Last summer I attended the Covid-delayed 70th anniversary American School of Tangier reunion and met up with my brother, Jeff.  Both of us including another brother, Chris, were boarders at the school in the early 70ties.

After the reunion, my brother and I headed to Marrakesh to meet up with my sister, Juliet. She had flown in with two of her kids, Caroline and Michael, after attending her other daughter Gillian's graduation from St. Andrews University.

meet-up in Marrakesh | dinner over looking the Djemel al Fna

We then headed out for a week tour in a Mercedes mini-van with Houssein at the wheel |

our driver, Houssein, at the Col du Tichka summit | 7,415 feet

So here are some snaps from our Morocco meanderings | Enjoy

I spent two years as a young teenager from 1971-73 at the American School of Tangier and have great memories of the place.  I had attended the 50th anniversary reunion in 2000 with my wife and kids and, as usual, with anything Moroccan it was memorable.  This time the kids were grown up and my wife was in Egypt visiting family.  Tangier is an amazing city and the more I learn about it the more fascinating it is.   If you are visiting, take the tourist bus tours  because the recorded narration gives a captivating depiction of the history and significance of the city.  For example, the movie classic "Casablanca" is actually based on Tangier and Rick's American Cafe modeled after the nightclub at the El Minzah Hotel.  The title of the movie was changed to capitalize on the success of the Allied landings during World War II at Casablanca as well other places along the coasts of Morocco and Algeria.  Those amphibious landings later ended in victory against Axis forces in Tunisia. (see Battle for Tunisia blog

Tangier | city of intrigue, artists and intellectuals

Grand Hotel Villa de France | where French visual artist Henri Matisse stayed 

Cape Sparta and the Caves of Hercules | along the Mediterrean Sea and Atlantic Ocean coasts

Cap Spartel lighthouse
Achakkar Beach | Atlantic Ocean 

Grand Socco | historic medina overlooking the Straits of Gilbraltar

alley ways | panorama 
Bab el Bahr | 
Hotel Continental where the Rolling Stones, Edgar Degas and Winston Church stayed
Hotel Continental | a popular filming location
Hotel Continental | hangout for the Beat Generation Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote

We left Tangier in my brother's rental car for the drive to Marrakesh where we rendezvoused with my sister and her kids.  Juliet had arrived a couple days earlier and Jeff had already visited the ancient city with his companion, Lynn, so we decided to hit the road and headed towards the Atlas Mountains.

Marrakesh's famous Djemel el Fna | 

Telouet | El Glaoui family kasbah

Glaoui castle | interior
The Glaoui's supported the French colonialists and were regarded as collaborationists when Morocco gained independence in 1956
window where I and family members have been photographed over the years | photo by Caroline Kelley

Ait Benhaddou | and the route of the Kasbahs

We overnighted at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ait Benhaddou, staying at the Kasbah Tebi inside the historic site.  No electricity, but what great a candle-lit atmosphere accentuated by  distance thunder and lightning storm that lasted all night.

The next day we descended into Ouarzazate and the eastern side of the Atlas Mountains.  We were now on the edge of the Sahara Desert that stretches eastward 2,300 miles to the Nile River.

On the road to Merzouga | oases, desert vistas and flooded roads

Pharaonic statues | Atlas Studios | Ouarzazate | photo by Jeff Nelson
Flooded road after intense all-night thunder storms in the Atlas Mountains

Merzouga | The Grand Erg and orange sand dunes

We arrived near sunset in Merzouga and after a couple of tries finally found a great hotel, the Kanz Erremal - right at the base of the great sand dunes. I had not visited Merzouga since 1972.  I remembered climbing the dunes with my father - my favorite picture of us together.  On my other trip in 2000, we had stayed in Erfoud, but with all the four-wheel drive vehicles careening about, I had decided not to visit the dunes. I did not want to spoil my memories of a place I remembered fondly.  This time it was different.  There were no French tourists buzzing about kicking up dust and dirt. It was quiet and empty.  The French Foreign Legion fort, I remember was gone.

sunrise | Merzouga

After a very magical time in the Sahara, we headed back into the mountains through rocky gorges with scattered river oases and up into ancient cedar trees and forests with Barbary Apes.  At one point a car in front of us started throwing out baguettes to canines waiting along side the road which we called "Dog Alley". We sped along passing  shepherds and nomad encampments, but did finally stop for cherries |

We rolled into Fez after passing through the mountain town of Ifrane which looks like an alpine village in Switzerland.  The king has a palace there.  Jeff had booked us into the Riad Mabrouka where he and Lynn had stayed.  We planned to stay two nights and then maybe travel north to .  But Fez turned out to be such a fascinating city and staying in such a beautiful place in the old city was a real treat, and we ended up staying three nights.

Lots of exploring and a personal guide that Jeff knew took us on a highlite tour of the ancient kasbah.  It, of course, included stops at shops .... selling babouches, kaftans, leather products, and, of course, rugs.  

We dined at Cafe Clock and then splurged at the posh rooftop restaurant Palais Faraj.

Fez | souks, madrassas, riads and mosque

the courtyard | Riad Mabrouka

The riads in Morocco are former residences of well-off merchants and dignitaries that have been converted into hotels.  They usually have elaborate courtyards with fountains and mosaics and are multiple stories high.  Riad Mabrouka was palatial and I imagined writers such as Agatha Christie and Paul Bowles staying for weeks, soaking up the atmosphere and exoticness, and being inspired to write captivating stories.  

Fez | the inhabitants

Fez | scenes

Nejjarine | Museum of Wood Arts and Crafts

Fez | the creatures

Fez | searching for the right rug

rug shop | panorama

After giving Houssein, our driver, a much needed rest day, we headed to the countryside to visit the Roman ruins of Volubilus and then settled into a wine tasting afternoon at the Cave Volubilia winery. The ruins overlook the fertile agricultural plain on the slopes of the Zerhoun Mountains near the Islamic holdy town of Moulay Idriss.  First settled by the Carthaginians, it became the capital of Roman Mauritania in the 2nd century BC.  Berber King Juba II and his wife Cleopatra Selene II, the daughter of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, expanded the settlement into a prosperous city and commercial hub.

Volubilus | Roman ruins and wine tasting

Arch of Caracalla | featured in the movie "Patton"
The Basilica 
Bronze arm of a Roman statue

We had bought some wine to try and it was remarkable good.  Caroline, my sister's daughter, being a bit of a wine connoisseur wanted to see about doing a little wine tasting.  After some on-the-road internet sleuthing and a few calls we arranged to visit the Cave Volubilia winery.  We were met by Mohammed, a very amical and fluent English speaker, whose mother disapproved of him working at a winery.  With local cheese, olive oil, nuts and dates, we spend the rest of the afternoon sipping wines and enjoying the quiet and warm afternoon patio setting.

The King | last and certain not least, his Royal Majestic King Mohammed VI

Since the Muslim conquest of the Magreb in the 7th century, Morocco has been ruled by a succession of dynasties as well as European colonizers Spain, Portugal, England and France.  In the 17th century the current ruling dynasty of the Alaouites took control.  The Kingdom of Morocco was the first nation to recognize the United States in 1777 and the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship, signed in 1786, stands as the U.S.'s oldest non-broken friendship treaty.

Taking a snap of Ayoub whose dried fruit and nut store is adorned with portraits of King Mohammed VI and bis family | Fez

Parting shot | on my way to Egypt passing over my birthplace, Carthage, Tunisia

and a final farewell to Morocco and one of my favorite songs | Marrakesh Express | Crosby, Stills and Nash

Lyrics |

Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes
Travelling the train through clear Moroccan skies
Ducks, and pigs, and chickens call
Animal carpet wall-to-wall
American ladies five-foot tall in blue

Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind
Had to get away to see what we could find
Hope the days that lie ahead
Bring us back to where they've led
Listen not to what's been said to you

Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
They're taking me to Marrakesh
All aboard the train, all aboard the train

I've been saving all my money just to take you there
I smell the garden in your hair

Take the train from Casablanca going south
Blowing smoke rings from the corners of my mouth, my mouth
Colored cottons hang in the air
Charming cobras in the square
Striped djellebas we can wear at home
Well, let me hear ya now

Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
They're taking me to Marrakesh

Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
They're taking me to Marrakesh
All on board the train, all on board the train
All on board