Michael's tip: First Time

Michael's tip: Independent Travel
You have with Morocco selected a fascinating destination. I let myself be seduced by this very special kingdom during a voyage by train in 1981 and have since come back somewhat ten times, last in 1995. But you are always a first-time traveller in Morocco. The dynamic of the country's culture seems not to accept that you bring experiences from earlier occasions. Really it is impossible to give anyone hints or, not to mention, advices for a journey to Morocco. When you put down your foot on the ground the country does what it wants to you and all you heard or read or experienced before - all admonitions you decided to follow - will not work in reality. You are in the hands of Morocco for better or for worse. What you will encounter allows no lukewarm or middle way policy. You will either love Morocco or hate it.


The Atlantic coast

If you travel by air and a scheduled flight, then the chance is big your first impression of Morocco will be its commercial centre Casablanca or the capital city Rabat. Today's Casablanca havent got much in common with the city of World War II and Humphrey Bogart's Casablanca. The potentates of world politics are long gone and rather to be found in Layoune in the South and naturally in Rabat. But in the middle of exhaust fogs the giant city of Casablanca has kept a colonial charm and it's like the Vichy-rgime is handed down to posterity in the shape of a ghost hiding in the wide boulevards and the architecture, but it's for certain a ghost of an altogether harmless kind. Casablanca deserves not only to be visitide for its stormy history, but equally much so (unless more) for the mosque that has been built only a few years ago and is already mentioned as the eighth wonder of the world. The Hassan II-mosque is definitely an impressive edifice. Rabat is a beautiful and quite small capital.
  For those who go to Morocco in Summer a stay somewhere on the northern Atlantic coast are almost a must, at least to regain breath in its cool breeze after travelling around in the hot inner parts of the country. Essaouira is just a couple of hours' travel by bus or car from Marrakech.


Fz and Meknes

The historical cities are naturally must-see's for each first-time traveller to Morocco. Coming home without having walked around in the palaces of Morocco would of course be the height of ignorance and impudence against the visitied country. To the "sibling" cities of Fz and Meknes in the Middle Atlas you easily go by train from Tanger or Casablanca, or if you don't mind crowding together, also by bus from all possible directions, since this is a central divide of the country.
  It's not unimportant that you choose Meknes first, since it is the smallest of the two cities and might not be fully appreciated in comparison with the magnificence in Fz. Meknes is furthermore the friendliest of the two, because the hustlers rather try their fortune in Fz. The modern districts of Meknes - nouvelle ville - offer a safe and European quality and you move along as if in a French town. But there are more arguments to visit Meknes.
  On convenient grand taxi-distance you'll find Moulay Idriss - the holy city, which until recently was entirely closed to non-muslims, and still its central divides are not open except for those who commit themselves to the teachings of prophet Muhammed. Nearby is Volubilis, the ruined city of the Roman Empire, even more impressive than Lixus, the other ruined Roman city, located not far from the strait of Gibraltar.


Marrakech

Marrakech is and will remain my favourite city in Morocco. There is every reason to endow Marrakech with a visit: the mysticism; the Djeema el Fna; the palaces their stories; the surroundings of the High Atlas; the city wall; the red colour of the buildings; the crowd; the wide avenues; the hypermodern Gueliz; the palm trees; the oranges; the french kitchen; the climate; and the most important reasons are the personal ones.
  Marrakech can be reached by train from Casablanca and by bus from Agadir, Taroudannt and Ouarzazate and from many other locations and the bus station is one of the most modern in the country. The contrast between the very old and the ultramodern is an indispensable part of the city's dynamics. Marrakech is also a tough city and is the sole city I know of that keeps female faux-guides (private guides). For a newcomer the first visit on the square Djeema el Fna might feel pretty chaotic, you as a target and centre of attention, but do hold out; in due time you will be accepted as a part of the city scenery and no one is going to take any further notice of you (if you don't want it, that is).


Agadir

Agadir is by far the most important tourist centre of Morocco. The old town was devastated in the earthquake 1960, but the town was rebuilt according to modern standards without the typical alleys and claustrophobic streets. Agadir is still growing; in the North the town is topologically delimited by the rock and the citadel, but behind the beach more and more hotels are being built farther to the south.
  The beach is remarkable and you don't need any other reason to go to Agadir (and probably won't get another reason either). This ten mile long shelving sandy beach brings everything with it. If you begin a walking in the harbour in the northern part and follow the water's edge it's possible to ford front in the tepid water a couple of hours until you finally reach thwarting bays, rocks and clay. Before that you have however encountered windsurfers, passed a good count of beach restaurants, a long line of hotels and you've had all opportunities of rest in relative detachment at this never especially crowded beach. Coke and soda is always within convenient reach and if you like to be left alone you should walk as near the sea as possible.
  During the walk you'll be catched up by a great deal of joggers and you yourself will have the opportunity to catch up with them by Arabian camel, alternately rent a riding-horse and gallop the beach forward.
  Where the row of hotel ceases you'll find nviting sand dunes. Even though the entire area lies in topographical lee thanks to Cape Ghir, and is quite warm the year round, you may even on chilly January days find the real heat between these sandy hills. But, sun-bathing on these more remote parts of the beach is however recommended only if in company... or else you will most certainly have some, since this is (at least it was a while ago) a meeting place for male prostitutes.
  When you come up front to a dried up river channel, it will be about time to turn inland and soon fold off in direction towards the buildings at the town's southern border, in order to have lunch on one of the many restaurants that flank the blossoming hotel business.


The Souss

After spending two or three days in Agadir you'll perhaps (probably?) desire to visit the "real" Morocco, that is, all places but Agadir. Morocco keeps an excellent net of buses, which connects all parts of the kingdom. For a couple or some more ten-dirham-notes you can reach all important destinations. As with everything in Agadir, the coach traffic is very well organized and all corporations are to be found straight-lined up at the square in the Talborjt area - the part of town beyond Avenue Prince Moulay Abdallah. Go from office to office, read time tables and ask about prices, then choose the corporation that fits the best (- for travels to the South it will usually turn out to be SATAS -), purchase the ticket, buy a couple of bottles of mineral water and let's go!
  For trips further away, let's say to Marrakech or Goulimine or up in the mountains, as a suggestion to Tafraoute, bus is the best vehicle. But excursions in the neighbourhood, for example to Tiznit or Taroudannt, or to small places like Mirhleft, will with advantage be made by a Grand Taxi. It's a little more expensive than bus, but you don't have to care about times of departure. The cab square is Place Salam in the southern part of town and it goes like this: Go down to the square and be prepared to leave at once. Ask each driver if he is going to your destination. The car will leave when the driver thinks the number of passengers is enough. Question him about the price, but don't negotiate about it. (Only when you are going by yourself/ves to a touristic place, you should haggle as good as possible.) Then the procedure differs, depending on route and region.. Occasionally you will pay before the journey, sometimes half the amount before, and sometimes not to the driver, but to a collegue. Just do as the other passengers do or simply ask them. Do not pay more than anyone else and don't tip the driver! In Morocco there is (as far as I've noticed) only one occupational group that shall not be tipped, and that is cab drivers.
Michael's tip: Independent Travel

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