Suitcase and World: Jackie Chan goes to ruins. Volubilis.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Jackie Chan goes to ruins. Volubilis.

I woke to the sound of my alarm going off at 7:15a. No one had gone into the shower yet so I decided to be the first and enjoy warm water in case it ran out. I was dressed and downstairs by 8:00a. We had agreed to leave the house at 8:30a and were pretty much out the door then.

The first night that we were in Fez, Ahmed told us that the medina would be closed for a good part of the day as today is Friday. So we decided to do the day trip to Meknes and Volubilis today. No point staying in Fez when everything is closed.

"Off to catch the train " The plan was to walk up to Bab Boujloud and catch either two Petit Taxis or a Grande Taxi to the train station where we would get tickets for Meknes.

Fez medina in the early morning is peacefully quiet.  For me it was a enjoyable walk up to Bab Boujloud.

Outside Bab Boujloud, there were a couple of Petit Taxis standing at the ready. You can’t miss them in Fez and they are all red Fiat Unos. Aaron negotiated for two Petit Taxis to take us to Gare Fez for 10 dirhams each which was what Ahmed said it would cost us.

As we pulled away from Bab Boujloud, we rode off into another picture perfect day. I had layered on clothing anticipating cool weather and I was just perfectly comfortable with what I had on. I had brought along my fleece shirt as well just in case we stayed past dark and it got cold.

We arrived at the train station a few minutes before 9am.  When we arrived two days earlier, I really didn't have a chance to look at the interior.  Today, I had time and I have to say, Gare de Fes is a very modern train station and very clean.

 Our train wasn’t leaving until 9:50a so we had plenty of time to kill. We decided to go ahead and get our tickets first and so we stood in line at the Billeterie. Tickets to Meknes cost 20 dirhams each which is less than $3!

 With easily ½ hour to spare, we went to the station café to grab a quick bite of breakfast before heading out. I had a café mocha for warmth, caffeine and sugar. That should be enough to tie me over to lunch as dinner the night before was more than filling.

The train came on time. We boarded and unlike our previous train rides, this train had 8 seater compartments. We found one that had 6 seats available so we went inside. Soon sat down next to a man who we found out was originally from Iraq but who had been in Morocco since 1978. He was a school teacher. A very nice man. He told us there were two stops for Meknes and when we told him what we were doing, he pointed out the station that we needed to get off at, Gare Meknes. It took us about 40 minutes to get to the station.

"Taxi and a driver named Kamal " At the other end, we followed Ahmed’s instructions to hire a Grand Taxi to take us to Volubilis. The first guy that approached us wanted 400 dirhams after I told him what we wanted to do which was to go to Volubilis and then be dropped back at Meknes medina. I told him that was too much so we walked away. As we were debating what to do, another man quietly approached us and offered us a plan. Volubilis for 1 hour, the town of Moulay Idriss for one hour and then back to Bab Mansour which is the gate near the medina for 300 dirhams. Done deal even thought we could have bargained him down some.  He seemed like a nice guy so I didn't have the heart to negotiate any more.  After all, what could we save once we divided the cost among the four of us?

We piled in for the 30 minute or so long ride to Volubilis. After we got into the taxi, we all introduced ourselves to our driver whose name was Kamal. A nice guy. Chatty and very friendly. Considering I only know a few word is French, his chattiness got him nowhere. Between my rudimentary French and his patiently repeating words often accompanied by hand gestures, I was able to make out what he was saying. It had been so long since I’ve spoken any French and with all my recent trips to Latin countries, Spanish words come to my mind before French ones, it was often difficult to recall the correct word. D’accuerdo, d’accord. I’m sure I was doing quite a bit of mixing and matching of words but Kamal was able to get the gist of what I was saying.

 As we drove towards Volubiilis, Kamal did his guide duties as well, pointing out olive groves and pulling over so we could have the occasional panoramic, scenic view of the countryside. It was pretty. Lots of rolling hills. I was surprised to see prickly pear cactus and agave plants. For a few moments, I had flashbacks to travelling through Oaxaca, Mexico though Oaxaca is not quite as lush green as the area surround Meknes.


On the way to Volubilis, we passed Moulay Idriss which is the town named after the Idris I who is for all intents and purposes, the first ruler of Morocco.  The town’s houses cling to the hillsides. In fact, there are so many houses crammed in that I commented to Soon that you can’t even see the actual hill anymore, just the houses.

At this point, Kamal decided to have a sideline conversation with me. I think Aaron sent him over. It took him repeating what he said to me, twice, along with some hand gestures for me to figure out that for an extra 100 dirham, he would take us on the *scenic* route from Volubilis to Moulay Idriss. He would drive along one of the mountain roads so we could get, as he called them, panoramas. After conferring with my travel mates, I told him that we would go with the extra 100 dirham payment. He was happy to hear that news. 

"Ruins at last! " We caught a glimpse of the ruins at Volubilis well before we pulled into the parking lot. Kamal deposited us and we bought our entry tickets – 10 dirhams each. Before we even had a chance to take one step, we had everyone and their brother offering us to take us around. Aaron had decided that the easiest way to fend them off was to tell them that he already had a guide and he would point to me. I never would look at their faces but I suspect they were dubious of that fact. Little did they know that I did know something about Volubilis so I would start to spout off about the history of the region at a volume that I was certain was loud enough for them to hear and they would drop away.  In hindsight though, it would have been worth hiring a guide.  We only had an hour and the site is pretty large.  Would have been useful to have someone just take us around to see the highlights.  Oh well.

"Go where the ruins lie " We headed into the site on our own, following a group of tourists ahead of us as there are no signs indicating which way to go although the well walked on path was indication enough.

I stopped to take a pictures and before I knew it Soon ended up at the same spot with me and both of us take our time with the photos, especially if I have to take any of Soon :-)

"Diana " Of course, these are ruins and without a map to guide you along, it’s really impossible to know what it is you are seeing. However, I had read that Volubilis had magnificent mosaics so I was determined to see those, including the famous one of Diana taking a bath.  I never found Diana but Soon did.  Unfortunately, he had no idea he had stumbled upon the most famous of the mosaics that are here so he only snapped one photo.  One is better than none :-)

"The 'hood, Roman style " At one point, we came upon the ruins of what I guessed were houses because their layout reminded me of the ones I had see at Ephesus in Turkey.

Passing the houses, we then came upon what looked like the ruins of a promenade with columns flanking one side. More photo op. By now, Aaron and Mildred had long left us behind so I didn’t feel guilty stopping and taking my time to take pictures.

Beyond the columns looked like the ruins of more homes. Here and there were cordoned off sections. I quickly figured out those were the ones that had mosaic floors. It’s amazing to think that the original structures were built between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD and these mosaics are so well preserved considering that they are not in any way sheltered from the elements nor from sunlight.

A couple of the sections looked like they might have been bath houses as the mosaics lined small pool like structures.

Soon and I wandered in and out of as many neighborhood *homes* as we thought we had time for and snapped as many photos as we could.

"Triumphal Arch" Of course, we had to do a photo op in front of one of the site's most recognizable landmarks - the Triumphal Arch.   If I remember correctly, this is the arch that leads out of Volubilis....the Roman version of the exit door, if you will.

"It's worth it for the view " The expansive plains of Zerhoun could be seen in the far distance.  I can see why the Romans chose this spot to build their city on.  The view is wonderful.

"Children and Jackie Chan at the Basilica " As we neared another of the site's most frequently photographed ruins – the Basilica, I could hear the sound of a lot of children. It turned out to be a small group of school children all seated on the steps getting ready to have their photo taken.

As we passed them, I could hear shouts of “Jackie Chan, Jackie Chan!!” I turned and waved and they all waved back. They were so cute so I walked back towards them and waved again. As they waved backed, I snapped a photo. I only thought of doing it afterwards but it would have been so much fun if Soon had done a few martial arts moves with them. Now, that would have made for some awesome vacation video!

It's amazing how noisy a small group of children can be!  Cute but loud :-)

"More tiles " Around the Basilica there were more mosaics to be seen.

 I still can't get over how well these have survived over the centuries.  I don't think we could create modern day tiles that could last this long!

Clockwise from upper right:  Wild African Animals, The Acrobat, The Four Seasons, Sea Animals

"The Forum, home to the storks " Also located nearby the Basilica are the remains of the Forum.  Though Volubilis is no longer inhabited by humans, storks have taken to calling this place their home as evidenced by the large nests atop the columns.

We slowly meandered our way back to the entrance taking in one last view of Volubilis.   By the time we made it back to the parking lot, we had been gone exactly an hour. Aaron and Mildred were already there as was Kamal.

It was a short visit but it was just enough time to make it around the ruins....even with all the time that we took for photos.  Great visit to a wonderful set of Roman ruins.

Next destination.  Moulay Idriss.