T+5 Days… Rabat and Volubilis

Today our tour of Morocco began with a tour of Rabat, the capital of Morocco.  It was a bright sunny morning, and the temps reached into the 60s (F).  The drive from our hotel to took us first to the old Kasbah of the Udayahs, the fortified area that was built in the 12th century to keep the pirates living across the river away from the king and his loyal subjects.

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The wall of the Kasbah

Walking around the Kasbah was incredible when thinking these were the original houses built to garrison soldiers.  There was no street traffic, with narrow winding passages leading between the houses to various parts of the complex, including the community meeting areas.  The buildings were all painted a combination of sky blue and white, and the bright light reflected the colors off the white portions.

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Inside the Kasbah, where these units housed soldiers.

We then drove to the complex that has the ruined Hassan minaret and the royal mausoleum.  The minaret was built in the 12th century and was part of the largest mosque in the world – maybe.  One account is that it stood 260 feet when an earthquake in 1755 sheared off its top half, so only the “stub” remains.  Another version is that worked stopped when the king died in 1199, and it was only partially built, as was the mosque.  It is today 140 ft tall.

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Inside the Royal Mausoleum

The Mausoleum of Mohammed V is opposite the Hassan Tower, and contains the tombs of the “first” modern Moroccan king and his two sons, King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah.  It is impressive, and has guards standing in full dress.

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Janet with a Royal Horse Guard

From there to The Chellah, a medieval fort that became a Muslim necropolis, or chellah, and built a complex that included mosque, minaret, and royal tombs.  The gardens are beautiful, but the complex is in ruins.  There are dozens of storks nesting there.

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The tomb of an ancient “healer”, like a saint, who has shown the power to heal people with miracles.

At The Chellah we were met by this fellow:

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Our final Rabat stop was to see the Royal Palace.  It is one of several, and is the “official” residence of the King and family.  The fact is he lives in another located across the river in Sale, the “poor” twin city to Rabat.  Still, it was interesting that at least four police/military services were represented at the gate by full dress uniformed guards.

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Guards at the Royal Palace
Volubilis was our major stop on the road to Fez, or Fes as spelled here.  It was a trading city that developed from the 3rd century BC onward as a Phoenician settlement.  It grew rapidly under Roman rule from the 1st century AD onward and expanded to cover about 100 acres with walls.  In many ways it was like Pompeii, with the ruins excavated to give you a good idea of Roman life.  The city grew through the 2nd Century AD, building a basilica, temple and triumphal arch, making its money from olive growing and oil pressing.  The rich folks constructed many fine town-houses with large mosaic floors you can see still.  In 285 the town fell to the local tribes, and the Romans abandoned the area.  The ruins remained intact until devastated by that earthquake looted by Moroccan rulers needing stone for building the royal city of Meknes.

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Volubilis

We drove through some beautiful country until we arrived in Fez.  Our hotel is right downtown, near a large mall.  After drinks at the hotel bar, we went to check out the mall merchandise.  There is a Carrefour, the French version of Walmart, where I almost bought Janet a nice burka…on sale!  I did buy two pints of milk for breakfast.

Tomorrow we tour the area.  Morocco is a beautiful place, and its landscape changes very quickly.  The people are friendly.  The food is excellent.  What more can one ask?
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T+4… Road to Morocco

Bing and Bob shipwrecked to get to Morocco to meet and woo Dorothy.  We just had to get to the Rome airport by 7:30 AM and get on an airplane to Madrid, Spain, first. https://i1.wp.com/i.cdn.turner.com/v5cache/TCM/Images/Dynamic/i191/roadtomorocco1943_010920130213.jpgThat meant getting up and out the hotel door by 4:15 AM taking a taxi to the Termini station and catching the first Terravision bus.  Happily, that part worked out.  What was amazing was the number of people still populating the cafes.  I’m not sure whether they were early risers or night owls.

We checked our bags and had breakfast.  I had two cappuccino grandes for the price of one at Starbucks USA.  Janet had tea and the world’s most expensive stale sugar donut – E 2.25, about $3.00.  Talk about airport prices!

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Interior of Bombardier jet.

The flight to Madrid was uneventful.  For the second time tailwinds helped us arrive early – a half-hour.  We needed it, too, as our connecting gate was way on the other side of the moon.  The official estimate is a 25 minute hike and subway ride.  Our plane was a Bombardier giant puddle jumper.  Happily  a short flight during which we could see the Rock of Gibraltar in the far distance.

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Just so tired…

Arrival was easy enough, and we found our driver after a bit of confusion.  Loaded our Mercedes minivan and off we went, 180 miles from Tangier to Rabat.  The drive was very interesting.  We saw “biblical scenes” with camels grazing and sheep/goat flocks tended by shepherds…no dogs, either.  The landscape ranged from lush vegetation to desert scrub.  The ride was easy on the Moroccan super-tollway.  Finding the hotel was a bit of confusion.  I had to use Google maps to get us here.

After resting a bit, Janet and I found a supermarket and picked up some snack foods, milk and bread.  We hadn’t eaten since dinner the previous night.

Our meeting was started with a pour of mint tea.  Tasted like green tea mixed with toothpaste.  We went over the rules of the road, particularly the importance of being on time and the rotation of seats so everyone gets the prime and lesser seats one time or another.  Some folks were not thrilled by that.

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Man versus Food… Food won tonight!

We walked over a few blocks to a restaurant Janet and I saw earlier:  Coq Magic.  It was packed with people and families.  The prices were right and the portions outlandishly huge.  I had a Mixed Grill Platter, which included three skewered meats: Turkey, beef and a ground sausage (hachee), with two small sausages holding the skewers in place, plus a small bit of lamb chop.  That was served with a heaping portion of fries, rice pilaf and bread.  Cups of assorted olives were starters.  With a bottle of mineral water, the price came to 85 MAD, or about US$ 9.50.  I couldn’t finish it – almost a man versus food challenge!  As big as it was, it tasted even better – just delicious bits of protein.  Janet and the others had half a rotisserie chicken for US$6, plus drinks.

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Our room at the Le Diwan Hotel, Rabat, Morocco

So, now to bed – reville at 6:30, departure at 7:30 for Fez.  Yes, like the hat.

T+3… The Catacombs

Beautiful day in Rome – temps nearing 70 and clear skies.  With that, we split up today.  Dwayne and Carla made for the Vatican while Janet and I went to the Catacombs of St.Callixtus.

As a young Catholic school boy I was always enthralled by the stories of the Christians and the Roman persecutions.  These stories also included the bit of how the Christians hid underground, having their Mass services underground in these secret passages.  And, for some reason, in all our previous visits to Rome, I never went to see them.

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Entrance to the Catacombs of St.Callixtus.  There are four levels, the first about 30 feet underground.  There are 12 miles of passage under 40 acres of land.  Millions of early Christians are interred here.  No photos were allowed in the catacombs.  The fragments are of marble slabs that closed the niche.  Broken by treasure seeking barbarians.

We took the subway to transfer to the #218 bus that leaves town via the ancient Appian Way.  We had some minor trouble locating the bus stop, and teamed with a Serbian couple aided by a smartphone, we finally located it.  Then we waited 45 minutes for a fully loaded bus to arrive.  Of course there is always room for more, so we push on maintaining a toe hold at the back door.

The driver was a madman, apparently trying to get back on schedule.  He whipped that bus like a grand prix driver that all Italian drivers fantasize as being.  To stop the bus one rings a bell…which was out of reach.  Plus, we had no idea which was to be our stop.  Finally, the bell rang and the bus stopped, with half the busload emptying out.  We followed the crowd to discover that it was a tour group!  I’d never seen a tour group use public transportation before.

We bought tickets and were surprised that we were the only english speaker, so we got a “private” tour by a Fillipino guide in Rome for a year.  He was a terrific guide, and being so small it was conversational and detailed to our liking.

The catacombs we visited are among the largest and most important of Rome, dating from the mid-second century. In them were buried many martyrs, 16 popes, and over a million Christians of all ages.  There is also the former tomb of St. Cecelia, whose remains were taken to a newly built basilica in 821.  Only 3500 had identifying engravings on their stone that sealed the niche.  Most were poor and unable to afford any ornamentation.  The typical niche was five feet long and maybe two deep.  The body was wrapped in a cloth and placed inside, usually with some perfume to help disguise the smell of decay. 

Today is the feast of both St. Sebastian and St. Fabian.  St. Fabian met his fate in the catacombs while saying Mass.  Roman soldiers came down, stopped the Mass, held a short trial and beheaded him.  Then they killed five deacons and seven attending the Mass.  He was buried in a niche behind the altar where he died.

Being inside was eerie – we were rarely even within earshot of another group.  The passages rang from about four feet wide down to about two.  There are four levels, each of which is about 10 niches high.  They were dug from the top down.  Despite electric lighting, it was a bit dim, andone could only imagine making your way down these passages with only the light of a small oil lamp.

The visit was all I anticipated.

We rode the bus back, and decided to transfer to another rather than take the subway – to see more of the city.  We boarded the bus, which was very warm inside due to the bright sun.  A fellow tried to open a vent window…when the thing shattered, throwing glass shards on both Janet and me!!  The poor guy stood there with the handle in his hand looking like someone caught on Candid Camera!  people acted like kids who just broke the mean neighbor’s window with a ball…they left.  janet and I shook off the broken glass (luckily it was safety glass) and took other seats.  The man talked to the driver, who took down his information.  The the driver came back and kicked us off the bus.

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The broken vent window.

Eventually we got to the neighborhood of our hotel, and picked up some good ham, cheese, bread, and beverages at the local supermarket for a picnic in the hotel’s little plaza in back.

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Janet enjoys an al fresco picnic lunch from the grocery.

Dwayne and Carla returned and about six we went for a light dinner.  We ended up in  a little neighborhood bar.  Food wasn’t bad, but didn’t expect haute cusine either.  Pasta and a variety of sauces.

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Dinner at a neighborhood bar.

So, we’re back, getting ready for tomorrow’s 4:40 AM departure for the airport.  We have a 7:30 flight to Madrid with connection to Tangier, Morocco.

Rome was a great place to start our trip.  We’ve seen it all.

T+2… Strolling Around Rome

What a difference a bit of sleep makes, especilly when it’s about 12-hours worth.

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The view of the Colosseum over the Forum

Got up, cleaned up and out by 8:15 for breakfast – usual Roman/Euro offering of croissants/coronets and kaiser rolls, with jam or honey.  Juice and coffee…lots of steaming hot coffee and steaming hot milk.  The basement breakfast room is very cute, plenty of room and tables.  Most of the folks there were American, and first time visitors, with their maps and quizzical faces.

Our man Carlo was manning the reception desk.  He’s such a nice and apparently knowledgeable soul.  He can route you to the sites in his sleep – using busses, subways or walking.  While we were waiting to leave, a couple speaking a language I did not recognize asked Carlo how to get somewhere.  English was the common language between them.  Carlo told them to take tram #3, short “a” pronunciation.  The fellow asked “Trame?”, with long “a” pronunciation.  Yes, Carlo replied.  “What is ‘trame’?”  Carlo resorted to pointing and charades…  After a bit of thought the fellow beamed, “Oh, trame!”  (Long a.)  Yes!!  And off the couple merrily went.

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The Forum and Palatine Hill

Having tickets for the Forum grounds, we took the usual route to the Colosseo Metro stop and crossed the street to the entrance.  My brother had his Rick Steves Tour podcast at the ready.  It made more sense to me to just read the signs, which were less  descriptive, but much more succinct.  It was quite a contrast to what we encountered 40 years ago.  The Romans are taking care of their bread and butter.  The weeds are cut and pulled, things are roped off, and there are cops patrolling.  Years ago one could climb on the ruins…probably leading to more ruin.

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Vittorio Emanuele II Monument

From the Forum we walked to the Vittorio Emanuele II monument, commemorating  the first king of a unified Italy. It was completed in 1935.  We walked up a load of steps to the piazza for the view – worth the climb.  For an extra €10 apiece you take the elevator to the very top.  Not necessary.

Stopped for lunch at a nice little tavola calde (buffet) on the Via del Corso, where one picks out his food from a display case, and it is brought to a table – not a Golden Corral grub grab!  Lasagne, vegetable soup and a liter of mineral water was a reasonable €19 ($24) and plenty for Janet and me.

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I guess we’re coming back to Rome again!

We walked further through the Plaza Venezia to the Trevi Fountain.  After watching all the coins tossed into the water to ensure a return to Rome, it strikes me that every major city should build some grand project and spread the word that a similar contribution will result in something desirable.  Like, escaping Cleveland.  The money could be earmarked for education so everyone will get behind its construction.

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Dwayne and Carla watch informative videos at Pantheon

From Trevi we walked on to the Pantheon, one of the few remaining whole Roman buildings, now a Catholic basilica.  It is beautiful inside – the building has been renovated richly over the years by Popes and other benefactors.  The artist Raphael is entombed there, his sarcophagus positioned to catch the last rays of the sun throught he open roof on a bright day.

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What fun is traveling without food?

We walked further to the Plaza Novona, reputed to be the most beautiful in Rome.  It features three fountains that would be the envy of any other city.  It is the site of the Stadium of Domitian, built in the 1st century AD, and follows the form of the stadium.  There is the Obelisk of Domitian, brought in pieces from the Circus of Maxentius.  The church of Sant’ Agnese in Agone is the centerpiece where the tiny skull of St. Agnes is on display in a side chapel to the main Baroque sanctuary.  We had gelato there on the advice of friends and Carlo.

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St. Peter’s viewed down the Tiber River from Ponte Umberto I

A further stroll brought us to the banks of the Tiber River, with a beautiful view of St. Peter’s in one direction, and Ponte Cavour the other.  We walked along until reaching Augustus’ Mausoleum, which is under reconstruction scaffolding.

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Window hopping at Louis Vuitton.

From there a few blocks past all the well-know design houses, from Bulgari to Valentino, to the Spanish Steps.  Then a Metro ride to Termini and back to the hotel.

Dinner tonight after a rest.  The place is one on my list, and recommended by Carlo, too.  It must be good.

Weather was forecast for 57F and 20% rain.  It was pleasant enough, with cloudy skies and a bit of wind, with occasional drizzle. Warmer tomorrow, but somewhat higher chance of rain.

 

 

T+1…The Eternal City, Rome

Flew from JFK to Rome FCO airport overnight.  We got lucky as a tailwind allowed us to arrive more than an hour earlier than scheduled.  That meant one less hour of “seat time”, which was seven hours!

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Embrace the Kitsch!

We flew Delta, and it was another experience.  They had the most elderly flight attendant crew I’ve encountered.  I was younger than the average age.  And it showed as they distributed drinks and meals.  They treated the availability like a secret.  It was weird.

We got our luggage and they customs in no time.  Very quick.  Helped that there was little competition from other arriving flights.  In fact, both JFK and FCO were ghost towns.

We got to our bus hoping they’d accept our ticket. although our reservation was for 11:50 AM based ob scheduled times. No problems.  Traffic delayed our arrival at Roma Termini main train station by a half hour.  The Donatello Hotel was about a three-quarter mile walk mostly alongside the Termini and tracks.  It took 20 minutes to make the walk.  Once there Carlo was an immense help at the front desk.

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Our room at Hotel Donatello, Rome

The hotel is very basic.  Cute, but “no frills”.  It is a simple tram and a metro ride to get anywhere in town.  We bought the three day transport pass, good on subways, trams or bus lines, and I’m sure we’ll get our money’s worth.

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Janet at the Colosseum

Today we planned on just a little bumming, but ended up doing a guided tour of the Colosseum.  Nothing particularly new, but the rebuilt/refurbished interior of the ancient stadium was much cleaner than back in the early-80s.  The stadium was in use for over 480 years.

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The Palatine Hill, where Rome was founded.  Beyond is the Forum.

Tomorrow we will take a tour of the Forum, Rome’s ancient main street and capital mall.

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Dwayne and Carla enjoy a Roman lunch.

For “dinner” we picked up bread, cheese and wine.  Earlier we enjoyed a light snack of pizza and calzones.  They were delicious, and took the edge off after flying with not-so-good airline food.  Chicken or pasta?  I experienced the pasta last time…and the chicken was no better this time.  With that we toasted our successful first day going ’round the world.  What’s nice is that Rome is a great place to begin, especially since we’d been here so recently.  I’m crawling into bed…I’ve had it.

We have ignition… Blast Off for Earth Orbit!

What a day, and we haven’t hardly left home.

Packed and ready to go, until I remember I forgot my international drivers license, last seen in Italy.  Not having left home, we searched without success.  But I still have my German international license, issued 40 years ago.  It doesn’t seem to expire.

Stopping at the drug store for a prescription refill, my credit card doesn’t work.  When the bank was called we discover that back in September or October someone in Japan charged $38,000 to it!!!  The bank refused to “approve” and cancelled the card, just not bothering to tell me.  So, one dead credit card I was relying on with no foreign transaction charges.

Arrived at Dulles International in good time, catch the shuttle from the rental lot, and get checked-in with luggage.  Pass security, where brother Dwayne gets flagged for his metal hip.  Somewhere in the hilarity he misplaced his passport.  We scrambled a bit and found he tucked it into an obscure pocket in his back pack.

So, we made to the British Air Lounge, but instead of a nice lunch, we get beer and crisps…potato chips!  It will do.  The Turkish Air lounge is down the way a bit.

And so we begin…not with a whimper, but a couple of bangs!  On to Rome!

 

1 Day… Countdown to Circumnavigation

Today was busy with a bit of everything.  First, brother Dwayne needed new shoes, so we drove to Bass Pro Shop where he bought a nice pair of Glacier hiking boots. on sale.  From there it was a short dash to the car rental hut for our ride to Dulles International Airport tomorrow.  We upgraded to a Kia Optima – mistake. It’s marginally larger and is a lemon.  Low tire pressure sensor keeps lighting although it shows pressure at the correct level.  The there is a short in the rear brake light circuit that causes that alarm to trigger.

Finally, at my dear spouse Janet’s insistence, I got a typhoid immunization shot and some anti-malaria pills.

Our fight for JFK leaves there at 3:10 PM, and we arrive at JFK before five.  Then we fly again on Delta to Rome FCO, where we arrive at 10:45 AM.  I imagine a short nap, lunch, and a bit of light sightseeig the first day.  The hotel is well situated near the Termini, Rome’s transportation hub.

After a few laughs with Bob and Bing on the Road to Morocco, and kisses from the graddaughters, we finally packed our bags expecting to pull out about 10 AM.  And now to bed…blastoff is barely 12 hours off.