Morocco’s Hollywood

Well, maybe more like Burbank?

Even when you live in a top tourist destination like Marrakech, it’s nice to get out and about and see something new. Back in  May, Mike and I needed to get out of town so we hopped a bus headed to Ouarzazate. I’ve since been told that taking a coach  to Ouarzazate is not the safest choice, and I have to agree. A good chunk of the trip involves driving through windy roads without guardrails through the Atlas Mountains. I spent a lot of time trying to evade motion sickness and not looking out the window. It was a long way down. So, should you embark on a trip to Ouarzazate, I highly recommend hiring a driver or driving yourself. Once in town, your own private mode of transport will be much appreciated as well. The fabled bus running between town and the studios (I’ll get to that in a minute) never materialized while we were there.

Another way to visit Ouarzazate is as part of a Sahara Desert excursion. Ouarzazate is known as the Door to the Desert so most desert excursions stop here on their way to the dunes. I believe these stops usually involve a meal, a walk around town, and quick museum stop. Some may also include a trip to a nearby kasbah. Mike and I felt like we’d had plenty of amazing desert experiences in Rub Al Khali, so we prioritized other experiences while in Morocco. I still feel ok with that choice, but I do sometimes wish we’d had an extra few days to sneak out there. (Most trips involve a 12 hour day in the car which also made the excursion less appealing. Plus, riding camels is something I refuse to do again.)

Ouarzazate, Morocco

Because we were not en route to the desert, Mike and I focused on Ouarzazate’s other nickname, the Hollywood of Morocco. Quite a few films have been shot here including Lawrence of Arabia, Babel, The Mummy, and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. There are two film studios in town and we elected to take a tour at the larger one: Atlas Studios. While it was fun to visit a film studio, the tour itself was a bit comical. Our guide was not too interested in his job. Although you’d expect to spend some time gawking at the sets, our guide was quick with the yallah-s. Spoken with his inflection, it definitely meant, “Hurry up!!!”

Ouarzazate, Morocco

Ouarzazate, Morocco

Ouarzazate, Morocco

Ouarzazate, Morocco

The commentary on the tour made us chuckle as well. It was a lot of:

Guide: Here, they filmed the English Patient.

Visitors: Really? Wow!

G: But not the famous movie, the tv show.

V: Oh…ok.

G: Here, they filmed Ben Hur.

V: Oooohhh…

G: But not the famous one. The 2010 Canadian mini-series.

V: …

Ouarzazate, Morocco

Ouarzazate, Morocco

There were also a few closed sets that were in use. When someone would ask what was filming there, the guide would reply, “Oh, some American movie.” as if we wouldn’t be interested. I’ll have to keep my eyes open over the next few years to see if I can spot any familiar scenes.

Ouarzazate, Morocco

Ouarzazate, Morocco

Ouarzazate, Morocco

Ouarzazate, Morocco

I had no idea before arriving in Morocco that it has such a strong relationship to Hollywood. While we were living there quite a few celebrities were nearby filming, including Nicole Kidman who reportedly looked into enrolling her children in my school. Also, one of my students had Tom Cruise’s people over scouting her house as a possible film location. I’ll have to actually watch the next Mission Impossible to see if it made the cut. In addition, one of the teachers at my school is also a well respected working actor in the Moroccan film industry. Exciting stuff.

xo, jill

The Endless Summer Road Trip

Our theme song. *

In early September, Mike and I took a week long road trip through Oregon and California. Highlights of the trip included: the redwoods, San Francisco, Big Sur, and Crater Lake. I decided to dust off my Fuji instax camera for the occasion. It’s been awhile! I brought it to Morocco but only used it a couple of times. At this point, all of my film is a few years old… which makes it even more exciting to watch the photos develop. You never know what the images will look like.

Not all of the photos turned out, but here are the ones that did:

Oregon/California Roadtrip
One lane covered bridge in Oregon

Oregon/California Roadtrip
Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

Oregon/California Roadtrip
Big Sur from Bixby Bridge

Oregon/California Roadtrip
On the beach in Big Sur

Oregon/California Roadtrip
Wizard Island and Crater Lake

It was fantastic way to bring summer to a close. Plus, I really do like showing off my pretty West Coast to my Ontario raised boyfriend.

xo, jill

*Ha, you know when you actually go read the lyrics then you’re like, “Wait, what??”

More Baby Kitties of Essaouira


Back in April, Mike and I boarded a bus with friends for another trip to Essaouira. It’s hard to stay away from that little seaside town. (This was my fourth and final visit.) We tried to do things a bit differently this time and stayed outside of the medina. Our hotel was newer and across the street from the beach. It was a much quieter hotel room but I still recommend a riad in the medina for a first visit.

Essaouira, MoroccoOur main mission was to help Ritchie show her cousin around which seemed to entail a lot of shopping. We also managed to squeeze in a nap on the beach, Thai food, and all the main sights. It was another lovely beachside weekend spent with friends.

Of course, being that we were in Essaouria, all of my photos ended up looking like this:

Essaouira, Morocco Essaouira, MoroccoPossibly my favorite cat photo ever.
Essaouira, Morocco

Essaouira, Morocco Essaouira, Morocco Jail Cat

Essaouira, Morocco Essaouira, MoroccoThis guy pretty much refused all my efforts to focus. Oh well.

The cats are cute but I do regret not getting any photos of our group!

xo, jill

PS My first Baby Kitties of Essaouira post is here!

Cordoba, Spain

Wrapping it up.

Once we reached Granada, I went to bed. I was feeling so tired and so sick. It’s hard to fight a cold while traveling because you never truly get to rest. Mike and his parents went out to explore while I took a deep restorative nap. Oh that nap. It felt like such a luxury. When I woke up I felt like I had finally turned a corner on the travel cold that would not quit. Dinner that night was at my favorite restaurant in Granada, Paprika. My mom and I had a meal there in October that I was still thinking about (apricot tofu with peanut sauce). It did not disappoint the second time around.

The next morning Mike and his parents visited Alhambra while I extending my rest time into the morning hours. I think the desk employee at our hostel was personally offended that I wasn’t visiting Alhambra as well. As much as I tried to explain, “I know! It’s amazing! I went in October and loved it! But I’m feeling really sick now…” he could not fathom why I’d sit out. (Alhambra post 1, post 2, and post 3.)

Because I had already been to Granada and wasn’t feeling well, I didn’t take any photos around the city. I was not an enthusiastic photographer on this trip. Thank you, travel cold. So let’s move on to the next stop… Cordoba.

Cordoba, Spain Cordoba, Spain Cordoba, Spain Cordoba, SpainWhen we arrived at our hostel, no one was home. Turns out, we were the only guests in the entire place. The manager was out and about doing whatever so it took us awhile to track him down. We stayed in the teeny tiniest room and avoided taking showers in the really stinky water. Hostels: you win some, you lose some.

Cordoba holds a special place in history having served as a former Roman capital, an Arab state capital, and a Caliphate. It was a pretty important place and still has the architecture to prove it. The biggest tourist attraction in Cordoba is the Mezquita. Originally built in 786 as a mosque, it was transformed into a church after the Christian Reconquista in 1236. It is definitely a must see for the region. Tip: There’s free entry between 8:30am – 9:20am for individual tourists but not groups.

Cordoba, Spain Cordoba, Spain Cordoba, Spain Cordoba, Spain Cordoba, SpainOther than visit the Mezquita, we mainly walked the alleyways and popped into bars and cafes to avoid the rain. In a town this pretty, just taking in the buildings around you is enough.

Cordoba, Spain Cordoba, Spain Cordoba, SpainAfter our brief stay in Cordoba, we headed over to Seville, our last stop. Again, because I had previously visited and wasn’t feeling well, I didn’t take any photos. (Seville post 1, post 2, and post 3). The most memorable part of this visit was experiencing the thrill of foiling a pickpocket. I suddenly had a funny feeling in my stomach and turned around to check on Mike’s mom. A woman posing as a tourist with a map out had walked up behind her. The pickpocket had folded her map over Linda’s backpack and was unzipping it under the privacy of the map. When I called out to her the pickpocket backed off and pretended to read a poster, but Linda’s backpack was completely unzipped and hanging open. Luckily, there was nothing more than a jacket inside. Lesson learned! Be alert for fake tourists using their maps to rob you!

Early the next morning Mike and I flew back to Marrakech (not so) ready to begin the spring term.

xo, jill

***Big thanks to Mike’s parents for all their generosity on this trip.

Ronda, Spain

Help me, Ronda!*

After leaving Portugal, we headed over for one night in Cadiz. I wasn’t feeling great and didn’t manage to take any photos. It was a nice city, but no match for my cold. Maybe next time?

The next day we continued on our way to Granada. Along the way Mike suggested we stop in the little town of Ronda. I’m glad he did. I had zero expectations and was very pleasantly surprised. It might have been one of my favorite stops the entire trip. If I could do it again, I would skip Cadiz and stay overnight in Ronda. (But that could be the head cold talking…)

Rhonda, Spain Rhonda, SpainOne of the main draws to Ronda is the bridge situation. My photographs don’t do it justice so you really need to click this link. That’s the Puente Nuevo, completed in 1791. There’s no way this acrophobe could ever work on a project like that. Just looking at it was enough to make me feel woozy.

Rhonda, Spain Rhonda, Spain Rhonda, Spain Rhonda, Spain Rhonda, SpainPop culture is another reason why tourists are drawn to Ronda. Heavyweights like Hemingway, Welles, and Rilke all spent a significant amount of time in the town.

Rhonda, Spain Rhonda, Spain Rhonda, SpainPersonally, I was most interested in the Museo Lara but time prevented us from visiting. The museum consists of the private collection of Juan Antonio Lara Jurado. He began collecting at age 10 and carries on today… in his 70s. Apparently, he collects basically everything one could possibly collect and keeps expanding the museum part of his mansion and shrinking his personal living quarters. I need to witness this devotion. If you are ever in Ronda, please visit this museum for me. I need a full report. (Really.)

Rhonda, Spain Rhonda, SpainOnce back in the car, we continued on the road to Granada.

xo, jill

* Sorry, couldn’t stop myself!

Lagos, Portugal

A quiet off-season.

After four nights in Lisbon, we piled in the car and drove down to oceanside Lagos in the Algarve. On a previous trip, Mike traveled solo through the Algarve and was eager to experience it again. When we arrived, it was easy to see why Mike enjoyed the region so much. It’s gorgeous.
Lagos, Portugal Lagos, Portugal
Mike’s parents were able to snag us a great deal on ocean view rooms. It’s never a bad morning when you wake up to this view:
Lagos, PortugalWe headed into town in search of dinner. Because it was the off-season (early spring), many of the bars and restaurants were closed down. We enjoyed a quiet meal and then headed towards the water. It was too chilly to take a swim (even for Mike!), so we walked along the cliffside path back towards our hotel. We ended up losing the race with the sun and walked the remaining mile or so in the dark.

Lagos, Portugal Lagos, Portugal Lagos, Portugal Lagos, Portugal Lagos, Portugal Lagos, Portugal Lagos, Portugal Lagos, Portugal Lagos, Portugal Lagos, PortugalThe cliffs and grottos of Lagos reminded me so much of the Great Ocean Road in Australia. Boat rides along the rocks are offered for about 10 euros. Mike took a tour on his previous trip and I really wish we could have done one too. Unfortunately, the prospect of being splashed with cold ocean water was absolutely not appealing. Maybe next time.

xo, jill

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