Celebrating Our Anniversary in Volubilis, Meknes, and Fes

Tuesday, Dec 22, 2015

Whereas Monday was spent exploring Fes proper, Tuesday was spent venturing out, first to    Volubilis, an extraordinarily well- preserved Roman Empire town, then to Meknes, a city of 750,000 inhabitants with several very well- preserved buildings from the reign of Moulay Ismail and a great souk (quite different from the one we'd visited on Monday). We capped off the day with a wonderful dinner to celebrate our 41st wedding anniversary.

Volubilis first. This Roman ruins city (a UNESCO site), was inhabited for several centuries, beginning when they established a strong North African outpost here in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries BC.  When the Romans lived here, there were anywhere between 12,000 and 15,000 inhabitants. It constitutes 195 acres-- 50 of which have not yet been excavated. There were 7 gates entering the city. What is particularly notable is that the town was not inhabited after the Romans left so is in remarkably good shape today. Starting with some history, the Romans liked the location of Volubilis strategically for several reasons: it protected them from the Berber State (more on the Berbers later), there were lions nearby (for export to Rome for the gladiator fights-- no worries, the area has been devoid of lions since the 1920s), and with its proximity to the Rif Mountains, there was great access to stone and water.

The site was fascinating. There were many blocks of stone with Latin inscriptions, and also some with Hebrew and even some Berber letters.

We saw what had been an upscale house; the mosaic floors (original) are especially treasured.

This one is of Poseidon. It was not as impressive as the house we saw in Ephesus, although, to be fair, this one is exposed to the elements.
Then there was the basilica. This was not a religious building, but rather a public building that was mostly used for legal courts and business matters.

Then the Temple of Juno.... of the still-standing gates to the city...

...and a couple of other old relics:
We left Volubilis for Meknes, where we started our visit with a lovely French lunch--the highlight of which was a surprise, delicious anniversary cake!

Note that they brought this out after the regular dessert had been served!!!!! 

Meknes features many well-preserved remnants from the 17th century  reign of Moulay Ismail. According to Hisham, this King was quite a personality. He had many wives and concubines, and is alleged to have fathered a total of 867 children, including 525 sons and 342 daughters. Due to a disappointment and rivalry with France's Louis XIV (after he was refused Louis' daighter's hand in marriage), he ensured that the buildings he had constructed were every bit as grand-- if not grander, than those of his rival. We visited the granaries, which held up to 50 years' worth of surplus grain,  the Royal Stables, which could hold up to 12,000 horses, and the Bab Mansour. gateway-- one of the finest and most notable in all of Morocco.

The walls were quite thick, to withstand any invading force, and replete with archways, which are considered a symbol of good luck.

Sadly, part of this site, as well as buildings in other parts of the country, were either destroyed or badly damaged during the Lisbon, Portugal Earthquake of 1755, which caused much destruction over a wide area. 
Then, Hisham took us for an unscheduled jog through the Meknes souk. There seemed to be an emphasis on sweets-- as attested to by the bees cuddling up to many of the confections. Except for said bees, very tempting!

There were also spice vendors with their mounds of exotic spices (much like what we saw in Istanbul), olive and date shops, and the butchers' area, but we were running behind schedule so we had to zip through at quite a fast pace.
Our anniversary celebration dinner was at MB (Maison Blanche) a nouvelle French restaurant with a chi-chi vibe in the New City area of Fes.   Ooh la, la! This restaurant also has locations in Paris and Casablanca and we highly recommend it the next time you are in one of those cities.  We started with luscious bread again; seriously, this has got to stop! Next, we received demitasse cups of a puréed zucchini soup. We weren't positive about that-- as our server could only speak a very rapid French and our translator can only understand the language when spoken at a medium pace. Regardless, the soup was delicieux!!  For our next course, we both chose pasta. I had delicate pillows stuffed with aubergine (which is eggplant, even though translated as aubergine) bathed in a duxelles de champignons (finely-chopped mushrooms) sauce and served under an umbrella of Parmesan foam. Those who have been following our blog for a few years know that we've sworn off foam; but making an exception here was well worth it.

Wayne had pasta pillows stuffed with langoustines and bathed in a light vodka sauce.

These actually tasted wayyyy better than they look in the pictures.

This course was delectable and , really, there was no need to continue.  But, we persevered. We both had fish for our main course. I had sea bass avec epices marocains et legumes. Our server warned me that the spices would be strong; they were and the preparation was fantastic.

Wayne had grilled St Pierre on a bed of black risotto and wild rice. Also quite tasty.

It being our anniversary, we had to have dessert and these were worth the calories. I had une tarte limon differente--our server explained this would be the best (and most unusual) lemon tart of my entire life. Obviously, he wasn't aware of our complete eating diary, but his description wasn't far off. The lemon tart was served in a cookie " tube" topped by meringue and garnished with lemon zest. Memorably fantastique!  

Wayne had a similarly configured pear tarte with salted caramel ice cream and salted caramel accent drizzle.

Once again, we rolled out of the restaurant and a very memorable 41st anniversary celebration.

Wednesday, Dec 23
This day was billed from the get-go as a driving day (our Sahara exploring and camping adventure is Thursday day and night and we have to drive across 8 hours of the kingdom to get there). We had multiple stops with different topography at each, ranging from Swiss alps terrain and a Swiss- type town (Ifrane, which, at over 3,500 ft elevation is usually snow-covered at this time of year)... cedar forests (complete with North African macaque apes)... the Ziz River (named for all the honey-producing bees who live here; we saw roadside stands where they were selling the honey in Coke bottles! No...we did not stop and buy any.), a tunnel built by the French during the Occupation, the Gorge Dades (the Grand Canyon of Morocco, which reminded us at times of the formations at Zion in Utah; the photo overlook where we stopped, combined with the position of the late-afternoon sun, does not really do justice to the vista).....

 ....and just as interesting and beautiful are the miles upon miles of date palms which run along the bottom of the canyon and provide much of the income for this region. That is why this is called "La Route du Mahjou"....

... and finally to our oasis for the night, the Kasbah Chergui in the town of Erfoud.

Thursday it's off to the desert, which is actually what the word "Sahara" means!, so saying "The Sahara Desert" is redundant) Our camp there, while advertised as luxurious, does not have electricity. So, you'll hear from us next on Friday night or Saturday.

Notes: We have learned two additional Arabic words: wacha (with the "ch" pronounced as in "kreplach"....but we know that won't help some of our readers), which means "OK". So Hisham will explain what we are supposed to do and then say "Wacha?", to which we all reply "Wacha!". The other is "yellah", which means "Let's go everybody!".   
An early Merry Christmas and love,


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