Discover Annaba and Constantine

…and there we were: in Algeria! I love the thrill of being in a country of which you know nothing, you have no idea what to expect and you’ve never met anyone who has ever been there. For me, this was the case with Algeria. For more info on the border crossing, read my other blog on Algeria.

Algeria is stunning. The landscapes are beautiful, the weather was great (late April and about 25-30C) and people were friendly and the streets were clean.

Annaba

Annaba (pronounce as Annaaaabaa) is about 3 hours from the Tunisian border. It’s a sea town that has a cooling sea breeze and therefore quite relaxed. My travel book described it as a ‘laid back’ city. Not sure I would describe it like this, but it’s for sure a city that has village-vibes. We stayed in the stunning hotel El Mountazah. This hotel is built in Seraidi, a small village in the hills above Annaba. If you have a chance, stay here! You’ll have beautiful sunsets over the bay, the hills and Annaba. Though at the time we were here (April 2017), they were about to close the hotel for renovations.

DSCN0021

 

There’s a funicular going up from Annaba. From the funicular in Seraidi it’s about a 10 minute walk to the hotel. In those 10 minutes you’ll have seen the entire village.

20170423_113726

When we arrived in the hotel, we were exhausted after a long day of travelling, and the hassle at the border. All we needed was a shower and food. But the receptionist thought differently about this. Even though she was super friendly and tried to make it as comfortable as possible for us, there was no way an unmarried couple can stay in the same room. ‘But madam, we are married’. Well, not without a marriage certificate (does anyone ever take that on holidays?) We could’ve known this in such a conservative country, and for our next trip I’ll fake a beautiful marriage certificate in a language that no one can read. There was no way to get around this, no matter how beautiful we made the story (married for 1,5 years in a beautiful castle far far away and if it helps the story, we’ll fake being pregnant as well. Good excuse for eating a lot). Apparently it’s the law in Algeria, though we didn’t hear about this in the next hotel. So the solution was that we paid for 2 rooms and the consequence was that we only stayed in this beautiful hotel for 1 night.

 

Anyway, after the shower I’d longed for all day, some chill-time at our balcony watching the sunset, it was time for food! For a vegetarian, the Northern-African countries (frankly, most countries) are a bit of a challenge. It’s all meat! So, eventually we found a lovely pizzeria at the town’s square. The owner, ready in his purple sweatpants and on Nikes, prepared us a delicious pizza (no other customers so it was ready in no time) which we finished in the blink of an eye. All we needed now was sleep!

DSCN0038

The next morning we went to the Basilica of Saint Augustine. What a gem! Ok, to be honest, we didn’t go in the basilica. It’s on a hilltop so we had a pretty good looks from the Ruins of Hippone; the ‘old’ basilica. The Basilica of Saint Augustine was in my book described as the modern version of the Sacre Coeur in Paris. We’d visited that a few months ago, and if you close your eyes you might see the comparison ;). Even though I didn’t see it, it’s still stunning!

We left our bags with the security at the entrance and took our time to explore the ruins, which are surprisingly well preserved. The security guard knew a lot about this place! And showed us around, just because he liked it, not to earn some extra money.

After our private tour, we went to the taxi station (within walking distance from the ruins) and took a shared taxi to Constantine, which was about 3 hours.

Constantine

DSCN0052

Look at this picture: fascinating how they built an entire city on a cliff, high above the Rhumel gorge, isn’t it? In Constantine they did, which results in spectacular views and sunsets. It’s also referred to as ‘city of bridges’.

Constantine is the perfect city for a stroll (when it’s not burning hot). IMG_7034Walk around the city center and you’ll always have spectacular views. Ok, I have to admit; it took us quite a while to understand the city. All these bridges can be quite confusing as well. We took as a reference point the Sidi M’Cid Bridge. Especially at night it’s quite easy to recognize this bridge, since it turns into a disco-bridge.

When you cross the Sidi M’Cid bridge, you’ll reach another lovely district of the city. This is also the area with the hospital. Really interesting to see all these ambulances having to cross the bridge (and being heavily slowed down). Go left and climb up towards the Monument of the Dead for breathtaking views. A monument that was built by the French to remember the people that died in WWI. My guide book warned me that it might be dangerous (ok, to be honest I only read that after visiting) but I guess this got a lot better over the years. There’s a lot of police around, but seems quite safe.

DSCN0041

When you walk down and a bit past the bridge, you will find the funicular that can take you down to the medina again. Always nice to do! The only downside is that the altitude is quite high, and so we were exhausted all the time. We therefore spend a lot of time near the bridge, but didn’t explore the entire city thoroughly (though I have the feeling that we have quite a good impression now).

Just 1 must do in this city: watch sunset over the Sidi M’Cid bridge. Stunning! We spent quite a while here, but hardly anyone seemed to do it. Bring some food and just sit and absorb the spectacular views.

IMG_7054

Speaking of which: for food in Constantine there’s only one recommendation; go to Tiddis. Haha, almost every restaurant carries this name! There are a few good ones at the end of the Av. Achour Rachmani. I would recommend trying the ‘briks’.

After you’ve filled your belly, you might want to go for a drink. Well, not in Algeria. Constantine is a young town, with a large university. But this isn’t reflected in nightlife. Not much is happening here after 9pm. Though the times that we were out on the streets in the dark, we didn’t feel unsafe. If you’re craving for a drink, you can go to the hotels on the Place de la Pyramide, though it won’t be cheap. Note that you the market is here as well; right under the Place de la Pyramide. Always good to buy some fruits (and to be honest, I love markets).

In Constantine, we stayed at Hotel des princes; a really nice hotel in the city center. Not the cheapest, but worth the money.

 

For us, this was our trip to Algeria for now. We took a taxi back to Tunis after a few days. You can read more about the border crossing in my other blogs.

 

 

 

Itinerary, tips and tricks for Morocco

I received so many question about what to do in Morocco, that I figured I might as well write it all down.

 

Morocco has become a real tourist-destination with Ryanair flights from Europe for about €50. I went to Morocco alone, as a female solo backpacker, and to be honest, it´s certainly do-able, but not ideal. You’ll attract a lot of attention from men, which costs much energy. I guess whether you like Morocco depends on how well you can deal with this attention. It sounds negative, but I certainly enjoyed Morocco. So no worries, as soon as you know how to deal with all the attention, Morocco is very much worth a visit! So, what to do?

 

Most people start either in Fes (north) or in Marrakech (south), but everyone makes kind of the same loop. I started in Marrakech, slightly hesitant with many warnings from others in the back of my head. I’d heard many negative stories about this city, but to be honest, I loved it! The bustle, street vendors, snake charmers… I only had a few days in the city, but could easily have spent a week here. 140

 

In Marrakech you can organise a trip to the desert. I generally don’t like doing tours, but for the desert in Morocco, it’s much cheaper to organise it in Marrakech. It’s quite a way to get to the villages bordering the desert, so everyone knows that if you show up there, you want to get into the desert, and will therefore charge you much more. 279I went to Merzouga. I can’t recall the name of the company, but you can easily organise this in your hostel in Marrakech, they all offer kind of the same trip.

 

After the desert and crowded city, I felt like I needed some relaxation. The ultimate place to do this, is Essaouira. If you have more than 3 weeks in Morocco, you could consider going all the way down to Agadir, but if you don’t have that much time, don’t go further south than Essaouira.

Essaouira is a super relaxed town where you just stroll down the beach,

388
No matter where you are in Essaouira, as soon as the sun starts to set, you should climb up a high building and watch a spectacular sunset.

go (kite)surfing, eat fish and go for a drink (one of the few places in Morocco where this is ok). Just relax, catch some breath and surf! As with every surfer town, there are surfer-wannabees, looking for western girls. Be aware of this and don’t fall for their tricks! If a guy lets you pay for all the drinks, you should know that something’s wrong.

 

 

With pain in my heart I left Essaouira for a horrible, yet actually really funny bus ride to Fes. The only way to get here (at that time, low season) was by taking a night bus. The trip was supposed to take about 8 hours, but in reality took 13 hours. With someone emptying her stomach for the first 8 hours, I wasn’t very happy in this bus. Yet the guy sitting next to me was really nice. It almost resulted in a love story that would be worth a movie, almost.

Fes…. I didn’t like Fes. To be honest, this was probably because I felt ill and my hostel wasn’t great, because I met many people who absolutely loved Fes. Fes is a bit similar to Marrakech, as it’s one of the ‘imperial cities’ (Marrakech, Fes, Meknes and Rabat).

396
The walls surrounding the medina in Fes. 

 

I spent 2 days in Fes to recover, yet as soon as I felt better, I went to Meknes. This is the city that most tourists skip, but that’s a mistake. I would even call it the often forgotten imperial city. It has the same old structure as the other cities, with city walls, an old medina and a palace, yet it doesn’t have the same amount of tourists. This was the city where I also realized that my French was really bad. In the cities I visited before, most people were used to tourists and spoke English. I was looking for the more ‘untouched’ Morocco, but the price was that English was kind of not existent. 416. IMG_0296What to do in Meknes? Just wander around in the souk, go to the palace and eat lots of ice creams.

 

From Meknes you can do day trips to Volubilis and Moulay Idriss. You can do an expensive trip organised by your hostel, but you an also just take the local bus for about 1/10th of the price. Moulay Idriss doesn’t have much to offer, but since you’re in the neighborhood anyway, I would quickly walk in and out if I were you. You can go to the holy shrine, but they won’t let you enter, unless you’re Muslim.

Someone told me you can easily walk from Moulay Idriss to Volubilis. Yes, you can, but keep in mind that it’s not really comfortable when it’s about 40C. I started walking, but halfway realized that I didn’t like it and started hitchhiking (I wouldn’t recommend this in Morocco as a female girl travelling solo, unless you really know what you’re doing).

Volubilis is breath taking if you like ruins. It’s big and relatively well-preserved and doesn’t have many visiters. There’s no bus to Volubilis, so you have to go back to the roundabout near Moulay Idriss (again, you can walk the few kilometers, I hitchhiked).

446
The ruins of Volubilis

From Meknes, I went back to Fes and then to Chefchaouen (there’s no connection between Meknes and Chefchaouen).

 

Chefchaouen: What to say about this little town…. It’s the place every tourist and backpacker goes to… And even though I generally don’t like these hubs, Chefchaouen is too cute to skip. It’s the place where everyone smokes weed, though even if you’re not so much into this, it’s a super relaxed place. Go to the local hammam, hike into the mountains, just stroll down the streets again and again and relax with fellow travellers on the roof top terrace of your hostel.

460
Adorable blue streets in Chefchaouen.

Chefchaouen is so charming because the entire city is painted blue. The story goes that ‘back in the days’, every house-owner painted his properties in 1 color. There was either a really really wealthy man that chose blue as his color, or someone told me a bullshit story. You might want to verify this 😉

 

 

 

From Chefchaouen I took the bus to Rabat. Rabat was the surprise of my trip. Everyone had recommended me to skip Rabat, since they said there was nothing to do.
Yet, when you tell me to skip a specific place, I go there. That’s just how I travel. Which resulted in 1 big surprise! Indeed, Rabat isn’t spectacular, though it has enough to offer.

I only had one afternoon in Rabat. In one afternoon you can try to cover as much of the touristic sites and you can, but I decided to go surfing instead.

539
Rabat’s kasbah

In front of the kasbah, you will find many surfers waiting for a good wave. Even though I’m not a good surfer, they gave me a board and told me they would come and check if I was still alive in a few hours. Loved it! And what’s nicer than waiting on your board for a good wave with a beautiful old kasbah at the background.

 

 

Rabat is a good destination to spend your last night before you go to the airport in Casablanca.

 

Hostels:

Hostels in Morocco are super cheap. If you want to travel even cheaper, bring a sleeping bag and ask if you can sleep on the roof top terrace. They’re likely to let you stay there fore about half of the price, plus, in the summer this is the only place where it’s still comfortable.

 

Marrakech: Riad Dia. Friendly atmosphere, cool staff and if you’re lucky, even free dinner with music! Right next to Jemaa el-Fnaa, the central square.

Essaouira: I stayed at Surf & Chill, which really made my stay! Though the always friendly Wadie, who works there, recently started his own hostel (Surf Mellow). I haven’t been here yet, but I can’t imagine Wadie disappointing you.

Fes: Riad Verus. I didn’t like the vibe in this hostel, and it isn’t cheap. Though it’s clean.

Meknes: I couldn’t find a hostel in Meknes. I stayed in a riad where I heavily negotiated the price, though it was still expensive. Can’t remember the name, but it was one of the many riads in the old souk.

Chefchaouen: Hostel Souika. Thé place where every traveller stays.

Rabat: Auberge de la Jeunesse. A bit poor, but good enough for 1 night.

 

 

Transportation:

  • Marrakech – Essaouira: 3 hours by bus (but book in advance, I just went to the busstation and had to wait for 3 hours before I could board a bus).
  • Essaouira – Fes: 13 hours, overnight. There was only 1 bus I could take, a night bus. It’s not ideal, but the guy next to me was awesome, and even though we had a major language problem, we had great fun. He made my trip.
  • Fes – Meknes: take the train! Comfortable, and a new way of transportation is always fun. It’s about half an hour when there’s no disruption, but the train station is quite far from the city center in Fes.

    456
    Even when your French is not great, you understand ‘retard 1h10min’.
  • Fes – Chefchaouen: About 5 hours by bus.
  • Chefchaouen – Rabat: About 2 or 3 hours by bus.
  • Rabat – Airport Casablanca: Take the train. It took me looooong due to disruptions, but would generally not take you longer than 1,5 – 2 hours.

 

Dress code:

Morocco is an Islamic country, but got used to tourists. This means that you won’t have to be fully covered when going there. Though, you’re making it a lot easier for yourself if you cover your shoulders and legs as a female traveller.

 

Warnings:

I guess Morocco doesn’t really need warnings. You’ll just figure out how it works. Sometimes it might make you grumpy, but what can you do? Everyone tries to earn something from the tourist boom. One thing that will happen frequently is getting lost in the narrow lanes in the old medina (everything looks the same!). For someone like me with zero sense of direction; don’t even try to find your way. There are plenty of kids on the street, willing to bring you to your hostel for some money (they’ll even do this without asking, but still expect money). They’re adorable and don’t really speak English, until your in front of your hostel. Then they’re suddenly fluent in English and curse you with words you wouldn’t even use. Don’t pay more when they’re doing this, because then you’re ruining it for other tourists.

‘If you ever make it back alive….’

One of my friends told me that she would love to hear my stories, if I would make it back alive. Well, I guess I did! I got home safe and sound about two weeks ago. So this will really be my final blog (ok, you can’t change  a person that much, it will be my final blog for a while. Being at home for two weeks without having bought any new flights is a weird feeling!).

 

I started my blogs to challenge the perceptions we have about the Middle East. It was never the question ‘if’ I would make it back home. I never doubted about my security. I’ve traveled to quite a few places, but the Middle East is one of the safest areas I’ve traveled to, which sounds weird for a region where there are wars and bombs.

DSCN1127IMG_4586
The Middle East is the region with ‘hospitality teas’ on every street corner.

Before I left for my trip, I often didn’t even mention I was going to Iran, because it led to so many negative comments. Yet, especially Iran, the country people thought I wouldn’t survive, was the safest country I traveled to. As a solo backpacking woman, you don’t have to run for your life, or fight to keep men at a distance. I’ve been perfectly safe and instead made so many friends.

 

Instead of traveling to a ‘super dangerous’ region, I experienced a region where hospitality is taken to a whole new level. What really made my trip different than previous trips, is the people I met. So often I was received as a long lost daughter or dear friend. The people I met on the way, all of them, did everything within their power to make my trip as comfortable as possible. I’m struggle to find the good words to describe how loving and caring everyone has been to be. Daily, people were willing to share everything they had. A blackberry phone that I got, or when they gave me the keys of a mini cooper that I could use for the day (I didn’t do this, was too scared to crash it), and even entire houses (even though the owner was sometimes not even at home. I often got the message ‘you can find the key under the rock next to the door’), free paragliding trips… Pretty awesome!

DCIM237GOPRO
And sometimes, you just wake up in paradise and realize that your trip is pretty awesome!

Yes, there are wars in this region. And bombs. I’ve had to change my itinerary a few times for security reasons. And to be honest, I’ve been lucky, sometimes appearing at places just before or just after attacks. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t survive a trip to the Middle East (it was partly my own choice to search the boundaries of what was still safe).

There are a few countries I wouldn’t recommend going to now, which is exactly the countries we’re receiving refugees from.

IMG_2374I can’t help but think about what we’re doing right now with the refugee crisis. I know it’s way too simplistic to just welcome everyone. Of course, there are solutions at different levels, and I’m leaving it to professionals to find long term solutions. But what I realized was that if people can be so welcoming and truly made me feel at home, are we doing the same? (me included, I’m not pointing fingers at anyone). In the whole debate about refugees, I sometimes miss common humanity. The majority of the people are amazingly loving people who make sure you’re having the best time of your life. There is a saying here that can be translated as something like ‘if you do good, Allah will be good to you’. This is exactly how I experienced travelling in this region. People went way beyond ‘doing good’.