The Beauty Within

Never enough
Friday
8th December 2017

After an interupted night sleep where Julie tossed and turned with a sore shoulder and coughed and spluttered in fits and I woke up with a nose bleed after over zealously picking a crusty dusty nostril we were having breakfast downstairs just after 9am.

All the pastries and cakes were present with the addition of some extra chocolate cake this morning and also some cream cheese. We had seen large swirls of cheese presented on dinner plates, sold on the streets. We decided to give it a miss.

Whilst we ate breakfast we got talking to Hannai. Our conversaton turned to our plans today. She mentioned a private taxi excursion to Volubilis, an archaelogical site of a once great Roman city. Also a visit to Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, a lesser known city but of enormous historical importance in Morocco and then finally to the Royal city of Meknes. It cost 700 dirhams for the two of us which wasn't too expensive, so we went for it. 

We had half an hour to finish breakfast and get ready for our pick up. Surprisingly we did it with time to spare. Enough time to walk through the groceries souk and then cross towards the ATM outside the Bank of Africa.  

Julie felt a little vulnerable taking a thousand dirhams out of the cashpoint and walking along the road to where the taxi was parked. There were plenty of eyes on us.

We met our driver. his name was Alaa, not Alah. The subtle but important difference in pronounciation was too subtle for our British ears.

His taxi had seen better days. However being a little rough around the edges was fine. The seats were comfortable enough and the seatbelts worked, so we set off, leaving the medina behind, driving through the Ville Nouveau district of Fez.

I was sat in the front seat. Alaa insisted.

We chatted away and within a few minutes we were driving past vast olive groves towards the town of Douyet. Alaa explained that the land around here belonged to the King and these were in fact very Royal olives.

The road forked, we turned right, then came to a stop just opposite a large mosque. Alaa got out the car and went inside a small supermarket, returning with two bottles of water for us. That was kind of him. 

Beyond Douyet the landscape became increasingly arid.  Alaa pulled over at the side of the road for us to have a look at a large lake called Barrage Sidi Chahed with the dessert like hills of a mountain range to the North.

He insisted in taking our photograph so I reluctantly handed over my camera. "Just don't drop it" was my only thought but I didn't say anything. Of course he took good care of it. Although I did have to show him how to use it. 

Following our photo shoot we stood looking out over the lake for a while trying to make out the small village of  Douar Nzala nestled between the hills of Batn Eddoum and the shore. The minaret of a mosque the only visible landmark. 

A short distance away there was another mosque in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere serving a remote community. It must be a tough way of life.

Back on the road we climbed higher into the hills of Jbel Bent Abid.

Our progress was hampered briefly by Batman and his Batmobile, Moroccan style! This guy, dressed in black, was driving this half moped half truck tuk-tuk type of vehicle with BATMAN emblazoned on the back. Sat in the back of the truck was I assume his wife and son, looking rather sheepish in more ways than one.

We climbed higher and higher taking in some great views across the area.

The road soon split, the fork signposted for Chefchaouen, the Blue City, another wonderful Moroccan city, several hours North. We continued West to the town of  Zaggota where we turned South. It was all down hill from here. The landscape became greener by the mile as we descended towards Meknes.

 

A few miles from Moulay Idriss we could see Volubis from the road, set on a ridge overlooking the plains of the Khoumane valley. Alaa parked up outside the entrance and indicated which way we should go. A guided tour wasn't included, which secretly we were glad. Alaa was really likeable but he hadn't stop talking!  It was nice to get a break.

There were some locals loitering around the entrance offering themselves as guides but they needed to work on their body language. They came across as being unsavoury characters not someone you would trust to lead you into the unkown. We also didn't want to be talked at even if it was by another face. 

We paid 10 dirhams each for which we got a small map of the site. We headed straight up the hill to the archaelogical site, ignoring the visitors centre / small museum at the entrance.

I had already done some reading on Volubilis and knew its history,  roughly.

There had been a settlement here since the 3rd century BC, an outpost of the Cartheginian Empire which stretched across much of Africa's Northwest Mediterranean coast.  When Ancient Carthage fell to the Romans it gave rise to the kingdom of Mauretania and for a brief time Volubilis served as its capital.

As Rome's influence in the area grew the kingdom and its lands became a protectorate of the Roman Empire. During this period, towards the end of the the 1st century BC the Queen of Mauretania was Cleopatra Selene II, the daughter of Cleopatra Queen of Egypt and Roman legend Marc Anthony.  

Later, during the 1st century AD, Mauretania eventually became just a province of the Roman Empire, directly ruled from Rome.

What we saw today in Volubilis was from this period. During the 1st and 2nd centuries AD they developed Volubilis into a large prosperous city with an estimated 20,000 citizens.  It was surprisingly well preserved, although in truth most structures had been restored having been raised to the ground during a large earthquake in 1755, known as the Lisbon earthquake.

We first came across the Baths of Gallienus, public baths dedicated with an inscription to the Emperor Gallienus.  Its shallow bathing pools with some wonderful mosaic were still intact.  

There were many villas and palaces with exquisite mosiac tiled floors in incredilbe condition considering they were just outside, open to the elements. The first we stumbled across was the House of Orpheus. It was in a prime location overlooking the fertile plains.

It had a fascinating mosaic filled with detailed images of African animals, the most obvious of which was an elephant. Orpheus sat in the centre, playing the harp. It was mind-blowing to believe that this was almost 2000 years old.

Most mosaic floors in Roman villas would have normally been found in the triclinium, essenially the dinning room where the noble citizens would not only eat but lounge about post meal drinking wine whilst admring the beauty of the floor.

Next we made our way to the forum where we found several pedestals upon which statues would have once stood.

Next to the forum in typical Roman town planning were the Basilica and the Capitolium.

Today a Basilica is a term we use for a cathedral, a place for Christian worship but originally a basilica was more of a place for public services such as law courts. It certainly wasn't a church.  During the 2nd and 3rd centuries Christians were relentlessly persecuted.

Yet, it was remarkable how like a cathedral the basilica appeared.  

The basilica naturally became a place to gather for worship when Christianity, still an underground movement during the 2nd and 3rd centuries, swept across the Roman Empire. By the turn of the 4th century the Emperor Constantine declared himslef to be a Christian and installed Christianity as the state religion. Ever since then, the basilica became the church.

  

The basilica here at Volubilis had been extensvely restored. Without the brickwork filling in the gaps in the columns it would have been impossible to imagine how dramatic the various fragments should have looked.

I think everyone agrees that it's better to see the stuctures upright as they were intended with a few obvious additions than to see them either just scattered on the floor where they fell or restored where the old and new were undistinguishable.

The respectful restoration work was carried out by the governing French administraton. Excavation began late 19th century and the work continued into the 20th century. It's belived only half of the city has been revealed.

The rubble was raised up to replicate, as best as it could, what stood almost two thousand years ago, and it really was awe-inspiring.

Next to the Basilica was the Capitoline Temple. Half a dozen columns remained, now only holding up the sky and not the temple roof. They stood on a platform reached by 13 steps. In front of it was an altar. It was dedicated to the trinity of Roman gods, Minerva, Jupiter and Juno.

We moved on to the truimphal Arch of Caracalla, built in honour of the Emperor Caracala, who briefly goverened between 211-217 AD. Despite his short reign he was honored here because he gifted the people of Volubilis, and indeed all free men of the Roman Empire the citizenship of Rome and all the priviliges that came with that status.

There was an obvious difference in the colour of the stone. Much of it was a honey hued with a few darker grey-blue stones on top where we could see the inscriptions. We weren't too sure if it was entirely reconstructed, with the exception of the original grey stone, or the other way arount with the beautiful marble the original and the grey the new fillers.

From the arch we walked up a street called Decumanus Maximus, a wide boulevard stretching right across to the city gates and onto the road North to Tangiers.  The old name for modern day Tangiers was Tingis, which is why it's often referred to as the Tingis Gate.

Along the way we stopped often to admire the beautiful mosaic floors in the many houses, all named after the designs found inside, such as the House of the Labours of Hercules, the House of  the Nereids (a Roman sea monster), the House of the Bathing Nymphs.

I don't know why they decided to call the House of Dionysis after the Greek god and not Bacchus the Roman equivalent but I do recall reading when visiting Pompeii that during the 1st century AD the worship of Greek deities was becoming a trend. 

Anyway, the House of Dionysis had this very decorative mosaic called the "four seasons" with portraits  of laurel wearing Romans in each corner. I guess they represented the seasons by the type of clothes they were sporting? The one in the bottom right corner must have been wearing his winter wardrobe.

Artistically they were quite simple, cartoon like but they had bags of charm and character. 

Halfway along Decamanus Maximus we came to the the colonnade of the Gordian Palace. It was reportedly the largest building in Volubilis although all that remained of it were a dozen columns, and only half of which were complete. The rest was left to our imagination.

It was dedicated to Emperor Gordian III but believed to have been home to the city's tribune (Roman governor). Apparently no mosaics were found inside which was odd. Perhaps it was more of a municpal building, with a more functional administrative purpose.

We eventually reached the Tingis Gates, three simple stone arches, two smaller ones either side for pedestrians and one larger arch in the centre tall enough to allow for anyone on horse back or the odd elephant or two. 

We then turned back returning down main street. The arches of the arcade and the triumphal arch of Caracalla was a wonderful sight. Looking West, the glow of the sun brought out the warmer tones of the stone. 

About halfway down we turned left into what felt like a residential area, a collection of regular houses. With our map in hand we were searching for the last house of note, the House of Venus.

We had certainly saved the best until last. The mosaics here were absolutely superb. The first we saw was the scene of the "Abduction of Hylas by the Water Nymphs" a classic Greek story about a servant of Hercules, whom he cared deeply for, who became an Argonaut and was lured into the water because he had fallen in love with nymphs at a spring near the town of Priapus.

The other mosaic in the next room was from the tale of Diana and Acteon. The scene shows the red haired Roman goddess of the hunt being interupted whilst bathing by a mere mortal by the name of Acteon. In her surprise she splashes him with her bathing water and he begins to transform into a stag, with horns slowly sprouting from his head.  Later, he would be chased to death by his own pack of hunting dogs.

We had spent over an hour wandernig around the ruins and could have easily spent an hour more, however we had seen all the main attractions so we decided it was time to leave.

The Romans had left by the end of the 3rd century AD and the city slowly fell from prominence until the 8th century when it was completey abandoned when the  ruler Idris ibn Abdallah moved the city further up the slopes of mount Zerhoun.

Volubilis was forgotten, even its history was forgotten.  When it was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake it was known locally as Qasr Fara'on, Pharaoh's castle. It was believed to be so old that only the Egyptians could have built it.

After a quick look through the on-site museum and the use of the facilities, which were the smelliest I ever had the misfortune to use, we left Volubilis and rejoined Alaa who was waiting to take us the short distance to Moulay Idriss Zerhoun for lunch.

We drove right into the heart of the old town. Along the way Alaa gave a nod and a wave to a restauranteur at the side of the road. "We will eat there" he said.

We couldn't find a parking space anywhere, so we continued through the main square and out the other side, beyond the gate.

We returned on foot to the square, Place Mohamed VI. In contrast to the chaotic car parking along the way there was a lovely open space in front of the entrance to the mausoleum of (Moulay) Idris ibn Abdallah.

The word "Ibn" is means "son of". In Wales we have a similar word which is "Ap".   Oddly enough Idris is a name not too unfamiliar in Wales, We even have a mountain named Cadair Idris (Idris' chair).

Moulay Idriss Zerhoun is the most important pilgrimage site in Morocco. Not only was he a direct descendant of the prophet Mohammed, (he was his great-great-great-grandson) he is also considered to be the founder of Morocco as we know it today. 

We followed Alaa across the square to Chez El Arbi Restaurant and Grill where we met the overwhelmingly welcoming host, dressed all in red. His irrepressible character even got me posing for a photograph with him, cooking lamb koftas over hot coals.

"Don't tell anyone" I joked "I've just started a vegetarian food truck business. If this got out I would be ruined!"

We sat down and browsed the menu. We were their only customers.

Julie initially decided on having lamb koftas, then changed her mind joinging me in a vegetable tagine.

However, I musn't have heard her last change of mind and I ordered on her behalf a plateful of the koftas. She was a little reluctant as she remembered the awful stomach bug she got the last time she ate lamb in Morocco (Essoauira)

Thankfully these were well cooked, in fact very well cooked to the point of being a little dry but at least they were tasty, full of herbs and spices. Thankully she enjoyed them.   

My tagine arrived bubbling hot, not from the kitchen but from next door. It tasted fine, although I was convinced it was made with lamb stock but what can you do.

Once we had finished lunch Alaa introduced us to someone offering to show us around the city. We politely turned him down but he was quite insistent. "Ok, How much?" I asked. We hadn't brought much spare cash with us.

"You pay me what you feel." he said "I am just happy to show you around my holy city"

With that kind offer we agreed.

 

His name was Ashfran and as soon as we paid our restaurant bill we were off up some steep steps deep into the colourful alleys of the medina. He was tall and gangly and was running up them, trying to hurry us along but we insisted in taking it at our own pace. It was an excercise we could have done without on a full stomach.

A young boy came tearing around the corner, flying down the steps with his feet hardly touching the floor such was his haste. Ashfran was not impressed. He gave him an earful but he was long gone by the time he finished his reprimand.

The first thing we noticed about the alleys of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun was the colour. I had heard about Chefchaouen and its astonishing blue walls but I didn't know it was similar here.

Ashfran told us that historically it was a colour code for various districts of the city, blue for the Berber quarter, green for the Arab community, all were muslim of course. In fact until 2005 the city was partially closed to non-muslims. Between 3pm and sunrise all muslims were required to leave.

The colour coding continued quite consistently. I did ask him "who was behind the pink door?" but either he didn't hear me or chose to ignore me.

The streets were mostly empty. It seemed we were walking through a very residential area. There wasn't much in the way of souks or cafes along the way.

We kept on climbing up the hill huffing and a puffing, listening to Ashfran, trying to decypher his guided tour script. "The city is built on two hills, and this is Kipper Hill" or at least that's what I thought he said but it was "Khyber" hill.

As in Fez the streets were designed for donkey traffic and not much else. Even materials for construction had to be carried up by donkey.

We soon reached a landmark, the cylyndrical minaret of Sentissi Mosque. It was inlaid with green tile with an inscription of a chapter from the Qur'an in white in two different scripts. Ashfran said they were in Arabic and Berber.

It looked more like the funnel of a steamship, short and stout than a minaret but apparently it's unique in Morocco for its shape. They are usually built square around these parts. 

A local man built it in 1939 after he had returned from his hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.

We continued upwards, past a school whose walls were painted in multicolours, "represnting it is multicultural" explained Ashfran. Then the colour changed to blue as we entered the Berber district.

The colour added some character to what otherwise would have been rather boring alletways.

Anther thing we noticed was the absence of dogs and the abundance of cats.  I suppose both go hand in hand. With a lack of their classic enemy cats seemed to have thrived here. I'm not too sure if they were feral or not but they all seemed quite healthy and well fed.

All of a sudden the narrow alleys opened out and we came to a balcony on a cliff's edge overlooking the other half of the city, built on another hill, known as Tazga.  It was an incredible sight and worth the effort of reaching this point.

We could see the green roofs and minaret of the mausoleum of Idris I. 

Ashfran made a point of pointing out the green house which was the home of the Imam, the religious leader overseeing the mausoleum, mosque and medersa. "Only he is allowd to paint his whole house green" he explained. We nodded with polite interest.

After a while we moved on, walking through an archway cut into the rock. The light at the end of the tunnel was so picturesque I had to stop to photograph it. Fortunately for the sake of the composition Ashfran had already disappered down the steps to the left and in his place appeared this black and white cat.

He waited for us, slightly impatiently, then brought us to a mausolem, not the famous one the city is named after but that of Sidi Abdellah El Hajjam. Oddly enough there was no non-muslim restriction so we followed Ashfran into the mosque.

Stood outside, welcoming us in was a dude in a pair of sunglasses and otherwise traditionally dressed. He was offering pastries for a donation. We felt compelled to buy some and donated 10 dirhams to their charity.

Inside the mosque was very austere with bare white washed walls and a floor covered in rugs. We wre literally in and out in less than a minute.

It was all downhill after that, literally. "We have 220 steps now" said Ashfran as we decended quickly. Along the way we passed a hamman, the oldest one in Moulay Idriss which probably made it the oldest in the whole of Morocco.  

We ended up by the entrance to the courtyard of the mausoleum. It is said that for a Moroccan, five or six pilgrimages to the moussem (religious festival) here in Moulay Idriss Zerhoun is the equivalent to a hajj to Mecca, so it becomes a more affordable way to earn merit.

From one of the shops near to the entrance Ashfran collected a candle, wrapped in newspaper and gave it to us as a gift. 

We walked across Place Mohammed VI, away from the line of sight of the mausoleum of Moulay Idriss which was Ashfran's queue to say goodbye and wait for his fee. I reached into my pocket and handed over 120 dirhams which I thought was enough for his 30 minute tour.

Mr. "pay me what you feel" was offended and suddenly turned nasty demanding more money. At first I refused because his attitude was awful. He sold us the tour feigning serenity and holiness then turned into a threatening thug.

I eventually paid up another 100 dirhams just to get rid if him but he still wasn't happy and continued to moan until I showed him my fuck off face. He then backed down and walked away.

This unecessary confrontation tainted our experience of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun.  

Back in the car we tootled down towards Meknes, just 30km away. As we approached the city Alaa stopped at the side of the road for an opportunity for us to see the whole of Meknes old town. Built on a low hill with a few minarets breaking above the rooftops it didn't really inspire, not from a distance anyway. However, I still took a photograph; more to please Alaa than for our own benefit.

Back in the car we drove into the city, driving past the walls of the royal palace, Dar El-Makhzen.

Meknes is one of Morocco's four imperial cities. It owes this staus to Sultan Ismail Ibn Sharif, the second ruler of the 'Alawi dynasty, who moved the capital from Fez to Meknes at the end of the 17th. This status only lasted for the 55 years of his reign before it was moved back to Fez by his successor.

Interestingly the Alouite line of succesion still rules today with the current King Mohammed VI. Although the Moroccan capital has moved to Rabat where it has been ever since it was relocated during the French Protectorate.

Our next stop was Bassin Souani, a large man-made ornamental lake within the city walls, created by the sultan as a resevoir in case of drought or siege.

"In the middle it is 10 metres deep" claimed Alaa, exagerating slightly. (It's officially 3.2m)

We parked the car and began to walk along the side of the lake towards the fortified stone wall behind which were the Royal Stables. In the far corner there was fountain splurting out a plume of water. 

 It was a lovely tranquil spot.

In one corner stood a peculiar sculpture, a modern abstract statue of the Sultan Ismail. It really was a bizarre shape, skeletal, bent over with over-sized feet and hands.  It was another excuse for Alaa to get his hands on my camera as he got us posing with the sultan.

It was a short drive from here to Lahdim Square, the city's main square where Alaa parked his petit taxi in front of the imposing walls of the kasbah, near to the gates.  The local police weren't too happy and asked him to move but he insisted on taking our photo first, and then he would most defintely move.  

So he hurriedly took my photo, wearing a red tarbouche (fez). I felt a complete fool but I didn't want to upset Alaa. I mean he was risking the wrath of the angry policeman just to give me a photograph of me wearing a Fez.

Anyway, with the photo taken we agreed to meet back at this point in just over an hour. So I returned his fez and he hurried back to his taxi and sped off before he got arrested.

We crossed the road and walked around Place El Hadim square. It was a space filled with market stalls all along the edges, but the centre was open for those who needed space to perform. We had a stunning Arab horse dressed in all its finery, I guess for a photo oportunity rather than available for hire.

There were other sorts of animal attractions which our modern sensibilities no longer tolerate. We could hear the snake charmers but couldn't see them, There was a monkey dressed in a Paris St.Germain football shirt. It may have looked cute but he was chained to his box and made to perform for peanuts. Such forms of entertainment really should be consigned to the history books.

We quickly tired of the square and decided to find somewhere to sit and relax for the remaining time we had in Mekness. In the corner, nearest the great Bab Mansour gate, there was a cafe called Pavillon Des Idrissides which had a roof-top terrace. That sounded like a great idea.  

Before entering we had to buy a ticket for 15 dirhams each which entitled us to a free drink. At first it seemed odd but it it made perfect sense. Their terrace had the best view over the square, and by charging for entry at least they made some money even if all you wanted to do was shoot a few pictures and leave. However we were here for the next hour so we didn't mind paying

We found a table right at the front with the most perfect view over the square. I opted for a glass of orange juice which was incredibly sweet and fragrant. Possibly the most orangey of orange juices I had ever drank, whislt Julie opted for a short black coffee.

The activities below kept us entertained.

We watched these popcorn sellers roll up, a husband and wife team. They stopped in the middle of nowhere, in a large empty space. It seemed an odd choice to set up shop. They weren't getting any customers. But they had inside information.

A few minutes later a pair of performers turned up banging their drums to signal their arrival.

A modest crowd began to gather as they began to tumble around. It was almost an exclusively male audience. Women and children were scarce.

As the crowd gradually increased they completed a large circle around them.

It was a scene as old as the square, well perhaps not the popcorn, but the entertainment, the theatre. The actors seemed to be performing a story with plenty of slapstick thrown in. They certainly kept us amused.

The popcorn sellers were now making a roaring trade.    

Turning to the left we had an incredible view of the magestic Bab Mansour, the main cermonial entrance into the Royal citadel. It was completed in 1732 a few years after the death of Sultan Ismail Ibn Sharif, during the reign of his son Sultan Abdallah. 

Mansour means "victory" in Arabic. So it could have been the "Victory Gate", however its architect was said to be a Christian slave who converted to Islam, called Mansour al-'Alj and the gate is often refered to as Bab Mansour al-'Alj.

It was truly stunning with its intricate mosaic tilework looking more like fabric than ceramic, and its horseshoe arch was just classic Arabian architecture.

What was most striking about it was its size. It was enormous, really monumental. The height of the wall was 16 metres, the door alone was 6.5m tall. There were two marble columns incorporated into the gate, one on either side, probably aquired from Volubilis.  (It didn't take a genius to work that one out!). They were dwarfed by the rest of the structure.

As the shadows began to lengthen our time here was drawing to an end. We had spent almost an hour sat up on the terrace of Pavillion des Idrisses admiring the view below.  We were quite reluctant to leave.

 We looked down towards the smaller gate of Bab Jama' en-Nour where Alaa had dropped us off earlier. There was no sign of his taxi so we waited another five minutes longer

Eventually we returned to the Place El-Hedim, which was getting busier and livelier by the minute. We didn't have to wait long before Alaa came chuggin around the corner to pick us up.

The sun set quickly after we left Meknes. The journey back to Fes took us an hour and a half and most of that was in the dark. I had sat in the back with Julie, not only to keep her company but also to get some sleep should the opportunity arise. And it did. 

Back where we started this morning, we paid Alaa his fee plus a 25% tip for his informative and friendly conversation, which was exactly what I wrote down in his customer feeback form.

Back in the medina, on our way to our hotel we decided to carry on and find Riad Rcif for their highly rated restaurant. It wasn't that we were hungry but we knew if we returned to our room we wouldn't leave it again today.

There were small signs leading us up the hill past our riad, then a right turn, followed by a left. The alley then turned a corner and the signs ran out. "Damn" and "blast" were two words I should have said not the foul language that I did.

A minute later we came to a small store where a group of young lads were loitering. One raised his arms, pointed in the direction we were walking and said something like "No splongo"

This made me chuckle, it even stopped me in my tracks. "What?" I asked.

"No Splongo" he repeated.

"Splongo?" I replied. All his mates were laughing now. "Anyway, never mind, splongo or no splongo,  we're looking for Riad Rcif. Do you know where it is?"

He must have understood my bad pronounciation of Rcif and said "Follow me" and he shot off.

We weren't far away, a left turn and two right turns brought us to the door.

He waited for his tip which was perfectly acceptable but when I only gave him 10 dirhams he was offended.  "This is nothing" he said angrily.

I took the coin back from him and apologised. "It's all I have in my pocket, you will have to take it or leave it". He huffed took the 10 dirham, and stormed off muttering Arabic obscenities at me.

 We entered the stunning courtyard of Riad Rcif where the walls, from the floor to the sky, were covered with incredible tile work. We were warmly greeted and thankfully they weren't busy and had a table for us.

The menu was a set three course meal with a choice of main dish. I chose the classic seven vegetable couscous where as Julie went for the Mechouia lamb dish.

Unfortunately they didn't take card payment, it was cash only. So I had to return to the ATM for more cash, without getting lost! To my relief I was offered the service of the waiter, called Aimen, as a guide.

It didn't take us long to weave through the medina to the Bank of Africa and then back restaurant. It's a lot easier when you know how.

The first course arrived. Simply described as a selection of salads, it didn't prepare us for the vast selection of dishes. We had ten small plates to choose from, all of which were non-meat, aubergines, carrots, cauliflower, green beans, lentils, olives, potatoes, small briouat triangles and an eggy potato fritter. Each one was distinctly Morrocan, subtly different, and all absolutely delicious. 

We cleared each plate clean.

There was a bit of a delay with our main course. Perhaps they didn't expect us to finish our starters so quickly!

When they arrived we couldn't help but feel disappointed. My couscous was fine but i was constatnly comparing it to the flavours of the starters. Whereas Julie's lamb was dry and over cooked, not a good example of Mechouia. "Perhaps it was camel" joked Julie.

Dessert was a fruit bowl and a dense sticky chocolate cake. We shared the cake and really enjoyed it. It was the sort of cake that leaves you licking your lips long after its finished. 

Most of the fruit bowl ended up in our bag to take back, tangerines, apple,  small sweet bananas.

We paid our bill, which was almost twice what we paid last night but to be fair there was over twice the amount of food and wine consumed.

Once again we were offered the services of Aimen to guide us back to our hotel but having walked it twice already I was confident of finding our way home. Thankfully I had paid attention and we were at the door of Riad Borj Dhab.

It was only early, just after 9pm but we were both so tired that we were asleep within a few minutes of getting into bed.

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