so simple, it only took a few seconds.  It’s funny how one can make something look so easy after twenty five years of practice.

Next we watched as a skilled artist carefully chiseled away at the surface of a plate, removing the unwanted ceramic to create his carefully crafted pattern.  The same craftsman then demonstrated how each tile for a mosaic is cut out using exact strokes with a hammer and chisel.  You start to gain an appreciation of how much skilled labour goes into producing the stunning mosaics we have seen today and the goods on display around us.

The following artist was hand painting a detailed pattern onto a dinner service for an Australian client.  The paint he used was a dull purple colour that becomes a brilliant vibrant blue following glazing and firing in the kiln.  How he could paint such a perfect pattern and reproduce it over and over again defied belief.

Out in the courtyard we were led to a mosaic surfaced table and told it contained an error.  If we could find the error we were welcome to the table.  After a clue about which area and colour to look for I found the offending piece, see if you can pick it.  Here’s the clue, one piece was supposed to be red but wasn’t.  (I didn’t take the table because I couldn’t lift it and anyway, it wouldn’t fit into Betsy, lol).

Can you find the offending piece?

Our Purchases in the Medina

I’d been hanging out to buy dates and finally saw them.  Our guide organised the sale for half a kilo (sweet tasting and yummy) @40MAD (€3.68) per kilo

Small orange leather coin purse 10 MAD (€0.92).  The seller had been waiting patiently for me to complete our rug visit and then lunch.

Two scarfs, a rich orange colour made from the agave plant, they call the product agave silk and the other a pink one with many colours and patterns made from silk.  I paid $400 MAD (€37) for the two.

Argan oil 75mls ($120 MAD, €11) and massage oil 100mls ($150 MAD, €13.80)

Tanned coloured soft leather belt $170MAD (€15.60)

The Many Doors of the Medina

The architecture here is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and some of the doors take your breath away.  I snapped all manner of doors and must show you some of these splendors here.  Click on the images below to enlarge and look at the details.

Guides & The Medina

A guide isn’t just a good idea in this labyrinth, it’s a must, in my humble opinion.  Without a guide, we would have been wondering the whole time how we would find our way out.  When people say you would get lost, they really mean it.  The alleyways don’t follow any logical pattern or flow and as great as Google is, there is no such thing as using Google maps here.  I read that even a compass won’t help to find your way back.

I would also recommend visiting the medina with other people for a few reasons.  One, others often see things that you may have missed and can point these out to you.  Two, you get to share the experience and learn about the travel plans of others and pick up on their top tips.  And three, if you’re not in the market to make expensive purchases (eg a new carpet), then maybe someone else will, which takes the pressure and focus away from you.

So if you are interested in finding a professional certified guide (please ensure they are certified as some are knock-offs), then please contact Wafi, the guide we used.  He charges $400MAD for a couple (€37), for a full day tour.  Here are his details.

Elouafi Hanaf (pronounced Wafi)
Email: guide-elouafi@hotmail.com
Phone: 00212672040156
Works for the Office of Tourism Morocco

Please let him know you found him through us Ruth & Alan from New Zealand, cheers.

18 Months Costs

18 Months Costs

The reason we disclose our expenses isn’t to show how cheap or expensive it is to live on the road, but to give others an idea of what it might cost them to live this lifestyle. We believe, after talking with others, that our costs fall within an ‘average’ range. We spend according to our value system. We certainly don’t live to ‘exist’ and we do enjoy visiting the local attractions, to see and do things designed for tourists, which is what we are.

For those of you who have stumbled across this page without clicking through the link on our 18 month blog, you could be wondering why the cost of diesel has increased in the third six month period. Reason; we travelled through Scandinavia from July to November 2018 including the notoriously expensive country of Norway. It was a surprise to us that the average weekly costs didn’t go up more, however we managed to avoid many of the expensive activities, eg eating out.

The following costs are excluded from the above figures:
* Insurances (for our Motorhome, Healthcare, Travel and Personal Insurances, eg Life, Trauma, etc)
* Setting up costs, eg cups, plates, linen, blankets, etc basically everything that we needed to live in a motorhome. Although there are some ongoing setup costs that come under the category ‘household’, for example our vacuum cleaner and additional sets of sheets (winter).
* Extra-ordinary Maintenance on the motorhome, eg air shocks that we had fitted in Greece. Our first year service cost is included.

We haven’t incurred MOT expenses as yet as we purchased Betsy new and only need a MOT after she turns four in 2021, and then only need a MOT every second year (she is French registered).

Betsy’s Winning Photo in The Inspiring Camper’s Calendar for 2019

Fun, Fears & Finances frolicking fulltime for 18 months through Europe

Fun, Fears & Finances frolicking fulltime for 18 months through Europe

by Ruth Murdoch  |  January 2019  | Summary Blogs, Fun, Fears & Finances frolicking fulltime for 18 months through Europe

Introduction

Fun, Fears, & Finances, Frolicking Fulltime for 18 Months Through Europe is a look into the Motorhome Lifestyle from a couple of Kiwi travellers.  We hope that this account of our journey inspires you to visit some of the sights, attractions, and countries that we have had the pleasure of enjoying.  We are lucky that Alan’s Irish passport allows me, as his wife, free right of movement throughout Europe including the Schengen zone.

Throughout this blog when you see orange text that indicates more information.  To access this, just click on the coloured text and a new window will open and you can read further on that particular subject.

Number of Countries and Capital Cities

We’ve visited 23 countries in 18 months, 14 of these included visiting the capital city. Here’s an alphabetical list of those countries.

Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, San Marino, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and lastly the Vatican City.

Capital Cities included Tirana, Andorra la Vella, Vienna, Zagreb, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Paris, Athens, Rome, Amsterdam, Oslo, San Marino, Stockholm, and again the Vatican City.

Below is the map of our 281 stopping points over the past 18 months.  To look at photos or receive the GPS coordinates, just click on the marker.  The different colours are for the different years, 2017 in blue and 2018 in red.

Biggest Country

Russia (although we only visited St Petersburg and then by ferry, leaving Betsy behind in Helsinki). Russia’s size is 3,972,400 sq km making this the latest country, not just in Europe, but in the world, with a population of 144.5M!

The Winter Palace, aka The Hermitage Palace, St Petersburg, Russia

Smallest Country

The Vatican City is the smallest country in Europe (as well as the world) with 110 acres or 0.44km2, which lies within the city of Rome and has just 840 residents.

The Stunning Ceiling Inside the Vatican Museum, Vatican City

Scariest Moment

Without a doubt it has to be the snowstorm we found ourselves in while driving through the mountains of Norway.  We were enjoying glorious sunshine in the morning, but by later that day it all turned to custard (or snow, actually).  To share our horror and relief when we escaped, have a read of our blog here.

Betsy in the Norwegian Snow

Top Spots

We had to shy away from picking just one top spot because there are so many interesting, beautiful and varied places to see throughout Europe. Choosing just four still seems limiting but more realistic, so here goes. The top four spots of Europe (according to Ruth based on what we have seen so far)

#1       St Petersburg – for the architecture, food, and unique culture.

#2       Istanbul – for the vibrancy and interesting city life, the friendliest people ever, and the unique buildings, eg mosques.

#3       Norway – for the simply stunning scenery, which of course includes viewing of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).

#4       Greece, nice feeling of freedom, great history, diverse culture and stunning landscapes.

Architecture in St Petersburg

Mosque of Istanbul

The Reflective Waters of Engan, Norway 

Delphi Ruins, Greece 

Museums

We have visited umpteen museums as you do when travelling and at one point I am ashamed to say that I felt a bit ‘museumed’ out. (Is that even a word?) However there have been some very interesting finds along the way.  Here’s my pick:

#1 Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.  This museum has just one ship, the Vasa, which was built in the 17th century and had a short life at sea of about 20 minutes before she sank.  She wasn’t re-discovered until the 1950’s and was raised in the 1960’s.  If you are interested in anything with a nautical theme, then this is worth a read and if you ever find yourself in Stockholm don’t miss out on seeing this incredible sight for yourself.

#2 Nobel Museum in Stockholm.  Just a small museum but packed with the stories and memorabilia of lots of interesting people including ex President Obama and of course Malala Yousafzai, two of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.  What is interesting, of course, is that Obama was awarded this prize and then later as President of the United States, he declared war.  He offered to give his prize back but this was refused.

#3 ABBA from Sweden, again in Stockholm. This was nostalgic because it’s music I grew up with and felt I knew these singers pretty well.  The museum is about them all individually, their life, how they came together, their successful music career and their life struggles.  It’s a very real and moving account and worthy of a visit.

Stockholm was the city of museums, as you can see above. There are fifty-three museums in Stockholm alone!

Here’s some others of note that we visited:

#4 The Holocaust Museum in Norway provides a real sense of true stories from wartime and
#5 The Renaissance Museum in Oslo also is worthy of visiting.

ABBA Museum

Vasa Museum

Nobel Museum

Cathedrals

I could probably write an entire book on Churches and Cathedrals of Europe alone, and may do this one day.  You would think that once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.  That is not the case and I strongly urge anyone travelling through Europe to pop your head into any church or cathedral as you pass, there are some real gems out there.

#1 Monreale is my pick of the most beautiful church.  It’s situated just on the outskirts of Palermo, Sicily, Italy and really must be seen to be believed.  The time, effort, expense, and creativity of this church left us speechless.  It is one of those places where no matter how many photos you see, they can’t do this justice.  If you are in the area please don’t miss the opportunity to be wowed.

#2 Milan Cathedral – from the outside this cathedral is stunning, but head inside and it continues in that vein.  This church took 600 years to build, possibly by several generations who dedicated their life work to this beautiful building.

#3 Erice – There are several cathedrals and churches in Erice and all are worthy of a visit. For more information here’s our blog.

#4 The Sanctuary of Vicoforte in Northern Italy is worthy of a mention and a wee look too.

Cathedrals To Wow You

Wild Camping Number of Nights

In the past six months, we have used camping grounds 15 nights (8% of the total nights), camper parking 5 nights (3% of the total), and 162 nights free camping which represents 89% of our sleeping places. 

Over the past 18 months (547 nights) we have stayed at 281 different stopping point, and of these 49 (9%) were at camping grounds, 54 at camper parking (10%) and 444 or 81% were FREE camping, thanks primarily to Park4Night.

The only reason we stayed at camping grounds typically is due to family or friends, country regulations (Croatia), safety (Turkey), and requiring EHU (electrical hook up) for electricity (Norway).

 

We have been fortunate to encounter no problems during our free camping and in fact we have a routine that we follow to ensure the maximum safety for us and Betsy.  If you want to know our method then read our blog on how to safely and successfully wild camp by clicking here.

 


Costs

When analysing the costs over the past six months I looked back on the previous twelve month period to see how we compared. Given we travelled from July to November 2018 in the Scandinavian countries, including seven weeks in the notoriously expensive country of Norway, I was expecting the costs to be somewhat significantly higher. What I found instead was that the past six months came in just marginally higher on a per week basis, ie €403 per week, compared with €394 per week in the previous twelve month period.  It may have helped that we did stock up on groceries, wine and beer in Germany before heading further north, something I highly recommend if you are heading into Scandinavia.

For an entire account including a breakdown of our costs over the past 18 months, click here.

Motorhome Running Costs (aka Betsy juice)

For all you petrol heads out there (or should that be diesel heads?) who want to know about Betsy’s juice, here’s the stats showing the number of kilometres travelled and how thirsty our girl is.  Alan’s even included miles per gallon for the English folk reading this.

Betsy is built on a Renault Master base and sports a 2.3 litre 130bhp diesel engine.  We think that getting close to 27 mpg dragging 3.5 tonnes around Europe isn’t too bad.  If you want to see more about Betsy, how we came to have her, and all the extra bits that make her a wee bit special, then click here.

Like every proud parent, we think our girl is rather special.  Nice to have that external validation when Betsy’s photo was chosen to adorn the Inspired Campers Calendar for 2019.

Best Gadgets for Motorhomes

As times goes by, there are more things we discover we ‘need’ to make life easier.  One of these has been a window vacuum for the condensation issues from the colder countries.  This has become Alan’s all-time favourite gadget.

Next, I’d like to introduce you to Jenni.  She is my best friend and has saved us quite a bit of money on camping grounds and saved Alan stressful periods glued to the battery readout. (Ladies, do your husbands do this too?)

You see, we discovered that in Norway the sun hardly rises above the horizon in the autumn time which means it doesn’t get high enough to effectively charge the batteries from our solar panels.  Therefore, it doesn’t take long before this power hungry couple runs out of power.  We knew that our batteries were not holding charge as they should and looked at replacing them with AGM batteries.  AGM’s can be discharged more without damaging them which would effectively give us more usable power between charges.  A Norwegian chap we met was going to sell us some top-of-line Exide AGM batteries at a really great price, however they were bigger than the current batteries and just wouldn’t fit.  Instead, we opted to buy a small compact generator and now have as much power as we need.  This one is actually relatively quiet and we use it sparingly and considerately so as to minimise any disturbance to others.  Alan wrote a review of Jenni here.

We love to cook, hence our name Travel Cook Eat, and without an oven, cooking a variety of foods becomes challenging.  Therefore we purchased an Omnia oven, which you’ve probably heard us talk about before, but now there’s a review of this baby and you can read all about it here.  Or if you are in need of some inspiration or would just like some new recipes, please see some of our favourites here.

We have recently invested in the Tyrepal TPMS (Tyre Pressure Monitoring System), which has individual sensors on each wheel sending the tyre pressures to a small display on the dashboard.  This will alert us if any of our tyres develop a leak, which is important because we don’t carry a spare wheel.

Generator

Omnia Oven

Window Vac

Saddest Place

Without a doubt this would have to be the little French village of Oradour-Sur-Glane. On 10 June 1944 the German SS stormed the village and rounded up and killed all those people who lived here before burning the buildings.  The village remains standing as it was left back in 1944 as a sobering and constant reminder of war and what happened.  For more information, I highly recommend a read of our blog and if you are in the region make this a ‘must visit’.

Main Street Burnt Out; Forever A Memorial

Town of Oradour-Sur-Glane

Biggest Lesson

History is everywhere you look in Europe, and this is especially apparent to us when we reflect on how young New Zealand is.  November 11 2018 signified the 100 year anniversary of the end of World War One.  Throughout Belgium and France we visited many of the WWI sites and paid our respects to the thousands, actually no make that millions, of young men who lost their lives fighting for our freedom today.  What really struck me was that each white cross or headstone not only represented one person who never made it home, but the family and friends behind that person.  I really struggled when thinking about the ripple affect each death had and how a generation of men were wiped from the world, forever!

At school I didn’t take history as a subject, however actually being here and seeing the places that history talks about has changed my perspective.  So I’ve devoured as much information as I can to finally learn what really happened, thereby coming to realise that history is an important subject. Better late than never, eh?

Thousands of Remembrance Poppies

Special Moments

#1 When staying with Paul in the Netherlands we went for a cycle to an oyster processor and scoffed oysters and chardonnay in the late summer sun overlooking the two varieties of oysters that were being cleaned and prepared for sale. The reason this was so special is that Oysters and Chardonnay are two of my favourites.

#2 We paid homage to those fallen soldiers of the First World War at a ceremony of the Last Post played nighly at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.  This tradition started on 1st July 1928 and apart from one exception (during the German occupation of Belgium in the Second World War), the bugles have sounded every night since at precisely 8.00pm local time.  It was November, so we stood, wrapped up warmly against the bitter cold, with about two hundred others waiting in anticipation of what was to come.  In complete silence we witnessed four buglers and one bagpiper carrying on this unique tradition.

#3 Not long before heading to Europe I was told about my great uncle Bert from the small town of Te Aroha, who came to fight in WWI alongside his brother. Sadly Bert didn’t make it home and we visited his memorial where his name is engraved on the New Zealand Memorial wall at Buttes New British Cemetery outside Zonnebecke.  Sadly his body was never recovered so he doesn’t have a grave.

Fresh Delicious Oysters in Yerseke with Paul

Stunning Reflection of Menin Gates, Ypres

Buttes New British Cemetery

Fun Times

Everyone said it was easy to catch fish in Norway, so being keen fisherpeople we decided to give it a go. We headed out on a small boat and learnt how to use the traditional hand lines.  Alan caught the first fish, followed by me catching a small coalfish, before I then showed the skipper how to fish NZ style and caught a large (>10kg) fish by hooking it in the tail! That filled our freezer with about 16 meals of fresh fish and required me to be creative on recipes to try.

This time, Alan couldn’t claim his baiting skills were responsible for me catching a bigger fish than him, because we didn’t use bait!

Alan’s Fish

Ruth’s Fish

Unusual Local Foods Eaten

Horse – in Italy (dried). It tastes like any other red meat that’s dried, like beef jerky.

Reindeer in Finland. While in Lapland we partook in Reindeer cooked three different ways.  Sauteed and simmered with sliced Reindeer roast, lingonberries, pickled cucumber and buttery mashed potatoes.  Then sliced Reindeer sirloin, and slow-cooked Reindeer neck with creamy juniper berry sauce, cranberry jelly, local root vegetables and game potatoes breaded with rye.  Dining in a restaurant allows one to taste this meat cooked properly, and our preferred option was by far slow-cooked.  While it might sound unusual, the meat was lovely and there was nothing I could think to relate it to, or how to describe the taste.

Elk in Norway at a truck stop.  Not exactly the place you expect to try exotic meats, but there you have it and it was tasty enough, served with cranberry sauce,  boiled whole potatoes and crunchy vegetables.  Alan’s meal was another traditional treat, bacon with a creamy cabbage and potato mix.  Wasn’t really my cuppa tea but it was tasty enough.  We can’t remember the name, so if you know it, please send us a message below.  Thanks.

Wild Moose in Sweden while staying with friends.  The Swedish Government allows one moose and one calf to be shot per year per 1,000 hectares in order to regulate the numbers.  For our friends who cooked and served us the Moose they have a group of ten shooters and they share the meat between the group. Otherwise, the moose become pests to the farmers.  It tastes similar to beef.

Don’t freak out when I tell you about the most unusual food we tried in Norway.  I am already feeling a little defensive when writing this but stay with me.  The meat, again tried in a restaurant, was Whale!  I know, I know, it sounds like I’m supporting an industry that is reviled around the world.  However, keep reading for more education about this dish before judging.

The whale was served lightly fried (meaning almost raw) with mushroom stew (aka sauce), fried vegetables, red onions and potatoes.  My first impression of whale meat was that it reminded me of liver.  Then I felt the meat was rather dry, and then it had a gamey taste. By the end it was just like eating steak. No fishy flavour whatsoever, obviously. The restaurant cooked it extremely rare and it had sinew or veins running through the meat, but it wasn’t really chewy.

I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat it again and by comparison, Elk and Reindeer were much tastier.  Overall I was happy to experience just once in my lifetime.

Now here’s the thing about eating whale in Norway.  The Minke Whale, which is native to Norwegian waters, is not endangered, the catch is very strictly regulated and the is 100% sustainable.  The industry is far smaller than historical levels, largely due to the relatively low demand but whaling seems more a cultural thing for the people than just a source of protein. 

The Norwegian Government recently ran a promotion of whale meat as a fine dining experience.  It was a complete failure.  Younger, environmentally conscious people struggled with the whale meat concept and now all government funding has ceased.  It will gradually die out over time.

A local ex-fisherman we spoke with said the economics of whaling are poor, people have stopped eating the meat and therefore less and less people are fishing them.  He also told us about the problem that the large whale numbers were causing to the declining small fish stocks.

Reindeer Sirloin

Reindeer Slow Cooked

Elk Steak

Pork and Cabbage Delight

Tasty Homemade Moose Loaf

Whale Steak

What Took Our Breath Away

Without a doubt it would have to be the Aurora Borealis, aka Northern Lights and also a unique sunset that is only possible to see in Finland during two or three days per year.  We, in fact, also witnessed the Aurora Borealis in Finland before reaching Norway, however the Norwegian light display was ten times more powerful and spectacular.  For a detailed account, plus to find out what time of the year we saw them, read our blog on the Aurora Borealis.

Most Beautiful Scenery

The Åland Islands. This archipelago of 6,500 named and 20,000 unnamed islands lies between Sweden and Norway and island hopping across them was a fun and enjoyable alternative to taking a direct ferry for Stockholm to Turku.  We spent an idyllic 12 days there in total. The scenery was lovely, the weather warm, and given their three-week summer peak period had finished, it was lovely and quiet.

We couldn’t go past the simply sublime scenery of Norway.  Not only were we blessed with fine weather, we had the autumn colours and a sprinkling of snow on the mountains.  Take a look at some of our favourite scenery photos.

Calm Waters of The Åland Islands

Kumlinge Island Boathouse

Original Farm Buildings

Norway, Spectacular Countryside

Videos

Sometimes the best way to show the beauty of a country is with video.  Take a look at these two videos of the stunning scenery in Norway and let us know what you think.

People We’ve Met

One can’t help but meet people along the journey and we consider ourselves very fortunate to meet some of the loveliest travellers around.  Some of them have even invited us to stay with them as we passed through their home countries on our travels.   Let me introduce you to the people we’ve met.  The place name in the box is where we met for the first time.

If we’ve met you and you can’t find your photo here, please email me at ruth@travel-cook-eat.com and include details of where we met and a photo. Thanks.

Hover over the text for the right arrow to appear, then scroll through to see our friends.  These appear in the order we met people.

Vojo & Susi

We met Vojo (Croatia) & Susi (Switzerland) in Arenzano, Italy.  They were the first ‘other’ motorhomers we met and interestingly enough they didn’t speak any English but thanks to Google Translate we managed to communicate.

Mr & Mrs Emichetti & Ettore

I first met Ettore in New Zealand many years ago and had the pleasure of meeting his parents in 2017 & 18.  His mother was concerned we didn’t eat enough – her cooking was superb!

The Family

The great thing about being in this part of the world is getting to see family. Here Carrie (Alan’s sister from the UK) and his Mum Jan (NZ) came for a visit and to meet Betsy.

Jan & Marja

This couple are bad news! Especially when it comes to lavishing us with food and alcohol.  We had two ‘filling’ visits with them and their children in Holland, they took us around their countryside and introduced us to many yummy foods, including bitterballs and fricadelles.

Pip & Ross

Love having friends join us for a wee sail around the Greek Islands.  I used to sail with Ross & Pip in NZ and now they live in the UK it just made sense to hire a yacht in a gorgeous location.

Spyros

Like a Knight in Shining Armour, Spyros helped us tie up the yacht in a fresh breeze on Skopelos Island. We were indebted to him. We then met up again in Volos where Sypros played tour guide sharing the beauty of the surrounding mountains.

Paul

Paul (lives in Holland and is from Belgium) kindly opened up his home to us for a few nights.  We shared a special time together, in particular cycling to the oyster farm and tasting the oysters with Chardonnay.  Paul is an uber-talented photographer, pity his skills didn’t rub off on me when taking this photo.

Detlef

Originally from Germany, but living in Turkey, we met Detlef in Greece.  He’s working with local government to install campervan stops in their towns and increase tourism.  Detlef is very knowledgable about most things, including the politics of Turkey and Germany.

Mesut

Mesut is the owner of the Boomerang Cafe in Eceabat, not far from Gallipoli.  If you are in the area stop by and have a drink with him.  He has memorabilia from Australia and NZ, although not enough from NZ, hence the tea towel we gave him taking pride of place in the middle of his cafe.

Naciye

Mrs Savas is the mother of the owner from Troia Pension & Camping where we stayed in Canakkale, Turkey.  She taught us how to make Gozleme’s, Turkish Style. Yummy.

The Chef

Affectionately known as ‘The Chef’ by everyone around him, this chap has a huge heart for people.  He ran the Yanecapi Sports Centre in Istanbul where we hung out for four weeks and he would often invite us over for a meal.

Tommy & Zoe

We first met this cool couple, Tommy & Zoe, in Istanbul, Turkey in November 2017, then again recently in Spain.  Tommy is from Ireland and Zoe from the  Canarias Islands.  Here we are celebrating Tommy’s birthday with a shop bought delicious and well-decorated cake.

Pinar

One of the best experiences we’ve had was at Turkish Cookin, a class with just Alan and I in attendance.  We laughed, ate, drank, and enjoyed the evening. If you ever get a chance and want to experience something fun, then I can definitely recommend this.  Or to try some of the recipes visit our website.

Dan & Cornelia

We first met these guys in December 2017 travelling with their lovely family from Romania in Alexandroupolis, Greece and then again in Crete.

Vaggelis

Vaggelis showed Alan how to fish in the Greek waters of Nea Peramos in December 2018.  Afterwards, he took us and the fish to the local nearby Taverna where it was cooked and served to us, yum.

Jordan and Alex

Our first meeting was in Greece in December 2017 and I had to laugh when they were running around outside their motorhome in the snow!  That’s Aussie’s for ya. We caught up again in Amsterdam where Alex has landed herself a pretty cool job.

Dorel, Oana, Ciprian & Irina

This photo was taken while celebrating Christmas lunch 2017 in a Greece restaurant in Thessaloniki.  The four people named above are from Romania who we met up with again in Athens around New Years Eve 2017.

Romanian Family

A friendly family who we met beside a hot spring called Thermopylae.

 

Mitch & Sue

We shared a couple of dinners with this lovely couple, from the UK, in Pylos and rode out a pretty terrific storm together on the pier.

Katherine & James

We had a pot luck dinner together in the van of Katherine & James (UK) and also rode out the storm in Pylos.

Helena & Harkin

Kind-hearted and excellent tour guides are just a few of this couple’s attributes.  Having met them in Pylos, Greece (riding out a storm together with others), we were invited to stay with them in Sweden and did so, not only once, but twice.  They kindly played tour-guide and showed us their beautiful part of the country, including a ride out on their boat to a swimming spot.  Louisa, their little dog, is such a delight and also greeted us warmly.

Michelle & Tim

We met Michelle and her partner Tim (from the UK) in January 2018 at Camping Thines camping ground in Greece.  Michelle is the life of the party as you can see here by her dancing style.

Ulla & Bodo

Silicy, Italy was the original meeting place of this fun couple.  We hit it off straight away (the wine helped) and soon were invited for dinner.  It was our pleasure to stay with them in Germany where we were treated as royalty to their wonderful cooking and tourist hosts.  I even attended Italian lessons with Ulla.

The Family Again!

A little cooler this time, but again a wonderful visit in Holland with Carrie (UK) and Jan (NZ).

Monica

We first met Monica online through Facebook and then met both Monica and her partner Chris (from the UK) in person in Denmark. They came for a quick cuppa then stayed for dinner and parked up overnight. Here’s Monica’s first attempt at an eBike.

Lisbeth, Christian, Mikkel & Bertram

Lisbeth is my oldest friend (since 15 years old) and it was wonderful meeting her family again in Denmark where I celebrated and was spoilt on my birthday in July 2018.  We then went camping together for a week in Skagen.

Mette & Polle

I’ve known Mette since I was 20 years, and it was great meeting her husband Polle for the first time (and she got to meet my husband, Alan).

Vladimir

Vladimir was our friendly guide in St Petersburg, Russia.  He was uber knowledgable about his city and gave us an insight into what it was like growing up in the Soviet regime.  If you need a guide I’d be happy to connect you.

Jan

Jan took us out on his fishing boat in Moskenes, the Lofoten Islands, Norway where Ruth caught a large Coal fish.

Grethe & Villy

The parents of my oldest friend, Lisbeth, whom I first meet in Denmark in 1996.  We enjoyed a lovely evening catching up again. I love that the Danish speak such great English. X

Wilbert

Wilbert is responsible for part of my education (NLP Master Practitioner) when we met in Perth, Western Australia.  Lovely to see him again in Holland and share a meal together.

Wilfried & Lisbeth

The very talented Wilfried (artist) and Lisbeth (people person) graced us with their fun, laughter, and project (www.face-europe.eu). Here Wilfried is painting Alan while Lisbeth interviews him about his life.  If you want to be part of this project, please contact them through their website above.

Click here to read about our first six months (including newbie mistakes we laugh about now) and our One Year of Wilding Living.

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