Monthly Archives: June 2015

France revisited

The first few days after I was back in France I had to deal with the Dutch Tax Office. They had assumed I had emigrated and wanted me to fill out a form of mythical length. To avoid a Kafkaesque struggle with bureaucracy I asked for adjournment which I hope they will grant me. Meanwhile I will try to convince them I haven’t emigrated.

Cyclists, beware of the water...

Cyclists, beware of the water…

From Sete I headed in an Easterly direction which brought me to the French Riviera.

In Morocco, people tried all different scams to get money out of you. Here on the French Riviera they have different means: they just write silly numbers on price tags.

For lunch it was back to baguettes again. A baguette is a  kind of bread that seems to consist of crumbs glued together and that instantly falls apart as soon as you take a bite of it. To avoid this, I put huge amounts of pâté on it to make it stick together.

This is what I look like when I've done hard work...

This is what I look like when I’ve done hard work…

Cycling through this part of France gave me the chance to see a countryside that inspired so many great painters. In Arles there was the Yellow House, where Vincent van Gogh lived. It was destroyed during some war. This I didn’t know, so I asked at the Tourist Information where it was. It was destroyed during the war, the girl told me with the kind of French accent that makes you want to vacate any building you are in as soon as possible. In the museum I visited, were some sketches of Van Gogh, some of them looked awkward. None of his paintings remain in Arles.

Not far from Aix-en-Provence I cycled along the Mont Saint-Victoire which was immortalized in a series of paintings by Paul Cézanne and a photo that I took:



My route took me through a village called Pourrières. The etymology of this name is interesting: in 102 BC, a Roman army defeated migrating Teutonic and Ambronic tribes, who came from the North and were accidentally heading to Northern Italy. They didn’t have GPS or Google Maps at the time. According to Plutarch, a hundred thousand were massacred. Many mothers killed their babies and committed suicde thereafter. The fearsome smell of the putrifying bodies earned the battlefield the name campi putridi. Hence the name Pourrières.

Cagnes-sur-Mer was the place where Auguste Renoir spent the last years of his life. Unfortunately, the museum dedicated to him was closed on the day I visited.



To Fez and back

From the blue city I took a bus to Fez which has the biggest medina in the world, though technically, that means the biggest medina of North Africa. New York doesn’t have a medina, nor does Tokyo…

Walking through a big medina is not fundamentally different from walking through a smaller one. It only takes some more time to find your way out once you got lost. Like Tangier, the city is infested with hustlers, touts and illicit guides.

The dentist

The dentist

Merinid tombs at Fez

Merinid tombs at Fez

As the photograph above illustrates, I also visited the Merinid tombs, but I am not sure who the Merenids were. The tombs were big and old.

After a few days in Fez I took the train back to Tangier. Thanks to the low prices I could indulge in a little luxury, and so I got a petit-taxi to the train station and once there, decided to splurge on a first class ticket. While I was waiting, I drank some fresh orange juice (only 4 dirhams) and bought some muffins for the journey. It was a very pleasant day.

Looking out of the window of my air conditioned compartment and comtemplating my experiences in Morocco, I had to come to the conclusion that the country was much less developed than I had expected. Possibly due to the fact that it is so close to Europe, it is hard to imagine how different it is from Western Europe.
Things I like about Morocco: eating Tajines and…. well, I am sure I could come up with some more things if I’d really try.

From Tangier I took the boat back to France. Unfortunately, the boat would leave from Tanger Med, the new harbour, 45 kilometers from Tangier. I decided to cycle along the coastal road, but when I got up that morning it was raining.
Just my luck… Fortunately it stopped raining around noon which gave me ample time to get to the harbour in time. Since I hadn’t done any cycling for several weeks, it was pretty hard work in the midday sun.

The ferry

Starboard side of the ship. Or Port side. I don’t know…

The ferry was an Italian boat (it was operated by Grandi Navi Veloci) and I shared a cabin with two elderly Moroccans. The key of the cabin was a little card that in true Italian fashion stopped working after using it twice. At the reception desk they shrugged and gave me a normal key, the sort of key that always works.

Food and drink in the ship’s cafetaria and restaurant was surpisingly affordable, so I dined in style and had many a cup of coffee while strolling around the promenade deck.

During the night one of the Moroccans flipped on the light and rolled out his prayer rug. It was a good moment to exercise my religious tolerance.

The journey was the longest I have ever done by boat: 36 hours. Halfway the next day I checked our position with my GPS and it seemed we were much delayed.
That night we must have increased our speed considerably, because at seven o’clock the next morning we were mooring in Sète.

'Fantastic' is a good name for a ferry.

‘Fantastic’ is a good name for a ferry, I think.

In the Rif mountains

In Tangier I left my bicycle behind and took a bus to Chefchaouen.

This village is painted blue and exploring its Medina is not unlike walking through an empty swimming pool. This traditional blue seems to have to do wtih the former Jewish population who favoured this colour as a sign of God’s presence in the sky above. Some people say the blue colour repels mosquitos. That may be so, but it certainly attracts a lot of tourists.

Blue street

Blue street

Together with some people I met, I walk up the Spanish mosque across a scenic bridge that spans a river spilling out of the mountain and from here we watch the women washing carpets in the running water. At the top I enjoy the view while some people buy hash and others hunt for goats.

One day I do the walk to the waterfall. In one of the old Mercedeses which serve as so called Grand Taxis. We agreed on 300 dirhams return for the five of us. On the way up we lost the track several times ending up jumping over stones and wriggling through bushes. The waterfall would be nice if it wasn’t for the locals who make a lot of noise and leave piles of rubbish…


Waterfall Chefchaouen

Another day I do the walk to God’s bridge. After taking a taxi to Arkouch, we split up in two groups. While we walk we see kif or marihuana fields at the side of the road. After that we meet the others who somehow completely failed to find the valley in which the waterfalls are situated. It’s a comfort to me to see other people getting lost. We cross God’s Bridge, a natural structure, and decide to descend on the other side to the river below. This proves a hazardous excercise and after several hairy passages, it seems clear that climbing back to the top is out of the question. The last bit, however, is dangerous and involves free style rock climbing. Some five metres above the swirling waters I lose the grip on the rock with my useless sandals and cling with my hands to the rock for dear life, helped by a hand from my French neighbour who steadies me in my perilous position by which he may have very well saved my life. After taking a few deep breaths I find the footholds again and pumped with adrenaline I reach the other side. My knees grazed, but nothing more serious.

On my last day in Chefchaouen I ventured in the mountains that overlook the town and followed a jeep track that seemed to go up in an endless number of switchbacks. An Englishman I met before had explained to me how to get on a path to the top from the jeep track, but at the high passI couldn’t find the right track and after pottering around some goat paths I decided to return. But not before I had enjoyed the deep silence among the looming pine trees.

Gravity defying rock

Gravity defying rock


The medina of Tangier is a sanitised one; no goats, no open sewers, only a few beggars and something I haven’t seen before in medinas throughout the Middle East: street names. This makes navigating a lot easier and, together with signs pointing out interesting places, makes it hard for faux guides to sell their services. Not that they don’t try: Kasbah this way, sir! 

In the Medina I saw a lot of scrawny cats. At some point I stopped somewhere, trying to photograph a sleeping kitten curled up in a corner, but I hesitated as I wasn’t sure if it wasn’t actually dead.


Tangier Medina

Among the audible routine of the everyday life in a moslim country is the call for prayer. Five times a day the muezzin taps the microphone, clears his throat and starts hollering. It seems a boring job and I don’t understand why they keep repeating the same message because nobody really listens to hear what’s new this time, as there’s nothing new since the 8th century. The first prayer of the day, or dawn prayer, is usually in the middle of the night and includes the debatable phrase: Prayer is better than sleep.

One day I cycled to the Atlantic Coast to  the Caves of Hercules. The caves were closed so I sat down on the grass at the side of the road. I was just getting out some bread and fruit when a guard told me to leave the grass because it belonged to a palace of the  king. The king was not actually in this palace, but apparently he didn’t like people sitting on his grass, even if the grass was outside the palace walls, and he himself wasn’t even anywhere near the palace. I could, however, sit on the grass on the other side of the road. On a rock. In the blistering sun.

Traffic around Tangier was appalling.

Tangier is famously the city of the traveller Ibn Battuta who was born here.

The tomb of Ibn Battuta was easily found as it was just around the corner of my guesthouse. While not as well known in the Western world as his famous contemporary, Marco Polo, he was arguably more widely travelled than his Venetian counterpart. You might have heard of him as a crater on the moon is named after him.

Ibn Battuta's tomb

Ibn Battuta’s tomb

The sign on the tomb doesn’t explicitly say it’s the grave of the famous explorer, but rather a memorial and I don’t believe there is any evidence that it is his actual final resting place. A little below it, is a little tap serving water to the neighbourhood, which is only useful information if you’re thirsty.

Like Marco Polo, his travels are not without controversy. When I travelled in Egypt I first stumbled on his journal and was surprised to find out that Ibn Battuta described the pyramids as being conical in shape. This is even more remarkable given the fact that Ibn Batutta visited Cairo no less than five times…

One of the reasons Ibn Battuta is revered in the Arabic speaking world is his religious fervour. The great traveller was a Judge by profession and he wrote with pious condemnation about the customs of the lands he travelled through, that is, if they were not in agreement with his religion. This didn’t stop him from marrying with a great many women during his exploits as he did for example during his visit to the Maldives where he married no fewer than four women. According to Battuta this was normal practice for crews of ships calling on these islands, only to divorce them when they left again. Nothing wrong with that. Says Ibn Battuta.