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Trip Report Two sisters trip to Madrid and Marrakech

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My sister (Julie) and I (Kim) are traveling to Madrid and Marrakech, and this is our trip report.

I live in Los Angeles, and Julie is currently an expat living in Qatar. At first, I wanted to go visit her, but Mr. Kim didn't think that me traveling to the Middle East was a good idea right now. "Why don't you just meet your sister in Europe, or Morocco?" Ok! We decided to do a little of both.

I flew United from LA and had a layover in DC. The flight to DC was going swimmingly until about 30 minutes before we landed. Due to a storm, we experienced the worst turbulance I had ever been through, and much to my mortification, I made good use of the motion sickness bag. Ugh! My flight from DC to Madrid was much less eventful (thank God!). I wasn't able to sleep much, but other than that, it was just fine.

We landed on time at the Madrid airport, and I got my bag with no problem. I changed over some dollars to Euros, and found Julie's baggage claim and waited for her. She was supposed to get in 20 minutes after me, but apparently her flight was delayed. I waited for about an hour before she got there. We had a heck of a time trying to figure out the payphone while trying to call the hotel to send the shuttle to pick us up. Finally, Julie just called them on her iPhone. The shuttle came about 15 minutes later, and we were off to the hotel, which is very close to the airport (since we are leaving for Marrakech tomorrow morning).

We arrived at the hotel too early to get a room, so we left our bags at the front desk and went in search of food. We found a cute cafe with outdoor seating down the street a bit, and here's where things started to get interesting... most of the words on the menu we didn't understand, and that little Burlitz phrase book I got was completly useless in trying to translate the menu (we have since renamed it "Burshitz"). There were a few words on there we DID understand: Bacon, and hamborguesa. Julie went with the bacon, and I ordered the hamburger. It was really good! It wasn't like a hamburger like we know it, ground beef and all - I really think it was a HAMburger, ground ham. Nevertheless, it was good. Julie's bacon was interesting...She said, "I just ordered two huge pieces of fat!" Ironic since she's so healthy!!

Julie keeps talking about how green everything is, and how blue the sky is. She needs to get out of Qatar, where everything is brown, even the sky!

After lunch, we went back to the hotel and got our room. It's a very modern place, nicely decorated, two single beds. I took a 3 hour nap at the hotel, and woke up at about 4pm. In the meantime, Julie had scouted out the hotel, and found a covered roof area where we went and she led us in a yoga workout. After that I took a nice long shower and dressed for dinner. We walked down the street and ate at this little restaurant, where we made instant friends with this guy, who we'll call "Julio." He latched onto us for some reason. We couldn't figure out if he worked at the place, or was just a regular there, keeping the place in business. Anyway, after much difficulty with the bartender and the menu (at one point, she actually "baahh-ed" indicating lamb), we ordered our food (Julie ordered BBQ ribs, and I ordered a grilled ham and cheese sandwich). Julie ordered a beer, and for some reason, the waitress didn't think Julie should drink alone, so she brought me one, too. I drank about 3 sips and gave the rest fo Julie. While we ate, Julio kept peeking at us around the corner, and whistling. Finally he just came over and sat down at our table. We stumbled badly through about 5 minutes of conversation, during which time he kept putting his hand on my knee. I was thankful when he got bored with our lack of Spanish vocabulary and went away and, we were able to finish our meal in peace.

We left and went back to the hotel where we walked around a bit and went to the restaurant for dessert - we shared a chocolate brownie w/ ice cream. We ordered 2 waters that came in glass bottles, very cool looking! By this time, we were very tired and so we went up to bed.

Tomorrow - Marrakech!!

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    So we got up at about 6:30 this morning to eat breakfast and catch our 8:00 shuttle to the Madrid airport where we flew out to Marrakech. The hotel (Tach Hotel) had a nice breakfast; I ate yogurt, a huge orange, a croissant with jam, OJ, and mint tea.

    The shuttle to the Madrid airport went smoothly, and we were at our gate about 45 min before we had to board. Conveniently, there was a duty-free shop about 50 feet away, so instead of waiting in line like all the other poor suckers on our Easy-Jet flight, we went shopping. We made it out pretty unscathed, weighted down with only a few dark cacoa bars (we discovered later that they were "sugar free" but they still taste pretty good to me). Then we figured out why everyone was standing in line for so long - no reserved seating on the plane, so we weren't able to sit together. Julie sat about 5 rows from the front, and I lucked out with an exit-row seat about half-way back.

    The flight from Madrid to Marrakech was about an hour and forty minutes, and was pretty uneventful. My row was thankful that I had a pen to fill out the customs card. When we arrived, we exited the plane down a flight of stairs and directly onto the tarmac where we were smacked in the face with 90 degree heat. Welcome to Africa.


    After finding our driver, and hitting the ATM for some Moroccan dirhams, we were on our way to the Riad Puchka, which is a very small hotel, more like a guest-house. It has been said that Morocco is like the Mexico of Europe, and I can see why. It has some beauty, but it's still a 3rd world country. Since our Riad is unreachable by car, the driver had to park about a quarter of a mile away, and the rest of trek was on foot, dragging our suitcases behind us on the dirty, potholed "street." We felt very conspicuous - two American, very white women walking the allyways of Marrakech to our Riad. This part of town was much dirtier than I had imagined. Graffitti on the walls, donky crap on the street, having to watch out for the bicycles and people on motorbikes. It was quite a culture shock and made me very uncomfortable - you know I don't deal well in new, very different situations.

    There was also something very unnerving about putting our lives in the hands of the driver, who had been sent from the Riad to pick us up at the airport. He's simply had a sign that said, "Riad Puchka" and we followed him - to the car, and now through the dirty streets of Marrakech, down the alleyways to the Riad. I didn't really feel nervous about it; it was just an interesting thought how much trust we had put in this total and complete stranger.

    The Riad Puchka - it was like a breath of fresh air - an oasis of beauty in the dust and donky crap. When they opened the door, I was taken aback with the beauty of it, the beautiful carved wood doors and arches, the colorful tiles, the colorful couches and tapestries, the pool. We instantly loved it, and was welcomed by the "manager" Mustafa. He welcomed us with a cool bottle of water and sat us down and told us what to expect when we left the Riad. He gave us a map and pointed out places of interest, where the good food was, and gave us tips on how to survive a shopping trip to the souks (market).

    We put our stuff in our room, and left the Riad feeling pretty confident that we could find the main square and the restaurants on the way. "Go right out of the Riad, then a quick left and another right, then go left at the Dentist (one of our landmarks). Go left at the Mosque, then straight, and then you should see the cafes on the left." Didn't seem that complicated. That confidence dwindled a bit when we couldn't find the mosque, so we ended up in a completely different square than the main one. We found a decent place to eat anyway on a roof-top cafe. It was a great view of the square, where there are many shopping stalls, and many things to buy from rugs to hats and spices, knick knacks and leather bags. Shoes and clothes, back scratchers and little jewelry boxes. Fun, also, to people-watch. Julie ordered a cheese sandwich, and I got a couscous combo with beef and veggies.

    When we were finished, we asked the owner where we were on the map and it was then that we realized how lost we'd become. We found our way back to the main square, found the place where we will meet the people for the cooking class tomorrow, and made our way slowly back to the Riad. We hesitated pulling out the map with a bunch of people around, because we didn't want to look lost and attract attention of all the "helpful" wanna-be-guides (for a fee, of course), so we kept walking and found an equally white British couple who were consulting their map as well. We all had a good laugh about how easy it was to get lost, we all figured out where we were and where we were going (in opposite directions, it turned out), and we easily made our way back to the Riad.

    After some time in our room, we went out to the common area of the Riad and visited with other guests from Melbourne, and France. Lovely people. Julie and I had arranged to have dinner at the Riad so we had a lovely meal of fresh salad with cucumber and tomato, chicken with lemon and green olives, wine, and fresh fruit for dessert. We spent some time on the rooftop and now it's time for bed.

    Tomorrow - Moroccan Cooking Class!

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    Morrocan Cooking Class (through Les Ateliers Lalla Fatima, 500 DH per person)

    Julie and I woke up about 8:00 this morning and breakfast was served at the Riad at 9:00. Fresh squeezed orange juice, tea, coffee, croissants, butter, jam, laughing cow cheese, and something that looked like a pancake, but was more eggy than bready - like a thick crepe.

    We left the Riad and made our way to the big square where we were meeting the owner of the cooking class (Najma, pronounced Na-la, yah, I don't get it either, and I could also be very wrong). We got to the meeting place, and waited about 20 minutes for her to arrive. In the mean time, we started talking to the other people standing around who looked like they were waiting for someone as well, and found out that we were all part of the cooking class. There were twenty-one of us all together. Najma finally arrived and we all piled into taxis that appeared out of nowhere. We rode in the taxi for about five minutes to another part of the Medina (old city). When we got into the taxi, Najma told us we could roll down the window - it was really hot. We looked down and there was no handle to roll the window - just a little metal nub sticking out of the door. Awesome.

    We were dropped off in what was called "The spice market." All 21 of us crowded into a small "store" about the size of a rich person's bathroom, where we were schooled for nearly an hour on Moroccan spices. "Sensory Overload" does not even come close in describing what we experienced today. I had read someone's trip report on Fodor's about a month ago, and he and his wife had done the exact same cooking class. There had been a contest to see which guest could name the 23rd ingredient that separated Moroccan curry from Indian curry - fennel. The winner came away with a prize - a nice sized bag of Moroccan Curry! So when he asked the same question today to our class, I already knew the answer. It felt like cheating, so I gave a fair amount of time for people to guess before I spoke up. I am going to enjoy cooking with that curry!

    I actually had to step out of the "store" a few times because it was so hot and crowded in there. After the "demonstration" was over, several of us purchased spices (they were a really good price), aragon oil, saffron, etc. Also, all the women were given a little bottle or rose water, and the men were given a bag of ginsing (apparently it helps keep the "spice" in their love life - see what I did there?).

    Then we all walked across the street to another market. This one had live chickens (that we called "dinner"), rabbits, pigeons, and also fresh fish (no longer alive). You can only begin to image the smell. The Najma went over the "menus" with us. We could make sweet chicken tagine, chicken with lemons and olives, sweet lamb tagine, or lamb tagine with vegetables. Julie did the sweet chicken, and I chose the lamb with vegetables. I moved to a different part of the market while Julie stayed back with the "chicken people" to watch the massacure, which she describes as "not for the weak stomach." Then we all gathered in the place where they sold the vegetables and a few of us got to pick out tomatoes, potatos, zuchini, squash, eggplant, and other things.

    We got back into the taxis and headed out of the Medina, out of town, actually, into a Burber village where Najma's house is, and here is where the magic happened.

    We leave the market and all pile into the taxis that are waiting. We leave the Medina (old city) and drive about 20 minutes to the "suburbs" which are actually little Berber villages. The "cooking" part of the class takes place at her home. We drop our bags in a little room and sit around a few tables that have been put together to make one large table, where we eat bread with olive oil, olives, and drink water.

    There are two other women who are assistants for the class, and soon, at the places in front of us at the table, appear cutting boards and knives. We are given a variety of vegetables to prepare - garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, and onions to peel and slice. There are potatoes to mash, herbs to chop; many hands make for light work. Soon, we are finished with the food prep and it's time to put our tagines together. There are no fewer than 10 mini-tagines on the table filled with different spices: saffron, ginger, turmeric, Moroccan curry, black and white pepper, Cinnamon, cumin, garam Marsala, sweet paprika, nutmeg...

    I was making Berber Lamb with Vegetables. Once all are tagines were assembled, we placed them on their bases, which had been filled with some sort of wood that had been lit, and was now on fire - like a BBQ with briquettes. We were told that they would cook there for about 45 minutes. We were starting to get hungry.

    While the tagines were cooking, we started making the side dishes - a potato pastille, with mashed potatoes, some sort of soft "cheese", turmeric, ginger, nutmeg, chopped parsley/coriander (which I learned today is the same thing as cilantro), pepper and cumin. We would take a palm-full of the mixture and roll it up in a 1/2 sheet of pastille paper which had been brushed with butter. They looked like mini egg-rolls. They were then fried in little pans. There was also a chopped tomato and other vegetable dish, and a beet salad.

    I'm not sure which was more fun - making the authentic Moroccan meal, or chatting with the other people in the class. There were three women from Canada, several British couples, and an Aussie couple who were currently living in France. We all had a lovely time getting to know each other.

    About and hour and a half later, the potato pastilles had all been eaten, and we were ready to eat our tagines, but our host had disappeared, so we decided to take matters into our own hands and just take them off the fires and sit down to eat. Some people in our group had to get back to catch a plane, some had dinner reservations and had been told we'd be done by three. It was now six o'clock.

    Our host finally came back (she had been out buying us wine) so we ate our meals and Julie and I left with the Canadians who had made a dinner reservation and were sure their husbands were worried about them.

    We were taxied back to the main square in the Medina, and we walked slowly through the chaos back to our Riad.

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    Saturday at the Souks, and the Henna Fiasco:

    We woke up to another carb-fest for breakfast: bread, croissants, and another bread-type thing. We are thinking of buying some eggs and either asking to cook them ourselves, or see if they will cook them for us. We had purchased a few oranges the night before, so we ate a few of those to supplement our meal.

    Today was our big day at the souks, so we took it easy, leaving the Riad at about 11:30. We were determined to 1) not get lost, 2) make some good deals. We grabbed some lunch at a little place, and then went about our shopping. Julie got a leather belt and a "pouf" (leather ottoman), and I got some jewelry and shoes. It's quite an experience, and overwhelming. I find it difficult because I'm not very good at math and the conversions from dirhams to dollars is impossible in my head. Luckily, Julie has her iPhone with the calculator app, so that's come in handy many times!

    Julie's worried about buying too many things because of the weight limits on luggage for the plane, but then we remember that we can ship things home. We decided to go to the post office to inquire about such things, but by then it was late in the day and it was mostly closed. We wanted to find a good hammam (spa) for the next day, so we visited a few, then set out to find one that our Riad-mates had gone to the previous day and highly recommended. We found it and made our reservation.

    We had originally wanted to go back to the Riad, get all fancied up and go to the newer part of the city to have dinner, but by then we were beat and just wanted to get back to the Riad. We passed through the square again, where there were snake charmers, guys with monkeys with which you could pose for a picture (for a fee of course), and women literally grabbing your arm to give you a henna tattoo.

    I had mentioned to Julie earlier that I had wanted to get one on my foot, and she asked when I wanted to get it. We passed a "booth" (which was more like three little stools under a patio umbrella), and I made the mistake of looking at the little photo album of different designs one of the woman was shoving in our direction. I indicated to her that I wanted one on my foot. "Please to sit" she says, and I did (mistake #2). I still hadn't decided on a design, and we hadn't even started to agree on a price yet, but another lady (there were 3 ladies now, plus Julie and me) just grabbed my leg, put my foot on her lap and started going to town with black ink. Mistake #3 was that I didn't yank my foot away and tell her to wait until we had negotiated the price AND I had chosen my design. She was really quick, and good, I must say. The design went around my ankle and down the outside of my foot all the way to my pinky toe. It took her no longer than 4 minutes.

    The problem came when she was done and demanded I give her 150 dirham (about $17). It was ridiculous. I felt foolish and impotent. I looked at Julie. "Absolutely not!" she said. "That took less than 5 minutes! Don't pay any more than 20." I dug in my bag and found two 10 dirham coins. I started to give them to the lady and she made a rude noise and walked away. Apparently I had offended her. I looked at the other two ladies.
    "Is black henna, very good quality. Last a long time." But I hadn't asked for black, I told them. Julie told me to get up and let's go. It was supposed to take about 20 minutes for the henna to dry, and since I'd gotten it on my foot, I couldn't put my flip-flop back on without ruining the design. I stood up and placed my foot on the top of my shoe.

    They called for the Offended One to come back, which she did, and she started shouting other numbers at me. I dug in my bag for more money, pulled out a 10 durham bill. She grabbed the money out of my hand and said, "F#&@ YOU!" I was speechless. Julie started yelling, "You are very rude! VERY RUDE!" The offended one was still cursing at me and I was trying to walk away, dragging my shoe with my big to so as to not ruin the tattoo. What a mess.

    Finally I just put my flip-flop on and we walked for a few minutes. We stopped near a restaurant and I looked at my foot. The ink had smeared all over the side of my foot. I got out a antibacterial wipe and to my surprise, most of the smudged part came off. It wasn't looking that great where the strap of my show crossed the design, though. We waited there for about ten more minutes before walking back to the Riad. I was in a foul mood. Julie said, "Do you want me to sing you a song?" We both laughed.

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    Sunday morning we took a taxi (80 dhm) out to Palmera where we were told by the Riad owner that we could have a nice camel ride and lunch. There were supposedly some gardens, a nice peaceful place outside the chaos of the Medina. We got there about noon, and tipped the taxi driver to come back at 2:30 to get us.

    When we arrived, there were a few camels off to the side, a few huge tents where it looked like people were eating, and a lovely area with tables, a fountain and statue, and some plants with flowers if you could see past all the weeds.

    While we went to use the restroom, a group of people arrived in taxis and took off on most of the camels. There was one remaining, in addition to two mothers with nursing calves. We walked over to the group of guys who looked like they were running the camel rides and negotiated a price. We would have been willing to wait for the other group to return so we wouldn't disrupt the mamas and babies, but when there is money to be made, apparently nothing is sacred.

    We got on the camels, and fortunately, the owners let the other mama camel and both calves come along, so for two of us, there were 5 camels in our little caravan. They kept making this heart-breaking crying noise. We left the walled-area where we began the ride, and entered this several-acre open space laced with palm trees and...trash. It looked like a Tijuana dump. There were mounds of dirt around which motorbikes and quads had carved trails. Plastic bags were blowing in the breeze.

    Our guide offered to take pictures of us with our cameras. We were not sure if this experience was one we really wanted to remember. While he was taking a few shots, Julie's camel slowed down a bit. The guide walked over and kicked it in the back leg to get it going again. Julie said the guide almost got a kick in the head from her.

    We rode for about 30 minutes (about 25 minutes too long) in the trashy open space past what was supposedly a Berber village (group of mud huts), and past a car and a motorcycle with a uniformed police or military guy apparently taking a break with his buddy and his girlfriend. Whether our guide knew these people or not still remains a mystery, but he decided to stay and talk with them for abut 10 minutes while our we on our camels kept going. At least he wasn't there to kick the camels for a while. We came at last to the back entrance to the camel-renting place and the camels came to a stop. So we sat there on our camels just hanging out. I looked back to see our guide running like the dickens in our direction. Apparently he wasn't supposed to leave us alone. He led us the remaining 30 feet, his job still in tact, and we disembarked.

    We headed to the tents in search of food. It was now around 1pm, and we were getting hungry. Much to our dismay, they only serve drinks here, so we ordered a round of orange juice. Our taxi wasn't coming for another hour and a half, and there was really nothing else to do. We nursed our OJ's for as long as we could, and then asked the waiter if he could help us get a taxi. Luckily, some people had just arrived in one and after negotiating the same price as when we arrived, we were on our way back to the Medina.

    Our hammam appointment was for 4pm, so we had a little time to spend in the Souks. We did a bit of shopping and then walked to the hammam Lalla, which had been recommended by some of our Riad-mates. We had a lovely time, and would highly recommend this place. All of the employees were very professional and friendly. Julie and I both did the hammam traditional salt scrub and mud bath, and a one-hour massage. Additionally, Julie got a manicure and I got a pedicure.

    It was about 7:00 by the time we left the spa, just in time to hit the food stalls for dinner. From what I understand, these food vendors (between 30-40 of them) appear every single evening and set up their portable kitchens and seating areas within the square. It is quite an undertaking to do this every day! Each trip report I've read about the Marrakech food stalls recommended stall #1 as the best, and as we are none to settle for less, we headed there. We nibbled on bread that was quickly placed in front of us as we studied the menu. We each ordered several different things, and as was our culinary rule for the trip, we would share everything. The food came out quickly, and was absolutely delicious! Some of the items I had not seen on menus of other cafes at which we had eaten on previous days.

    We had a very nice experience at food stall #1 except for two things. #1: we had been seated at the end of a long table on the aisle, where mothers would walk by trying to sell us packages of facial tissue, and kids would come by and simply beg for money, many not easily taking "no" for an answer. #2: Julie had been keeping track of what we were ordering and what it cost so when the bill came to 20 DHM more than her figure, we questioned the waiter and he had charged us 10 DHM each for the bread that had been brought to us when we sat down, bread that we had barely eaten, and bread that we had never asked for. After being in Marrakech for four days, we had begun to grow weary of the feeling that we were being taken advantage of, and the underhandedness of many vendors. Julie had had enough, and refused to pay for bread that many other cafe's would just bring and not charge for it. The waiters made quite a stink but we stood our ground and only paid for the food we had ordered. The amount in question was only the equivalent of about thirty cents, but our parents raised us to be women of principle. Regardless, it was a troubled, quiet walk back to the Riad. I had just hoped we avoided the henna girls from the night before. Marrakech was becoming exhausting, and we were looking forward to getting out to the mountains tomorrow!

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    Our day in the High Atlas Mountains and our hike up the Cascades (70 Euro for both of us - paid for driver and guide, who was the same person)

    Our day began relatively early. We'd arranged for the driver to pick us up at 9:00 am, and he was right on time. The drive to the mountains was about and hour and a half long, and very beautiful. We made several stops along the way, and discovered that even though you are miles from the nearest souk or market, there will still be people who try to sell you stuff. We couldn't even get out of the van to take a picture of the gorgeous scenery without some dude on a motorbike appearing out of nowhere pushing his cheap jewelry (and by pushing, I mean being VERY PUSHY). Our driver had advised before we even got out of the vehicle to just ignore them, but they were not easily ignored. Even in the country, there is no getting away.

    We stopped at a "store" where a guy with one good eye was selling some beautiful carpets. He explained the many different processes of how the carpets were made - some woven, some knotted, some embroidered. Some had all three techniques. Though they were all very interesting and beautiful, we did not buy anything. We saw a few spots where we could have stopped and done our camel rides and in hindsight, would have preferred to participate in that experience here instead of where we went yesterday.

    We went on a little further, and stopped at a little Berber village, were we were able to take a tour of an actual Berber home. It was the home that housed the river-powered mill that ground the grain into flower for all kinds of things from bread to couscous. There was a very modest kitchen with a wood stove, dirt floors in every room, but surprisingly there was electricity, even though it only powered simple sockets with bare light bulbs sticking out of the wall.

    We drove on further and reached the end of the road where we got out and followed our driver/guide across a sketchy bridge over the river, and we began our ascent to the Cascade waterfalls. We passed several enticing little restaurants and vendors, and soon we were on a difficult upward climb. Julie is thin and in-shape, and she had a great time. I would use neither the words "thin" nor "in shape" to describe myself, and I had a tougher time. Our driver/guide had not discussed with us at all how long the hike would be, nor had he mentioned how difficult it was. Round trip, the hike took us about two and a half hours. We stopped often for breaks and to take pictures.

    When we got to the bottom again, our driver/guide found a restaurant where we could eat lunch. I think the agreement was that if he'd parked the van there, that's where we would eat. Julie and I didn't seem to have a choice in the matter. Regardless, the place was right on the river (as most of them are), and we had a very nice 3-course lunch for about 130 DHM each.

    We had a restful drive back and as Julie had wanted to visit a post office and inquire about the cost of shipping some things home, we asked the driver to find one for us. He took us to his neighborhood PO and while Julie was inside conducting her business, I tried to chat with the driver, who up until now, had not been much of a conversationalist, preferring instead to listen to Eminem on cassette tape. I asked about his interest in the rapster, and he confided that he didn't really know what the words were, he just liked the music. Wanting to keep the conversation rolling, I asked if he had seen Eminem's move, "8 Mile" to which he responded, "Just a minute" and proceeded to dig through his things and produce a business card, on the back of which he wrote his e-mail, and asked if I would send him pictures of our day in the mountains. I was a little bit confused until I figured out the "lost in translation" event that had just taken place. Julie and I laughed about it for days.

    We went back to the Riad where we got cleaned up and dressed for dinner. We decided to venture out only as far as a cafe half-way to the square, as we were pretty tired and didn't want to deal with all the constant bombardment of people trying to get our attention and sell us things. We ate on the top balcony of the cafe and had a very nice view of the sun setting over the city. About half-way through our meal, we learned that the cafe was right next door to a Mosque, and our elevation on the 3rd floor was par to the loud-speaker for the call-to-prayer. Mid-way through the Grammy-worthy number, the person singing had a bit of a coughing spell, which erased all doubt in the minds of anyone within a 3-mile radius that these call-to-prayers are indeed live. A memorable meal it was.

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    Tuesday - Shopping, One Sister lost and Found, and Jardin Majorelle

    This was our last full day on Morocco, and we wanted to make the most of it, so we got up and hit the souks early. For many of the vendors, we were their first customers and as we walked around, many were just opening their shops. We visited one of the scarf/pillow cover/rug places first, and the salesman was very friendly. We got lots of nice things from him at very reasonable prices. He took the time to take us to the third floor of his shop where other men were hard at work weaving a rug on the loom, and one was working a spinning wheel with his feet. It was fascinating to see them in action.

    We had many things that we were looking for so we shopped for several hours, with a nice lunch in between. At one point we were deep in the souks, in an area we had not been before, and while Julie shopped for one thing, I went a few "doors down" to look at something else. When I was finished, I went to look for Julie, and I couldn't find her. Now, I am usually not one to scare easily, but when you add up the following factors about her: white + attractive + American + woman + temporarily "missing" in a maze of souk shops in a Male-dominated Muslim Country = one nervous little sister. I do admit that I got a little panicky (insert flashbacks of losing my mom at the mall when I was a kid), and started calling out her name pretty loudly. A few of the shop owners nearby pointed in one direction so I went that way but still couldn't find her. I also didn't want to go far from where I had been in case she came back. A kind wood-working shop owner went to look for her for me, and found her (I had just not gone down far enough) shopping for leather jackets. Crisis averted.

    Although I didn't really want a new wood-carved chess set or fancy carved box, I DID want to give the kind man a few DHM's for easing my mind, so we went to find him and he hesitantly took the money, but not before insisting on making us little carved wood charms that we could wear as necklaces ("They bring good luck in the Berber tradition"). One of the things on our list to buy were wood-carved BBQ skewers, and as we were leaving, we noticed that this guy was selling ones that he'd made himself out of cedar, which were much better and more solid than the flimsy painted ones I'd seen elsewhere earlier. There were 12 in a bundle, so we decided to split the cost and each take 6. A good deal all around.

    We made our way to the post office late in the afternoon where I sat watching the activities in the square for an hour while Julie found, packed, and shipped a box of stuff home to Qatar. Then we were on our way to the Jardin Majorelle. We took a taxi (40 DHM each way) and paid 80 DHM for both our entrance fees to the gardens. We didn't have a lot of time since the gardens were closing in a few hours, so we made our way around, took lots of pictures, and visited the monument honoring Yves Saint Laurent, who with his partner, had purchased and restored the gardens in 1980, and whose ashes were scattered in 2008 when he passed away. The monument was what appeared to be a broken Greek column, and we were wondering if this was the best that could have been done to honor someone who had been so influential in the fashion world. The gardens were beautiful, and I highly recommend a visit. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at the cafe before they closed and then made our way back to the Medina square and then on to our Riad.

    When planning our trip to Marrakech, Julie had corresponded several times with our Riad owners via email, and while we were there, they had invited us to have dinner with them on our last night. We enjoyed several hours of wonderful food and conversation before heading to our room to pack as we were leaving the next day.

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    Reflections on Marrakech, and tips for surviving...

    Marrakech is known as the Red City because all the buildings are made from red clay - like the stuff in the mountains at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. From what I understand, the city is composed of two major parts - the Medina, which is the old city, and the new city which surrounds the Medina.

    It seems that the the poorest people live in the Medina, and the more wealthy have moved out to the "suburbs." Sounds familiar. We have spend a week now in the heart of the Medina, in a Riad, which is like a guest house. There are four rooms here in Riad Puchka, and we have spent the last five nights in the smallest (and least expensive) of the rooms.

    Tips for having an enjoyable time in Marrakech (some of these we learned the hard way):

    1. If you are getting a taxi or any other type of service (even a henna tattoo), agree on the price ahead of time. Do not get in the taxi until you have agreed on the price, which is determined by how far away your destination is - do your homework (ask at the Riad for tips). If you don't like the price the driver is offering, start to walk away, because there are a million other taxis waiting. He will most likely agree on your price. If you are getting a henna tattoo, DO NOT sit down until you have chosen a design, which type of ink you want (brown or black) AND agreed upon the price. They may try to grab your hand and just start applying the ink, just jerk your hand away and walk on.

    2. If you plan on shopping in the souks and you are a rookie barterer, do a scouting mission first - see what's out there, and decide which items you would like to buy. Then go home. Make a list, and determine your starting bid (this may or may not change according the the shop-owner's starting price - the general rule is to offer half of their starting price, but be careful because we were told that if you are English or American, they will start their price higher) and what your limit is for each item. They will say things like "Is good price", or "is fine quality." They can be very destracting.

    3. Do not expect to have any peace from the moment you step out of your Riad. There will be motorbikes zooming buy, puddles to avoid (God only knows what's in them), and people will simply not leave you alone. Paste a smile on your face, and learn "No, thank you" in every language you can. Ear plugs come in handy at night. As two women traveling alone, we got many perverse comments, and always people trying to get our attention to buy stuff. Even on our trip to the mountains, we would pull over to take pictures of the amazing scenery, and a guy would appear out of nowhere to sell us cheap jewelry - EVERY TIME!!!

    4. DO eat at the food stalls for dinner - especially stall #1. The food was quick and very good. They have some things that other stalls and restaurants don't have. Also, when eating at any of the stalls, sit on the inside, not near a walkway, or your meal will be continuously interrupted by people trying to sell you things, usually tissues (because the stalls don't have napkins), or just begging for money, even children. Also, beware that they will charge you for bread that you didn't order. They're sortof underhanded that way. Many restaurants will just give you bread, like in the States at a Mexican restaurant, they'll bring chips and salsa. Others will charge you for it, even though you never asked for it. If you don't really want the bread, don't eat it, and then you can fight the charges.

    5. If you want to go on a camel ride, do it in combination with a trip to the High Atlas Mountain and a hike up the Cascades. There are many places to stop and ride a camel there. The place near Marrakech is trashy (literally) and they do not take very good care of the animals. A note about the hike up to the Cascades - this is a tough hike, and depending on your fitness level, can last at least 2 hours. Wear appropriate hiking shoes. You will not make it in flip-flops.

    6. If you go to a hammam for a spa day, leave your inhibitions and your makeup at your Riad. You will be having someone "bathe" you, and you will get hot and sweaty, so the mascara will find its way to your chin.

    7. If you are trying to avoid carbs, you may want to skip the traditional Moroccan Riad breakfast, which consists mostly of bread, croissants, and donuts. The fresh-squeezed juice is worth staying for, however.

    Feel free to add your own reflections and experiences.

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    What a great report, thank you.

    I am travelling to Marrakesh in late June with my family.
    I intend to buy a bunch of things, can you tell me more details about how your shipped stuff out. Is there a service there that makes it easy? Is the post office the best way? Can they ship larger items like carpets and lamps?

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    good report, I don't think of Marrakesh as third world at all more second world. It is certainly worse as you travel East along the North African coast.

    I do love the heat in the face moment at the airport, the first time it happened to me I thought a jet engine was pointing the wrong way, but no.

    If you buy a carpet the carpet seller will organise shipment for you, but, and its a big but make sure they ship the one you chose.

    There is one fantastic shop in the souk. Its to the North West of the main square and is surrounded by vegtable shops. I don't think there is a shirt in it for less than $800 and when you look at the quality you know why

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