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Trip Report Morocco & Madrid Trip Report

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I thought I'd post my first trip report since others have provided such useful information. This trip was 9 days in September of 2010 in Morocco & Madrid. Here goes...

The Players:
My husband and myself (29 years old). We currently live in NYC and love travel, good food & wine. We have been married two and a half years. Ever since we were evacuated from our West Indies honeymoon due to a hurricane only two days into the trip, I have mandated that we re-do the h-moon with a trip each year :) So far this plan has served me well...

The Places:
Marrakech, La Palmeraie, High Atlas Mountains, Madrid

The Plan:
Arrive in Marrakech via Madrid
Day 1- Marrakech
Day 2- Marrakech
Day 3- Marrakech
Day 4- La Palmeraie
Day 5- High Atlas Mountains
Fly from Marrkech to Madird
Day 6- Madrid
Day 7- Madrid
Day 9- Madrid
Fly back home

Quick question- anyone know how I also add the tag for Spain to this trip report??

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    Trip Planning:

    A little about myself. I am an organizational and trip planning nut: love to make spreadsheets, itineraries, folders, etc. Don't use travel agents; proud to say I do all the research and booking on my own. Just discovered this Fodors Forum a month ago and can't believe I traveled without it!

    Got a great deal on flights round trip from NYC to Madrid rather than from NYC to Marrakech...flights were about half the price of flying into Morocco and I wasn't excited about flying Air Maroc in the first place. Took Delta to Madrid and then bought a separate round trip flight to/from Marrakech on Easy Jet...only $75 each including luggage! I used concierge.com, nytimes.com, Fodors & DK Eyewitness travel books for inspiration on hotels and activities/places to visit.

    Getting There:

    The trip starts with having boarded the plane and realizing that DH has somehow lost my beautiful, organized, crazy folder of the itinerary, addresses, restaurant ideas, activity ideas, etc. I.E.- THE WHOLE TRIP. Not sure how it went missing between security and getting on the plane. Slight martial squabble ensues followed by peering eyes of nearby passengers (probably dreading they will be sitting next to us for the next 7 hours). DH offers and begs to let me let him off the plane to search for it knowing that I will probably have a panic attack without it, but I can only imagine some type of movie scene where they shut the doors as soon as he gets off and then the plane leaves and then I am in Morocco all by myself WITHOUT my beloved travel folder. No thank you, he was staying put. Then miracle occurs and a flight attendant magically appears with the folder. Yes- I am crazy and even put our flight info with seat numbers on the first page! We're back in action.

    I don't mind flying. In fact I fly all the time for work...at least once a week between Sept and Feb each year. However, I cannot sleep on planes. Maybe 45 minutes max...and on international flights...that equals sheer terror for my DH in having to deal with the effects. I must say I am a needy non-sleeper- if I can't sleep, I don't want anyone else sleeping either. I need entertainment! Encouragement! Someone tell me I will get through this grueling flight without sleep and without vomiting due to lack of sleep! Because when I don't get my minimum of 8-9 hours of sleep, my evil twin pokes it's head. After trial by error from our trip to Portugal the year before, I have discovered that Ambien does not knock me out on a plane. Instead, I took said wonder drug and them remained fully awake as slight paranoia, claustrophobia, nausea, and sheer body aches took over my poor, sleepless body. Sooo....this time I decide to make the trip cold turkey and hope that I can at least get a few minutes of shut eye without the Ambien hangover the next day. DH of course has his G&T and pops a pill and is out 'till morning.

    Once we arrive in Madrid...we have a three hour layover until our connection to Marrakech. Actually the timing worked well because we had to retrieve and re-check our bags. We then have a nice breakfast and wander around duty free shops. I start to feel the effects of lack of sleep and get a bit jittery, but finally we board the flight. Its no more than two hours to Marrakech and I'm starting to feel my usual nausea-must-lay-down-getting cranky feelings as we wait for the luggage in baggage claim. But we are excited and ready for this adventure never having been to Africa before.

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    Day One:

    We reserved a room at Villa Des Orangers (villadesorangers.com) for our three nights in Marrakech. I HIGHLY recommend this hotel and couldn’t have been more pleased with our choice. Once we arrived, I felt like we were in this incredibly calming and luscious oasis in the middle of the madness of the Medina. The hotel is comprised of a couple of Riads joined together, forming a stunning hotel with two gorgeous pool areas (one of which is rooftop), gardens, courtyards, sitting rooms, etc. Our room is on the second floor overlooking one of the courtyards and is nice and quiet. It is amazing that it is right around the corner from the Djemaa el Fna Square, but you feel like you are a world away. The staff couldn’t have been more welcoming or helpful. Breakfast and lunch were included in the room rate, so we sat in one of the gardens for the perfect arrival day lunch: mint and melon soup, omelet, olive oil and Moroccan bread. Every meal was absolutely delicious. Following a quick nap, we were ready to start exploring.

    Our plan for the afternoon was for a leisurely stroll through the Majorelle Gardens, which were lovingly resorted by YSL. Although it was a nice visit, I wouldn’t say I was blown away by the gardens. We then hopped into a cab back to the hotel and experienced our first of many “scams.” Our driver convinced us (and kudos to him for wrapping us around his little finger so quickly) to visit one of the carpet shops as a detour. Clearly his friend owned it, but we had discussed buying a Moroccan rug on this trip and decided we’d see where this would take us. Little did we know that once you get roped into a carpet buying session, it is nearly impossible to escape without making a purchase. It all starts with a tea ceremony and then 4-5 people rolling out hundreds of carpets rapid-fire hoping that something will catch your eye. Plenty of them did, but the process was quite overwhelming. There was certainly nothing threatening about the situation as everyone was beaming with smiles in the hopes that you’d make a purchase, but once we decided we wanted to move on, it was clear we were a disappointment. We finally escaped the shop with plenty of awkward “we’ll think about its” and walked back to our hotel just after dark while soaking in the sounds and smells of the bustling city. Marrakech truly comes alive at night.

    For dinner, we ended up at a “trendy” Moroccan/French fusion restaurant on the outskirts of town called Bo Zin. I must say it was a pretty fun scene, but it felt like we were in South Beach rather than Marrakech. The food was fine, nothing spectacular, but worth the people watching. Clearly this is was hip spot. Then off to bed after a long trip.

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    Day Two:

    We started the day with breakfast in our room. We had scrambled eggs, Moroccan pastries and jam, dried fruit...delicious. We decided at the last minute to get a tour guide for a couple hours in the morning to help us get our bearings around the souks and give us some context for the sights we were seeing. The hotel set us up with Mustapha Karroum who is also a guide for La Mamounia, which probably explained his exorbitant fee. He was fun though and regaled us with tales of Marrakech in the 70s...quite a crazy time and kept things interesting. We started the tour at Koutoubia Mosque. We then made our way through Ben Youssef Koranic School (definitely worth a visit), Marrakech Museum (skip this), and the Almoravid Koubba. The more interesting part of the tour was winding through the twisted streets of the Souks in the Medina. You could get seriously lost in there- it's like a giant maze and there are so many similar shops that it is nearly impossible to mark your path along the way. As with probably most of the guides, this tour did include a few stops at some of the higher end shops for browsing, probably owned by his friends. We certainly didn't feel any pressure to buy something, but worth noting. We visited one of the higher end rug shops and after a grueling hour or two of bargaining and slightly uncomfortable negotiations, we ended up with a Kilim rug. Unfortunately in the heat of the moment, we lost all sense of reality and bought a HUGE rug that will not fit appropriately in our apartment, so it hasn't come out of the bag. But I'm sure we'll find use for it one day. We parted ways with our guide and headed back to the hotel for another amazing lunch. I couldn't get enough of that mint and melon soup! I had a glass of delicious Moroccan wine and DH had a cold beer. We then spent the rest of the afternoon lounging by the pool and enjoying an escape from the oppressive heat.

    That evening we decided to venture into Djemaa el Fna square to experience the snake charmers, storytellers, food carts, etc. It was incredible...the energy was electric and it was a gorgeous setting at dusk. There were people everywhere in small circles around street musicians, jugglers, henna tattoo artists, and monkey handlers. There were hundred of food carts and stalls with fruit, nuts, spices, escargot, and roasted meats, although I wasn't brave enough to try any. Sorry, but street meat is just not for me. One slight hiccup- I took a picture of some street musicians from behind the crowd and they came after me demanding money for taking the photo. It was very intimidating and I nervously fumbled around for money leaving a bit rattled, but we were fine.

    We then took a taxi to dinner at Dar Marjana (darmarjanamarrakech.com). The dinner was unreal. We were greeted at the door by the most welcoming man in traditional Moroccan garb and a lantern (everything was candlelit). We entered the courtyard of the Riad and sat by a fountain while having a cocktail and listening to live music. There was only one other table of diners that night, so nice to have the place to ourselves. Then they brought us over to our table where they had spelled my name out on the table cloth in sequins- very sweet. Then began the feast. I have never seen so much food and so many courses in my life. First there was hummus, sautéed carrots, all sorts of roasted vegetables, olives and babaganoush. Endless appetizers. Then we were served chicken tangines (which I thought was the main course so I eagerly polished it off only to find out we had two other entree courses coming). Then we had lamb tangines and couscous. Followed by Pigeon pie! I know that sounds ridiculous, but it actually was incredibly good...the meat was stewed and served in a sweetened puff pastry. It worked perfectly. Then we were served an array of desserts while a belly dancer came out to dance for the two tables. Dinner was followed by a formal tea ceremony and another set of musicians and dancers. The whole staff was so friendly and incredibly pleasant to be around. Service was oustanding. It was a great meal!

    Following dinner we decided to explore the famous La Mamounia Hotel. I am telling you, if money is no object, stay there. Although it was massively huge which was a bit of a turn off for me, the grounds were impeccable. Every room was more beautiful and ornate than the last. We had a drink at the bar and listened to the piano player before I got a bee in my bonnet about hitting the casinos. Poor DH- I love the casinos but always come home with empty pockets...and begging him to let me stay longer. This time was no different, only I lost all my cash in record time. I then called my parents back in the states to complain about my luck (perhaps had a few too many drinks before realizing this was not the best phone call to make?). They laughed and convinced me (thankfully) to listen to DH and head back to the hotel before losing any more.

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    We stayed at La Mamounia 30 years ago and it was fabulous then. This is a hotel where when we went to the pool, the staff was wearing tuxedos even though it was over 100 degrees. We took off our outer clothing and folded it up to put it next to our chaises, and the main guy kind of gave us a "tsk tsk" look -- we had to give them our clothes to put away for us. Riff-raff, I guess. Also, there were many families from the Middle East at the hotel, very wealthy families, it appeared, as even the little girls were wearing not just earrings, but diamond bracelets and necklaces! It's not really our style (my DH's definition of dressing up is jeans without holes), but we sure loved it.

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    Day Three:

    After another filling breakfast in our room, we ventured back into the souks that morning for some shopping. I picked up some really fun turquoise and beige striped leather ballet flats. The shoes were handmade and pretty comfortable. We also bought a hand carved wooden tray made from olive trees and a pretty box for above our mantle. Haggling in the souks is a bit nerve-wracking, but it truly is a part of their culture so it keeps it fun and exciting. We then stumbled upon a dyer’s souk where they hand-dyed silk and made them into beautiful scarves. Next we visited the lantern souks; there must have been thousands upon thousands lanterns with pretty hammered details among all the shops lined up. I had really hoped to bring one home, but to be honest the selection was too overwhelming and I couldn’t make a decision. The sheer volume of items in all these shops is just incredible. I really wonder how anyone can actually make a living with their shop, as there were probably 30 different souks just selling lanterns alone…so the odds of them moving a considerable amount of inventory is probably pretty slim.

    We headed back to the hotel for lunch in the garden before getting ready for our evening activity: a visit to a desert area for a sunset camel ride and dinner under the stars! This was one of the highlights of the trip. La Pause (lapause-marrakech.com) was recommended by a friend and was absolutely incredible. They sent a driver to our hotel to pick us up to take us to the property. It is located in a desert about an hour outside of Marrakech. This isn’t the kind of place with sand dunes, but an area with no trees or vegetation for miles. We arrived just before dusk and got a lay of the land: beautiful burlap tents and comfortable lounge chairs and sofas outside near a river bed (only has water running through it after the snow melts in the High Atlas Mountains). There were a few adobe-like structures around the property and a small pool as well. They included a couple of guest houses and a bath house and kitchen. They don’t have any electricity and everything is lit by candles and lanterns. There was one couple staying at the camp from Denmark; they had been there for a week for utter seclusion and relaxation. Otherwise, we had the place to ourselves.

    While they were getting the camels ready for our sunset walk, the property manager took us high up on a hill to hit golf balls! My husband is a golf fanatic, so he loved this. They have something called “cross country golf” with flags along the riverbeds for the holes. The three of us had a few beers and hit balls down into the riverbed. It was a lot of fun! The camels were finally ready. I always thought it would be similar to riding horses…not even remotely true. They are quite tall and actually very awkward to ride. My camel clearly hated being ridden, as he hawed, spit and jerked his head the whole time. Worth the effort though. When else are you going to ride a camel?

    While they were preparing our dinner, we sat outside with a drink just soaking it all it. The scenery was truly breathtaking. And the quiet!! Us New Yorkers couldn’t believe the solitude and silence; almost unnerving. Dinner was served under a large burlap tent with lanterns and candlelight throughout. They had us seated King and Queen style next to each other in the middle of a long table facing out. The caretaker’s dog named Dingy lounged around with us and I truly fell in love with him. He didn’t leave my side all night. I would have done anything to bring that wonderful dog back with me! We were served more delicious olives, carrot salad, Moroccan breads and hummus to start. We then had lamb tangine with couscous…the meat fell right off the bone. Dessert included these incredible stewed pears. There are simply no words for having this amazing dinner by candlelight and under the stars…you really could see so much of the night sky since there isn’t electricity around for miles. My description is not doing this place justice; you should definitely check out the photos on their website for a better idea. After a very memorable visit, our driver then took us back to Marrakech for our last night at Villa Des Orangers before heading to the mountains the next morning.

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    Love your report! I know it was quite a while ago, but I am hoping you are still around to answer a question. We are thinking of dinner at la Pause. What time did you arrive at La Pause? How much time did you spend there and was it the right amount? How did you get there - did you arrange your own driver? Thanks!

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    Still here! Obviously haven't finished the report (oops- long overdue), but hopefully will find some time to get back to it!

    La Pause arranged for their own driver to pick us up from the hotel and it was included in the overall price (140euro for the transfer, camel ride and dinner). They picked us up from the hotel at 4:30 pm so we still had some light around the camp. We hit some golf balls into the dried up river on their "desert course" (pretty funny), did a camel ride, and then just lounged around and read and relaxed. Then we had dinner at nightfall probably around 7/8pm? It was truly amazing- you are going to love it!!

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