We’re just over three weeks in to our Gap Year in Rabat, and already I’m thinking in percentages. As in that’s 10% of our 10-month tour already gone!
First impressions: Rabat seems chill and very livable although probably not the exotic color and spice explosion I’d imagined Morocco to be. It’s modern, clean, and seems easy enough to get around in. It’s been gorgeous California weather since we’ve arrived and the preponderance of Spanish tile roofs and flowering bushes and palms only further a Southern Cali vibe.
The sites – including the Chella, a fortress, and the area around the water are interesting.
Adam I got around a bit during these first few weeks: A walk through the Medina and a jazz fest inside the Chella’s ancient walls. But I’m not gallivanting about while Adam is at school. Mostly I stick around the house and that sucks because, well, it looks like this right now.
Truthfully, if takes a certain amount of pepping up for me to go forth solo and explore a new sprawling city in which I don’t speak either of the languages. I have gone to a few meet ups with other English speaking women, I have thrice-weekly French lessons, and I’ve grown to like the neighborhood Starbucks in a way that surprised me. But on Tuesday I was ready to venture out out, meaning out to an interesting part of the city, and out of my comfort zone. To leave our neighborhood, I’ve relied on cabs (our car should arrive in a few weeks), and that’s been fine, because they’re safe and cheap, but I really just want to walk everywhere. But we live very far out. Still I want to get in those steps so I started walking on Tuesday morning and after an hour and a half I was thoroughly roasted and dehydrated – they say Rabat has a cold Atlantic breeze and a hot sun – but I was seemingly out of the burbs, but still a little ways from the furthest lightrail stop. Finally I found it and took a 20 minute train to the Medina, or the old market. I rehydrated. I was kind of nervous to walk around an old city by myself because I didn’t want to get hassled or haggled. In Jerusalem’s Old City, any time I walked through solo I got lots of “I like your necklace! Come see my necklaces,” incessant “You dropped something!”s and endless “Where are you from?s” Nothing rude or anything but everyone trying to engage can make me a little edgy. To my delight, Rabat’s Medina is, like the rest of Rabat: chill. No one said anything to me! Shop keepers applied zero pressure! It was pretty great.
I ended up buying a bronze globe hanging lamp and browsing a few gorgeous carpet stores and found the prices super reasonable. (A brightly colored 8×11 rug from the 1980s was about 4,000 dirham or $360 and I bet I could bargain that down). No rug purchase yet, but it’ll happen soon.
The following day, a new friend drove me to an artisan village called Oulja, which is across the river from Rabat in the city of Salé. A longer blog post about this dreamy place is in order, but let me just say, holy moly, I was in interior decor heaven strolling into shops of ceramics, lamps, wicker furniture, made-to-order bars, tile tables.
It was so, so fun and I came home with a pile of pretties, all for under 100 bucks!
Other highlights of our first month in Rabat: A super social embassy community. Really there have already been almost too many parties and outings to count and everyone we’ve met seems to really like living here, which makes us think we will to.
Also: There is a great wine store with loads of French and Spanish wines. The restaurant scene seems okay but we do wish more places served alcohol. (My opinion matters naught in a Muslim country, I’m just saying a dinner out sans wine is a little lacking for me). And I think as a vegetarian I’ll have very limited options at most places. Three times I’ve ordered something vegetarian and it’s come with meat on it. The best place we’ve been to so far is a hip Spanish restaurant called Sa Caleta. While Spanish food is not my favorite cuisine, the manchego, croquettas, and tortilla really hit the spot and I can see going back lots.
But I’m sure I’ll also do a ton of cooking at home – including for dinner parties – so it’s a good thing there are excellent grocery stores all around. There’s a massive one near my apartment, but I’m especially excited about the Marjane nearby that has beautiful cheese and produce sections. And there’s a neighborhood fruit and veggie shop that no one would shut up about but then I went there and now I won’t shut up about it because it’s really nice. Berries! Beautiful plump and creamy avocados! Mushrooms galore! But the thing they call a sweet potato is not a sweet potato so I’m still on the hunt for those.
But every transition is tough and this one is no different. The tough parts:
Well, our early Jerusalem experience is repeating itself because we were placed in the suburbs again, despite requesting to be in the more bustling and hip part of town (which is also where Adam’s language school is). But our fancy Rabat suburb is not as bad as the blah Jerusalem suburb, which had nary a cafe or restaurant. Our Rabat neighborhood is, I’m sure, a coveted spot for families, especially if you’re in one of the big beautiful gated villas with a backyard. We’re in an apartment among the big houses on a quiet street. There are two main strips in the neighborhood with lots of restaurants and coffee shops, so there are at least things to walk to. But the location is so far south of the Rabat historic sites, the ocean, the hipper restaurants, and the place where Adam has to be everyday.
The apartment interior: It’s a bummer in its current state, especially the kitchen, which is covered in beige tile with fruit accents, has glossy dark cabinets, and a defunct gas stove, which just sits there, taunting me while I use an American electric stove/oven that was plopped into the kitchen willy nilly.
As much as I want to order stick on tiles and make the kitchen look less 1980s, ten months is too short a time so I’ll just accept the ugly and at least make it a little more functional, like seeing about a hood above the oddly placed stove. And a kitchen island, because at the very least, the kitchen is big.
The rest of the place looks drab but I know it’ll look great once we fill it with our things, including The Most Beautiful Sofa in the World. The space does have a few thing going for it: fresh white walls, some decent wood accents, high ceilings, and fairly spacious rooms. But here’s a bummer: Rabat has a strict “we won’t take back any of that lovely government furniture” policy and because I’m not willing to live amongst it, it’ll likely all (including a 12 person dining room table and three couches) get stacked in one of our three bedrooms, which is disappointing because I’ve had my heart set on turning one of the rooms into a handsome office/library with green-black walls and an antique desk that I’d spend months searching for in Morocco. Sigh, that will have to wait until Algeria.
And one final low: Last week, I spilled a glass of water on my laptop, sizzling the motherboard. So I’m without a computer for a few weeks. I’m using my wee little iPhone for everything from Netflix binges to blog writing and I have no way to get photos off my good camera.
Much more in the future.