Sunday, November 19, 2017

Tangier

Tangier Boardwalk
I’ve spoken before about the importance of checking local holidays when traveling, so that you don’t get caught by surprise when something is closed at just the time you want it. And though I have had this happen to me multiple times, I still have yet to learn my lesson.

I’d planned only three excursions during my time in Tangier: the medina, the American Legation Museum and the Kasbah Museum. Since both museums are actually located inside the medina, I figured I’d hit them all in one day.

Exterior of closed Kasbah Museum 
Because I wanted to just wander around and explore the first day, then did laundry and dealt with logistics at the bus and train stations another day, and this, that and the other, etc., etc., I didn’t get around to the medina and museums until my last day…which just happened to be Moroccan Independence Day. sigh.

So, no Tangier culture in this post. Not even a lot about the medina, because I got a whiff of a claustrophobic attack and pretty much raced through it.

But those are actually just a small part of the city, anyway, and I still have quite a bit to share. Certainly a whole lot of photos. So if you’re still interested, just read on…

Tangier is a big sprawling city, and I stayed almost entirely near the coast. The furthest in that I went was the bus station, except for the ride in from the airport. So everything I’m talking about refers just to that area.

MEDINA

The narrow, twisting streets of the medina bothered me in a way the narrow, twisting streets in European cities don’t. Because they seem to go on forever, leading one from the other, and are even more narrow. There is often a feeling of the walls closing in on you – or at least on me.





Stumbling onto a larger square on the way to the Kasbah was a welcome relief, but it’s in the central part of the medina, so I was only halfway to my destination.




There are streets filled with shops, while others seem completely residential. The shops appear to sell Western clothing more than anything else – meaning non-African, not cowboy clothes. 







But there were also shops filled with more traditional offerings, and a lot of them looked like small caves filled with treasures.










Near the exit that I took, the streets widened a bit, and became much more pleasant.










Even elegant.

But all of the stairs just totally kicked my ass. They started before I actually got to an entrance of the medina, but the first set at least allowed me to get a glimpse of the sea.



By the time I was 2 minutes away from the Kasbah Museum, I was just shot. 









CONTRASTS

Tangier is such a city of contrasts. The architecture seems to be mostly slightly art deco or completely nondescript. 









Although a lot of buildings has some Arabic accents, I saw very few which were entirely in that mode.










A lot of it is just flat out butt ugly or grim. 




Caesar's Plaza - not Palace, Tangier
There are a lot of nicer buildings, but even the nicest ones aren't really outstanding. Or, maybe they are just dimmed by the surrounding mediocrity, it’s hard to tell.

Big groups of buildings seem to be white or cream. 



There wasn't the color or Moroccan touches found in and around the medina.








And even without bright colors, some of the residences near the medina were still nicer, and more the style you'd expect to find.

Unlike Arles, where the dilapidated buildings are actually somewhat charming, there is not the least bit of charm attached to these structures.





Even when there are obviously nice touches, like these balconies. 













And yet, somehow, the grimness of the buildings doesn’t manage to permeate the neighborhood. I don’t know if it was because I was out and about on a sunny day, but certainly the sunshine didn’t improve what anything looked like. 




The ugly architecture just seems to have no impact. People enjoy themselves just the same, and that is the vibe you get.



Maybe it has something to do with Tangier’s history. Once a lawless outpost, near enough to Europe to be convenient but without all the restrictions of a refined society, Tangier was a favorite vacation spot in the thirties – hence so much art deco influence. The city was just dangerous enough to make it exciting.

Now, after being allowed to fall into a decline for many decades after its heyday, the Moroccan government has realized Tangier’s proximity to Europe makes it a prime candidate for the country’s tourism efforts. So government dollars have been used to start sprucing up the place.







The only time I encountered anything that was even remotely third world was on my walk to the bus station, when I passed a canal that smelled distinctly of sewage.


More often, I'd come across crews working on the road, or buildings being renovated. The train station, for instance, is a gorgeous remnant of art deco. 





But it is being renovated, so I didn't get to experience its glory. 







So while the city still looks seedy enough to give you a little thrill of danger, it’s actually quite safe. I was venturing out at 8 and 9 o’clock at night from when I arrived, and families were still out all over the place. It reminded me of New York, I got the feeling that the city rarely slept. 

And judging from the noise outside my apartment every night until the wee hours, I don’t think that’s far off.


The city actually looks much better at night, in my opinion. 











But the only lawlessness I witnessed was rampant cheeky jaywalking. 

Seriously, pedestrians just freaking rule in this city. And thank God, because there is definitely a noticeable lack of traffic lights and cross walks. So people just walk right out into the middle of the street, holding their hands out to stop any oncoming traffic.

My first day, I waited to follow locals across the street. But by my second day, I was just wandering out there, weaving in between cars.

It did get a little scarier on the four lane streets, with a lot more traffic. On those, you’d just cross the first two lanes, then stand on the double middle lines until you could cross the next two. I only did this a couple of times, and it was a little nerve-wracking. But the thing is, the drivers aren’t zooming by. They are used to people standing in the middle of the street, and they take care.

And it’s not surprising, really, because the Moroccan people are lovely, so quick to smile, so helpful. I didn’t think I’d ever see a country with people as nice as I found in Mexico, but I even found myself liking the old guy hawking cheap jewelry so much that I didn’t even try to bargain with him. If there would’ve been a place conveniently close, I might have bought him a cup of coffee.

Or tea. There seemed to be far more tea salons than coffee shops. 

FOOD

There was so much international food around that I had a hard time finding traditional Moroccan eateries. At first I thought that anywhere offering pizza wouldn’t be authentic enough. But there was pizza just everywhere. I think it’s just a huge local favorite.



I found it strange that the two McDonald’s I came across were more elegant than most of the regular restaurants I saw.






Both day and night. 










Although I loved a place nearby where I stopped in for a tagine. Gorgeous art deco décor inside, and still ridiculously cheap prices. Entrée, dessert, drink and tip for under $10. Even less, when you get the price fixe. Much less when you go someplace less fancy.


The sight of huge help-yourself vats filled with pasta, spices and other dry foods stopped me in my tracks at the grocery store.






I don't know if the street market I came across was just on Saturdays, but it looked wonderful.










The buildings were nice enough above the ground floor, but street level was a mess. 







No one seemed to care, though, and it really didn't seem to matter much.








This wasn't far from the medina, and there was still plenty of color to be found. 

The food court at the mall could almost have been any mall in America. Burger King, Pizza Hut and KFC all represented.

But I doubt you can get a filling portion of baba ganoush for $2.50 at any mall in the US.











Still, some of the fast food places left me scratching my head. 














I was super surprised to see a taco joint, but as I focused on the sign to take a photo, my surprise turned to confusion. I had no time to go in and find out how tacos can be French food, and now it is going to drive me crazy.

I’m pretty sure I’ll be going back to Tangier.


CAMELS ON THE COAST

Tangier has the most fabulous boardwalk. It is absolutely enormous, wide and long.

The day I walked along it, the weather was far too cool and windy to be swimming, but there were people just hanging out on the beach.

The photo at the top of this page is of the beach, while the one at the top of this post is the boardwalk. There is a nice colorful playground in the middle of it, and elevators spaced at regular intervals for people to descend down to the beach.


There were both camels and ponies available to ride. I definitely have to ride a camel while I’m in Morocco, but that wasn’t the day for it.





The part of Tangier I experienced was almost completely unpolished. A lot of it was just downright ugly. There are beggars everywhere.

And yet...it's got something. It's not just that most of the people are so wonderful, though that's a big part of it. But places have an energy about them, and they're all different. Some you like, some you don't. I can't figure out what it is about Tangier, but I find it amusing and I've definitely got a soft spot for it.

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