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Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Tetouan's Medina Tetouan, Morocco, Saturday, 20 December 2008 9:00pm

I'm having a stereotypical traveling day. I made my way from the Spanish-styled part of the city through the old medina (this one is a UNESCO world heritage site!) to the museum and the crafts school. I was pleased with myself because my map suggested that the route I wanted to take wasn't actually connected, but I figured out which side alley to make it all the way across.

I was disappointed to learn that both of the sites were closed until Monday. I don't think I want to spend another full day here and then try to do something in the morning before leaving, so I'm probably going to miss them. It's a shame, since the crafts school teaches the zelij tilework patterns that I've been trying to figure out.

A local man helped direct me to the school and museum, and asked them (unsuccessfully) to let me in, even though they were closed. He offered to show me around the medina. He wasn't an official tour guide, just someone who lived there, so he would only charge me 50 dirham. Since my plans for the time before lunch had just evaporated, I waffled a bit, then agreed.

It worked out pretty well. He took me down a lot of little side streets that I wouldn't have otherwise discovered, exhorted me to take some pictures that I wouldn't have otherwise taken, pointed out some of the mosques and souks, showed me where they bake bread in the traditional way, and where the workshops were where they hand-tooled leather... and introduced me to some nice Berber carpet salesmen, who let me go up to the roof of their building for a panoramic view of the medina, and then showed me a selection of carpets and told me how fine they were and how small they would pack and how they would ship the large ones, and did I want my mint tea with sugar or without?

The whole carpet sales pitch amused me quite a bit because it was pretty much exactly as described in the guidebooks and carpet buying websites. The only downside was that I didn't actually particularly like the carpets they were offering, so I wasn't even tempted to begin haggling (and I turned down the mint tea). The ones I saw for sale in Rabat tended to have better colors. It was educational, though. I now know much more about what shapes and sizes carpets come in (they all seem to be rectangular, but they vary from almost square to long thin runners), and what the various styles are.

After Hassan (which turned out to be my not-a-guide's name) dropped me off in the jewelers' souk, I decided to try to find my way to a restaurant mentioned in the Lonely Planet. This led to another stereotypical experience: making a wrong turn in a medina, and ending up somewhere entirely other than where you'd intended to go. In retrospect, I think the flea market was where I went wrong. I realized pretty quickly that I should have reached a particular landmark, but I couldn't figure out which of the side alleys looked like they'd go through and which looked like dead ends.

One of the good things about walled cities-within-cities is that if you keep going in the same general direction, you're pretty sure to find your way to the outer wall eventually, and you can follow that until you reach a gate, then you can figure out the name of the gate by looking at the sign of the pharmacy or grocery store just outside the gate.

Hassan found me at Bab el-Okla, on the eastern side of the medina, and left me hear Bab er-Rouah, which is pretty close to the center of the medina (yes, there's an entrance in the middle of the medina. The whole thing is shaped roughly like a backwards C, with the Royal Palace in the space in the middle, in a protrusion of the later Spanish-styled section of the city center). I was aiming for Bab Saida in the northeast, one gate to the north of Bab el-Okla. Somehow, I made it to Bab en-Nouder, the northwestern gate. I'm pretty sure it's the furthest gate from Bab Saida.

In the interest of getting food reasonably soon, I walked all the way around the medina instead of going back through it. I managed to locate what I was pretty sure was Bab Saida (no pharmacy to identify it!), and made my way to the Grand Mosque that the restaurant is supposed to be near. I'd found the street that the restaurant was supposed to be on, and was trying to figure out which door it actually was, when who should appear but Hassan! He cautioned me about the bad people around who might try to steal from me, and showed me to the restaurant.

The restaurant was a little depressing. It's a fancy "palace-style" place set up to handle large tour groups. The LP warns that you should probably make reservations, because it's likely to be packed. It's elaborately decorated, with multiple adjoining rooms containing lots of large tables, each sized to hold a party of at least eight. I was the only person there.

They served me a good meal of harira (soup), kebabs, and a family-sized dish of fluffy couscous. There was a period after college when I was living largely off of couscous, so I know I can eat a lot of it at a sitting, and this was too much for even me to eat by myself. Normally, I enjoy traveling in the off-season. I would probably have rolled my eyes if the place had been packed with tourists fresh off of the ferry from Spain, but, as it was, it felt desolate.

Hassan was waiting outside afterwards, and showed me to a spice pharmacy (I'm going to have to research the name "garam masala". Oh, hmm. The dictionary on my laptop says it's from Urdu. I wonder if they actually call it that here too, or if the shopkeeper was just calling it by the name foreigners would be expected to recognize.) and introduced me to another friendly Berber, who had more crafts to show me.... I managed to extricate myself, thanking Hassan and striking out for Bab el-Okla again.

Comments

Garam massala (Anonymously) Wednesday, 24 December 2008 3:43am

Hmm...

Garam - hot massala - spice paste

the principle ingredient in the recipe handed down by my mama to Ma and which you've used yourself, I think.

Reply
Garam massala (Anonymously) Wednesday, 24 December 2008 3:43am

Hmm...

Garam - hot massala - spice paste

the principle ingredient in the recipe handed down by my mama to Ma and which you've used yourself, I think.

Reply
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