The crowing rooster woke us up at first light, his cock-a-doodle-doo standing out among the sounds of traffic from the streets below. “Who in the world keeps a rooster in the city?” I mumbled to Andrew as we both rolled over, trying to catch just a few more minutes of sleep. Later, over coffee and croissants, our friend and host Corinne told us that there were quite a few roosters in the neighborhood, along with a sheep or two. To us it seemed a strange contrast, a bit of rural life in one of Morocco’s main port cities. As we considered what to make for supper that evening (coq au vin??) Corinne told us about the changes taking place in Tangier. Before arriving we were quite apprehensive about what we might find, having read almost entirely bad things about the city, perched on the north-west tip of Africa. Dirty streets, lots of hassle and its fair share of crime. That was what we remembered from the guide books, which commonly advised first-time travellers to Morocco to arrive instead in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.
Now it seems Tangier is undergoing a revival. After years of being out of favour with the former king, the tide has turned and now the city is seeing a flood of investment, as well as competing for right to host Expo 2012. Nearly every street is under construction. Fountains and gardens are appearing and a new beach boardwalk has replaced what used to be a dusty shoulder to the main road. At the same time, Tangier has held on to its history, giving it a distinctly European feel, more so than any other place we have visited in Morocco. We wound our way through the medina, gazing up as Corinne pointed out balconies on the buildings, traces of the Spanish and Portuguese influences on the city. In the streets, among the traditional coffee shops, vendors fried up churros and we peeked into delis where Moroccans advised us on the best wines. We found displays of cheese that made us drool, having only seen the dire Laughing Cow (an expensive, over processed and tasteless spread) since boarding the boat in January. It was a refreshing change before we roll our bikes onto the boat once again on Saturday for the crossing to Tarifa. Tangier is a city where we arrived expecting the worst and will leave pleasantly surprised by its rejuvination and unique mix of cultures.