Finally, following nine days of traveling from the U.S. to Frankfurt to Morocco, I have landed safe and sound in Istanbul Turkey. The city is huge and a bit overwhelming at first, but I know in time I will become accustomed to the hustle and bustle.

My time spent in Morocco was incredible, each city showing different aspects of the Moroccan culture. Casablanca was busy, the streets seemed to have no order. To cross an intersection in a cab, or the street with your groceries required a leap of faith. There were many times I would grab Daniel’s arm and clench my teeth, hoping to make it across safely! We only spent one day in Casablanca before heading to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. While in Casablanca we toured the grand Hassan II mosque, one of the largest religious structures in the world. Approaching from a distance the minaret seemed not to be abnormally large, but as I walked closer it began to tower over me, as if I was an ant! The inside, being designed by King Hassan II’s best friend, a European architect, was reminiscent of the many great cathedrals in Italy. It was a curious mix of Islamic and European architecture complete with muqarnas (http://archnet.org/library/dictionary/entry.jsp?entry_id=DIA0484&mode=full) and Milano glass chandeliers. Other than the Hassan II mosque there was not much to see of Casablanca. So after wondering the chaotic streets, Daniel and I set out for Rabat.

In Rabat, which is about an hour north of Casablanca, Lamyae El Hatimi, a friend and former exchange student at OU, met Daniel and I at the incredibly nice Rabat Ville train station. We headed to her downtown apartment, complete with a view of the main square. That evening, we were able to join her family for Iftar (breaking of the fast during the month of Ramadan). There was an incredible spread of food on the table, my personal favorites being Harira, a Moroccan soup, and Chbaqia, a sweet pastry with honey and sesame seeds. After a quite filling Iftar, which should not be confused with dinner, which comes around 1 A.M. during the month of Ramadan, Lamyae took Daniel and I to the Medina marketplace. It was extraordinarily busy! The streets of Rabat went from being completely empty during Iftar, to bustling with shoppers, cafer-goers, and children buying candy and toys. Time in Morocco seems to reverse during the day during Ramadan – the streets are somewhat calm in the day and crowded at night once the sun sets. The next day, after a much needed night’s rest, Daniel and I headed to the Chellah, the original Roman settlement in Rabat. The ruins were overgrown with lemon trees and flowers, but it only contributed to the beauty and mystique of the ancient city. We roamed around the grounds for hours discovering an orange tree, where we plucked a ripe orange and ate it along the path. At one point we got lost in a thicket of trees and cactus where we worried that perhaps we would not find our way out. Sun-kissed and sweaty, we left the Chellah and walked a few kilometers towards the Mausoleum of Mohammad V. King Mohammad V is credited with gaining independence for Morocco from France and is a much beloved figure. The mausoleum is one of two Islamic structures in all of Morocco that non-Muslims are permitted to enter. The large complex, uncompleted due to an earthquake, was large and very elaborate. Gaurds, dressed in traditional uniforms, stand watch at the tomb of the first king of an independent Morocco. Once the day drew to a close I was exhausted!

The next stop on our long journey across Morocco took us to the city of Fez, considered to be the spiritual and cultural center of Morocco. The three hour train ride dropped us at the ville nouvelle, where we commenced a long walk towards the Medina. Whenever we stopped to look at our map, we were approached by locals encouraging, then pleading, us to follow them to the Medina. “Come, my friend, I will take you there” was always the line so carefully delivered. When we would appear to ignore their pleas they promised that the guide was free of charge. Never did we yield though, for despite their beliefs, these two Americans were running on very little money. After a myriad of streets, alleys, and shopkeepers, we arrived tired and in one piece at the small hotel buried deep within the Medina. Hungry and thirsty, we left our hotel and headed to a quaint restaurant (literally, it was one small kitchen with tables outside). The food was fantastic! I ate chicken couscous, of course, in the traditional Moroccan style of scooping up the food with bits of bread. Following the massive yet delicious meal, Daniel and I drank Moroccan mint tea, which is wonderfully sweet. As Iftar approached the swarming streets of the Medina, where normally people walk shoulder to shoulder, died down and became eerily quiet. We took this opportunity to explore a bit. The streets, buildings, and shops all appear to be from a different age. Walking through the covered cobblestone paths you feel as if you were transported about two hundred years back. Many of the crafts and modes of transportation remain much the same. As we got lost in the souqs (markets) the next day, we saw mules carrying goods, leather shops tanning their leather in these massive vats of Pigeon dung and animal urine (an ancient technique), and artisans carving frames and other various trinkets by hand. Certainly, the way of life has not changed much, but that is what makes the Fez Medina so unique and special.

Our final destination, before departing for Istanbul, was Marrakech, a city located in central Morocco. Finding our way to the Medina in Marrakech proved much simpler than in Fez. The streets were a bit less complicated and the people not so pushy. The hotel we stayed in was beautiful, the center of the hotel, in true Moroccan architectural fashion, was open air with a fountain in the center. We were in a prime location, as the Djemaa El Fna (meaning “Assembly of the Dead” because it is where public executions used to take place) was about a two minute walk. At night the Djemma El Fna was crowded with snake charmers, henna artists, and food vendors. It is certainly a sight too see, and a place of confusion and frustration, as it can be easy to get lost among the crowd. The next morning, we journeyed deep into the souqs, where we willfully got lost among leather shops, patisseries, and vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables. One shop, had wonderful handmade jewelery. I walked in, not expecting to bargain (bargaining is expected when in Morocco) nor buy anything, but, I found a pair of silver earrings with which I instantly fell in love. The shop owner told me the price would be 600 dirhams (around $75)! However, with my fine tuned bargaining skills, I managed to talk him down to 220 dirhams (approximately $28)! I was quite proud of my hard earned purchase! That evening, Daniel and I talked and people-watched over a Moroccan-brewed beer, Casablanca. The next day it was time to head back to Rabat where I would gather my other luggage and head for Istanbul.

After the five hour train ride from Marrakech, we arrived in Rabat, tired and hungry. Luckily, Iftar awaited us at the apartment of the El Hatimi family. The next day, Daniel and I decided to head to a quiet, yet windy, beach located about twenty minutes outside of Rabat. It was Daniel’s first time to swim in the Atlantic so it was rather exciting. The water was cold and choppy but refreshing after so many days of traversing Morocco. That night we departed for Casablanca, where early the next morning my flight would leave for Istanbul.

Now, I sit in Istanbul, the city divided by two continents. It is absolutely spectacular. In the next day or so, as I become settled, I will post about my first exciting few days.

Until then!

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