Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Africa & the Middle East
Reload this Page > 15 days, 5 walks, 4 medinas, 3 gal of mint tea, 2 camel rides, one Morocco!

15 days, 5 walks, 4 medinas, 3 gal of mint tea, 2 camel rides, one Morocco!

Reply

Jul 5th, 2013, 07:46 AM
  #41
 
Join Date: Dec 2004
Posts: 352
Yes, this does help, thank you! I think I will stick to my first instinct and ask him to change to Les Jardins.
bniemand is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 5th, 2013, 03:12 PM
  #42
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 3
Does anyone have any suggestions for finding a car/driver when outside of the Imperial Cities? JBT sounds very good. I was wondering if there were other reliable companies?

Thanks.
travellovers is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 5th, 2013, 07:08 PM
  #43
 
Join Date: May 2012
Posts: 175
We are using Desert Majesty and have been extremely pleased with the promptness of response and the willingness to answer every question and route us where we wanted to go. We also got what we feel is a very good quote from them. One of the partners, Felicity, is incredible. Here is their website link.

http://www.desertmajesty.com/
1Caroline is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 5th, 2013, 07:11 PM
  #44
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 341
Marrakech: a madrasa, a museum and the madness of Djemaa el fna

After breakfast this morning, we meet Philippe and tell him about the shower which he promises to have fixed. We also drop off our laundry with Amina, one of the women who works in the riad. With directions in hand, we set off into the medina. The medina here, unlike Fes, is an earthy shade of pink, flat with wider streets, and with many more tourists. But, much like Fes, it is a maze with the high walls protecting beautiful homes and courtyards from the evil eye, overflowing with shops and fondouks with carts whizzing by being pulled by mules and horses. Our riad is located in the Mouassine area, so we walk north and east in the general direction of the Ben Youssef madrasa, veering of course every now and then when something interesting catches our eye and getting lost taking the wrong turn at intersections. We pass by some dyers stalls which have bundles of brightly colored yarn hanging off the rafters in the ceiling and from walls - how tempting for cats! I love the arches along the alleyways, the large bronze lantern like streetlights and the multitude of mostly crumbling fondouks that are still being used for wood and metal work.

The Ben Youssef madrasa is similar to the madrasas we have seen in Fes, but larger, in fact it is the largest in Morocco. The workmanship here is gorgeous as is to be expected, but the large crowds detract from its serene beauty, so in that respect we enjoy the madrasas in Fes much more. We are able to go up to the student dormitories here, tiny cells decorated with stucco and woodwork and overlooking the central courtyard visible through small arched windows - you can almost imagine young boys intently studying their Koran here hundreds of years ago. Our next stop is the Museum of Photography, which has a fabulous collection of black and white photographs of Morocco taken by intrepid explorers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It's a fascinating glimpse into how locals dressed and lived in those days and how the country and its cities looked; there are some lovely pictures of Berber women wearing elaborate jewelry - oh, how I wish I could've traveled to Morocco then. We stop by the roof terrace for some tea and OJ, to rest our feet and enjoy the views of the medina and the distant (and hazy) mountains.

For lunch, we want to try Souk Kafe; it's a little hard to find the first time hidden in a corner around the bend from men hammering copper into beautiful bathtubs and sinks. We settle into the cozy cushions of the third floor terrace and dig into some delicious lamb tagine and a tender beef stew called tanjia that comes with creamy couscous. After lunch, we check out a few shops including Kif Kif (that Philippe's wife owns) hoping to find interesting ceramics, knick knacks or cushions made with kilim fabric, but we don't see anything we like. So, we walk to Bab Fteuh and turn into the main souks to wander about for a bit there. We soon find that we are pretty souk'd out at this point. It's quite hot as well and therefore time for a mid afternoon refresher at Dar Cherifa, an art cafe set in a renovated 16th century riad. We have a fruit juice, tea and a plate of cookies in their courtyard surrounded by artwork that's for sale. It's a nice, chic setting and the prices reflect that. It's a good place to relax though.

From here, we walk to Djemaa el Fna and hail a taxi to the Supratours station to buy our bus tickets to Essaouira. The taxi driver offers to wait for us at the station and bring us back for 60 MAD, which seems reasonable so we accept. We get tickets on the 8:30 am bus to Essaouira day after tomorrow and the 3:15 pm bus back the next day. Tickets taken care of, we ask the driver to drop us off at Koutoubia mosque. We find a shaded bench in the park across from the mosque, and while the afternoon away. At about 6:30, we head back to Djemaa el Fna, which even a couple of hours ago was a mostly empty and quiet square with juice and dried fruit stalls and a few snake charmers, but is now throbbing with activity. The square has been taken over by several food stalls that are being setup and the smell and smoke from the grilled meats wafts through the air. The snake charmers, performing monkeys, musicians, dancers, acrobats, henna artists and other entertainers have multiplied in their numbers, attracting both locals and tourists alike. We steer away from all the madness and head up to the terrace of one of the cafes facing the square and take in the carnival scene from several feet up in the air, until the sun sets and the throngs of people begin moving over to the food stalls.

That's our cue to head down to the plaza for dinner. Every stall has a number, and I've noted a few down from Tripadvisor reviews. The stalls are not setup in sequence so it takes us a few minutes to find our first stop, Hassan at #32. As soon as we sit on the bench, sheets of paper are placed in front of us with olives, khobz, tomato dip and a couple of salads. We order a sauteed beef dish that's delicious and sausages that are good but too cartilaginous. We briefly consider the snails in broth at stall #1, but decide to pass. As we walk past the stalls trying to decide where to eat next, we are constantly bombarded with menus and pleas to eat at each one of them. We brush them all off as politely as we can and settle on stall #98, where we get a spicy sausage and tanjia. The sausage disappoints and the tanjia while tasty is not as tender as the one at Souk Kafe. We should've ordered the kefta skewers or fried fish. Oh well. Too full to try another dish, we opt for spiced tea instead at stall #70. We end the night sipping the warm, aromatic tea while humming along to the Bollywood music blaring over the speakers from the stall next to us.
seemaskt is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 5th, 2013, 07:12 PM
  #45
 
Join Date: May 2012
Posts: 175
BTW, Desert Majesty is one of those listed in the Fodor's, Frommers, and Lonely Planet guide. They have excellent recommendations. That was one of my 'biggies' so I spent a lot of time researching them.
1Caroline is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 7th, 2013, 02:01 PM
  #46
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 341
Our second day in Morocco leaves us with a crick in our necks


Our shower barely trickles water the night before as well, so after we complain to Philippe again, he apologizes and moves us to the larger Chocolate room. Apparently, all the digging and repair work being done outside in the alleyway is the likely culprit. Our new room has some lovely furnishings including a vintage steamer trunk and a gorgeous sculptural floor lamp - a lot of the furnishings in the riad came from Philippe's Paris flat.

After breakfast, we walk past Djemaa el Fna to the Bahia Palace, initially built in the late 19th century by a grand vizier of the sultan and later enhanced by another slave turned vizier. Even though we're early, large tour groups are already here with their guides and the clicks of cameras and chatter can be heard all over. But, no matter the distractions, this palace will enthrall - the delicate and detailed stucco and cedar wood work, brightly patterned zellij, stained glass windows, rectangular and domed gilded ceilings intricately painted in colorful geometric and floral patterns, and the most gorgeous doors - we can't but ooh and aah at everything we see. And this is only a small fraction of rooms and courtyards in the palace that are open to the public. If you are a fan of Islamic architecture and Moroccan interiors as we are, this palace will delight. We spend way more time here than planned and take way too many pictures, but leave thrilled.

From here, we walk west through the Mellah or the old Jewish neighborhood towards the Saadian Tombs, tucked away just behind the Kasbah mosque. This complex of ornate tombs is the final resting place of Saadian Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour, his family and advisors. Built in the 16th-17th centuries, these tombs were walled up and hidden from the world for about 200 years. No expense was spared in their construction, using imported Italian marble and gilding the honeycomb stucco with pure gold. But, neglect over a couple of centuries has dulled the once extravagant complex and leaving no evidence of the gold. There are long but quick moving lines to view the chamber containing the sultan's tomb as well as the one next to it, a quick peek in and we're out.

Our next stop is the Badi Palace, close by. This large palace, once decorated with gold, crystal and turquoise, but then looted 75 years later, is mostly in ruins with nothing much left to see. What we're here for, are the hundreds of storks nesting up on the ramparts and towers of the palace watching over the medina. We've never seen this many and this close - they're beautiful birds and graceful as they fly up into the air. There are also lovely views of Marrakech from here, nicer I'm sure at sundown. We're really hungry at this point since it's past 1, so we pop into a hole in the wall restaurant just off the side street. We get salad and freshly grilled kefta kababs that come with olives, warm bread, tomato dip and harissa. It's really hot out, so we gulp down some Coke as well. A fantastic and dirt cheap meal!

After lunch, we walk back the way we came towards Djemaa el Fna to make one last stop at Dar Si Said - another fine example of the elaborate but elegant Moroccan craftsmanship and home to the museum of arts. The wedding chamber room upstairs with its domed ceiling is as spectacular as anything in the Bahia palace and takes our breath away. As well, with only 2 other people in the museum, we are able to enjoy its beauty in peace and quiet. A definite must see in Marrakech. By this time, both Ajit and I have a crick in our necks from looking up at ceilings and focusing on intricate details all day long. We decide it's time for some rest back at the riad. On the way back, we check out one more store that I have on my list and which has nothing to our taste either. Walking past the square, we get some cold freshly squeezed orange juice (with no ice) for 4MAD from one of the stalls. Aaah, so refreshing! Back at the hotel, we rest up a little, check email and download photos.

By 4:30, our stomachs are rumbling again, so we go back to Souk Kafe for another pot of tanjia and an assortment of 7 mezzes that are light and delicious. The rooftop here is a great place to get comfortable and relax, so we linger on over mint tea. After, we stop at Souk Cherifia (where Terrasse des epices is located) and buy a babouche magnet and a set of 4 mid sized hand blown lightly tinted tea glasses from a downstairs shop. Upstairs, there are several upscale shops with lovely and well made clothing, accessories and home goods, modern but with a Moroccan touch, and with Paris/NY prices. One of the shops sells some beautiful and unique embroidered lidded baskets bought from Berber families, which I'm very tempted to buy, but ultimately decide against. This is one shopping regret from the trip.

Our ticket for the Museum of Photography gets us in today as well, so we decide to go up to the roof and enjoy the late afternoon views. Unfortunately, the kitchen closes at 6, so we can't order a beverage. We sit for a few minutes, take a couple of pictures and ponder where to go next. Back to the Terrasse des epices it is - we seem to be walking in circles today. They have a nice rooftop except the open bar area is not very well shaded from the sun. We get a couple of juices (no alcohol is served) and a chocolate b'stilla. Their food menu looks interesting as well with both Moroccan and western choices. Then, it's back to the hotel, where we lounge upstairs (me in the hammock, Ajit on the sofas) drinking cold beers and reminiscing about the trip we've had so far. It will be an early morning tomorrow since we're off to Essaouira.

We'll be back here for one final night before we fly back to NY. While Marrakech has more restaurants and trendier stores, galleries and bars and some beautiful palaces, our hearts belong in Fes.
seemaskt is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 12th, 2013, 08:22 AM
  #47
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 6,715
No grand finale?
Fra_Diavolo is online now  
Reply With Quote
Jul 12th, 2013, 03:40 PM
  #48
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 341
LOL Fra_Diavolo...I have been typing hard all day trying to finish up the last segment. It's bee a crazy week at work. Here goes...

A seaside jaunt to Essaouira

Breakfast this morning is at 7:15 since we have a bus to catch. Mohammed knocks on our door at 6:30 even though we haven't asked for a wake up call, he's really sweet. As we did in Fes, we leave our bigger suitcases here while we carry just our backpack and one small bag to Essaouira. We easily get a taxi from Djemaa el Fna to the station and have plenty of time to get a tea and check in our bag before our bus departs. Our bus trip isn't without some excitement - about a half hour in, our driver overtakes a car while (we think) going over the speed limit and gets pulled over by cops. The hand signals that worked so well for Hamid on our 5 day drive clearly didn't work here. We expect the driver will be issued a ticket and then we'll be on our way, but the animated conversation and hand gestures indicate this is a more serious matter. Apparently, the driver is missing some papers that he is supposed to carry on him. At one point it looks like we may have to head back to the station, but after much yelling followed by pleading, we are off on our way.

It's a 2 hour drive through some uninteresting scenery until we hit the coast and arrive at the medina gates. We hire a porter to take us to Les Matins Bleus; it's a quick 5 minute walk to the hotel which is in the heart of the medina at the end of a dead end street. The hotel is simple and charming with bright and airy rooms (ours is on the terrace) and eager staff, Samir and Youssef. Essaouira is sunny, but windy and a little chilly, so our first order of business when we step out is to buy Ajit a sweatshirt - we get a cool Essaouira blue hoodie from one of the shops in the souk. All right! Ajit's now got a surfer dude look going...well, not really. For lunch, we want to try Ferdaous in an alleyway behind the hotel, but it's closed. So, instead, we decide to walk over to harbor area and eat at one of the fish stalls.

The medina here is a brilliant white punctuated with bright blue doors and windows - very Greek isle like, but also uniquely Moroccan. It's a 5 minute walk to Plaza Moulay Hassan by the harbor and as we get to the square, we can smell the salty sea air and fish. In one corner of the square are the fish stalls, each proudly displaying their catch of the day. There are wooden tables and benches in front of each stand, where we can sit and eat. As we get within a few feet of the stalls, there is a lot of spirited yelling and pleading as each stall tries to convince us that they have the freshest fish at the best prices. We are hungry and not in a mood to negotiate so settle for the one right in front of us. Ajit loves fish while I prefer shell fish, so he picks out a bass and a couple of sardines, while I get a small mound of jumbo shrimp. With bread, fresh salad and a couple of Cokes, it comes to 200 MAD. We are definitely getting ripped off and we know it. While we wait for the fish to be grilled over the coals, we chat with a German couple at our table. The fish and shrimp arrive lightly charred and juicy and we get our hands dirty as we tuck in. While we think it is over hyped, it's a try-it-once kind of experience nonetheless.

After lunch, we walk towards the ramparts and port. There are hundreds of seagulls flying around in the sky swooping in to eat the remains of fish being gutted by fishermen sitting by the walls. We spot several cats as well - me thinks there are more sea gulls and cats in Essaouira than people. We spend the next hour wandering the busy harbor area filled with colorful boats, both large and small, and fisherman getting ready to go out to sea. We then walk along the rampart walls, and go up to the turreted skala with its many cannons and overlooking the sea. The views from here and along the ramparts of the whitewashed medina jutting into the sea, waves crashing against the rocky coastline, blue boats bobbing in the waters and swirling seagulls is picture postcard worthy. And the light is brilliant too. I can see why this city inspires. We continue walking along the ramparts, through narrow alleyways flanked by shops to the skala at the other end of the medina and then walk back. Along the way, Ajit is enthralled by the cats and kittens of Essaouira.

It's almost 5 now, so we stop for a quick spicy merguez sandwich at a streetside stall and walk back to the hotel to freshen up. At 6, we head over for drinks to Taros, right on the edge of the medina and overlooking the harbor. It's lovely to sit up on the terrace with its fine views and enjoy a glass of wine. There's live music here at 7:30, but we leave to catch the sun set, which casts a warm golden glow over the medina walls. So pretty! We take photographs and hang out by the ramparts until dusk. For dinner, we go back to Ferdaous and try a couple of tagines - simple but good food. And then it's time to call it a night.
seemaskt is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 13th, 2013, 03:19 AM
  #49
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 341
Winding down in Essaouira and saying goodbye to Morocco

This is our last full day in Morocco; we sleep in a little and have a leisurely breakfast on the terrace before heading out for the day. We check out of our room and leave our bags downstairs. Our plan this morning is to walk to the beach, which is easy to get to from the medina gates. We don't get very far when we notice a group of men playing football on the beach – they’re in team jerseys so it looks like they are warming up for a match. So, that’s what we do – sit on the wall by the roadside overlooking the beach and watch a match between the red and green teams. It’s awesome! While at the beginning it’s only the 2 of us watching the game, soon a few tourists and several locals including friends of the players join us, so there is a nice crowd cheering the players on. It’s a spirited game with some great ball skills on display and eventually the green team wins 2-0. What a fun way to spend a morning in Essaouira!

For lunch, we decide to try Caravan Cafe that Philippe had recommended. The restaurant is in a lovely courtyard setting with beautiful art and collectibles strewn about - good food/ service, but with NY prices. They have a global menu - we share a chicken b'stilla, I have shrimp in a saffron sauce while Ajit has a fish dish. After lunch, we wander around the souks - I pick up cosmetic argan oil that's cheaper here than in Marrakech and so much cheaper than in NY, some natural soaps, and make one last attempt to find some cushion covers that I love. Nope, not happening. There are some very interesting shops though along the alley that runs parallel to the rampart walls.

Before we know it, it's 2:30 so we pick up our bags and walk to the Supratours station. As we are leaving, I'm tempted to try crepes with the Essaouiran specialty of amlou (an almond spread with honey and argan oil) but a couple of the crepe stands along the way that we check are not carrying it. I finally get to taste some at the Assouss Argane shop near the station - it's nutty, earthy and fragrant, but a little too rich.

Our overnight trip has been a great way to soak in this charming city, but Essaouira deserves another day or two of laid back wandering. The bus trip back to Marrakech is uneventful and we get in a little before 6. I'm able to negotiate the taxi fare to Djemaa el Fna down to 20MAD and feel very empowered, it's too bad today is the last day of our trip. We gulp down our last street side orange juice at the square and walk over to the riad. Mohammed greets us warmly at the door and we are in the duplex beige room this time - it's a very cute room but seems to have the same shower issue.

After freshening up and repacking, we walk to the ATM to withdraw the last bit of dirhams that we'll need for the hotel and dinner. On the way, I spot a bright rug thrown over a stool outside one of the shops in the souk. We hadn't planned to buy any more rugs, but this one appears to be the right small size for our bedroom, so of course we have to check it out. The shop has several pieces that we like and we ultimately settle on 2 old Berber rugs. I'm excited! Ajit has to make another trip to the ATM so we can pay for them. For dinner, we initially plan to go to Cafe Arabe, but the restaurant is a little too trendy and we are in the mood for something more mellow and low key, so where else do we end up but Souk Kafe for more of that great, home style food. Nestling into the cushions, we end with mint teas on a warm Moroccan night - perfect.

We have a 10:15 am flight from Marrakech to JFK via Casablanca, so we have an early breakfast, say our goodbyes to Mohammed and are out the door by 7:45. Philippe has arranged for a drop off at the airport, which is very convenient with our now very heavy suitcases. The check in lines are long at the airport, but there are no delays. At the Casablanca airport, we look for Sukaina (the girl we met on our first day), who is flying to Tunisia and will be in the airport around the same time as us, but unfortunately we miss each other. The flight to JFK is mostly spent watching movies and soon we are home.

It's been a wonderful 2 weeks in a country that charms us in ways we don't even expect and we leave with such fond memories. Of the interesting and generous people, unexpected connections, winding medinas that transport us to another time, diverse landscapes, gorgeous architecture, artisans who continue to use centuries old traditional techniques, the simple and fresh food and finally, the excessive mint teas and sweetest orange juice.
seemaskt is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 13th, 2013, 03:26 AM
  #50
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 341
Hope you all enjoyed the report and gleaned some useful information for your own trips. Let me know if you have any questions.

Safe travels!
seemaskt is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 13th, 2013, 05:03 AM
  #51
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 6,715
Outstanding report! Thanks.
Fra_Diavolo is online now  
Reply With Quote
Jul 13th, 2013, 05:11 PM
  #52
 
Join Date: May 2012
Posts: 175
Thanks for the detailed and very time consuming report.
1Caroline is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 14th, 2013, 04:18 AM
  #53
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 341
Thank you both! Now I have to start working on our pictures. Be back with those in another month!
seemaskt is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 14th, 2013, 11:09 AM
  #54
 
Join Date: Dec 2004
Posts: 352
What a wonderful report! So much great info!
bniemand is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 16th, 2013, 08:49 AM
  #55
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 818
Loved your report as I skim read it and can't wait until I have more time to savor it, paragraph by paragraph. I too loved the doors of Morocco and have a collage of them in my office and also in my home (photos). Esp. Chefchaouen. Reading your report definitely makes me want to return to Morocco! (We were there in 2006--driving around the country by ourselves.)
pattyroth is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 16th, 2013, 12:51 PM
  #56
Ian
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,135
I will add my thanks as well. Great report.

Re: Essaouira. Fwiw we stayed for 4 nights/3 days & felt that it was a day too long.

Ian
Ian is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 17th, 2013, 07:34 PM
  #57
 
Join Date: Apr 2012
Posts: 109
Thank you for sharing us this beautiful detailed report, hope to read more detailed reports about other Tour companies too, we encourage reports like this to be shared in the forums.
again thank you.
Alex251986 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 18th, 2013, 01:19 AM
  #58
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 341
Thank you everyone! Patty - weren't the doors just wonderful? I need to start going through our pictures soon. I hope you get to go back to Morocco!
seemaskt is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 19th, 2013, 03:12 PM
  #59
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 240
Excellent report seemaskt. I did an almost similar trip like yours, also stayed at Dar Seffarine (they're the best!) and with JBT ( with Hamid as our driver) too. You've captured well in words the experience, that I feel transported back to Morocco
kakijalan is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 20th, 2013, 01:00 PM
  #60
 
Join Date: Jun 2012
Posts: 12
Wow your report so poetic and soulful. We are staying at Dar Seffarine and looking into JBT. I was wondering if you could answer a couple of questions for me.
I noticed that you did not use guides in Fez and Marrakeech, looking back now was that ok?
We too are a couple that are world independent travelers from Hawaii living in New York City.
Any further advice would be so appreciated.
We are going first to Paris then onto to Morrocco, but first starting out in Marrakeech.

Thanks, Ty
ayty is offline  
Reply With Quote
 



Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 09:22 AM.