Exploring the Blue City

Before coming to Morocco, I had a handful of places that I promised myself I would visit. Chefchaouen, or the Blue City, was near the top of that list. In the 1930s, the jewish community that lived here painted the city blue as an ode to the ancient holy city of Safed where the same was done.

I was told that the blue of the city would be soothing to my soul. They were right. The gorgeous shades of blue makes it feel like you’re exploring an underwater city… almost like Atlantis.

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Similar to Fez, the Old Medina here was maze-like. We arrived at our hotel in the evening, so we hit the city to soak up as much of the sunlight that was left as possible. We walked entirely through the medina, then doubled around to find a great place for dinner. On the way back through, I stopped and bought some new postcards to send out — I am old fashioned in that sense.

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The medina was decently crowed while we were there. It isn’t as busy as Fez or Marrakech, but you can still buy the same quality of goods, maybe just a little less in stock.

We were close to Spain, so a lot of the merchants and tourists spoke Spanish. Fear not Frenchies, I still used primarily French while here. Pas de problème. A lot of the exchange students with me were excited to finally be able to brush up on some of their Spanish. I, however, found that the dialect here was really difficult to understand. I did test out my skills some, but didn’t get very far. The best that I could get was understanding directions given to me in Spanish — I didn’t ask in Spanish, the merchant just switched mid sentence.

That brings me to another fascinating point about studying outside of the US. At my university here, all students must be fluent in Arabic, Spanish and French to meet their graduation requirements. Maybe this is one of the reasons that I love it so much here. We could be talking in French then switch to Arabic and English all in the same sentence. Of course, I still get lost when the Arabic comes in, but I am never too far from the general idea. While going abroad, or choosing a destination to study, don’t let a language barrier affect your decision too much. You’ll learn quick.

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Some more advice: step out of your comfort zone with the food. Try whatever is local! Here we stopped at a little place in the medina to try a sweet and a salty food known for being from this area. The sweet treat was delicious. I really can’t explain it though. I know for a fact it had rose water in it — which I absolutely love. It was soft and sticky, but definitely hit the sweet tooth. The salty treat was… kinda slimy and tasted for some reason strangely familiar. It had a hard top and bottom, but the middle layer was the slimy part. It wasn’t my favorite, but I was happy that I tried it.

At dinner that night, we found a place that had a special going on. One soup, one main dish (tajine or couscous) and one desert with a glass of mint tea for 45DHS. That’s $4.50 USD. I had the fish soup and fish tajine. A tajine is a very delicious meal in Morocco made in a clay pot. It is usually some sort of meat cooked with tomatoes or other vegetables with an egg in the middle. It is served in the clay pot it was cooked in and always comes to your table still bubbling. You can, of course, get the vegetarian one.

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After dinner, I got the name of our hotel, and set off to explore on my own. There is a beauty in walking solo through a new place, a place you don’t know too well and taking in everything that you can. I walked back through the blue maze and made sure to take in all of its beauty. It’s almost overwhelming — but in a good way! We normally associate blue with sadness, but the blue of Chefchaouen has a much different effect. It’s calming. Peaceful.

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For my last piece of advice while staying in Chefchaouen, find the highest point of the city, take a cup of coffee and let the city wash over you. For me, it was the roof of our hotel. I took this picture the morning we were leaving at about 8:30 am. I was the only person on the roof and the sun still rising in the sky was gorgeous. From one side of the roof, you can see the entire city nestled into the valley. On the other side, you can lose yourself in the wonder of Le Rif Mountains. You can also get a great view from a rooftop restaurant. Some friends said it was reasonably priced, and well worth it.

Find your high spot. Drink some mint tea or coffee. Make the memories you came to make.

With much love,

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