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Trip Report and Pictures: Fez, Marrakech and Essaouira

Trip Report and Pictures: Fez, Marrakech and Essaouira

Dec 12th, 2007, 08:09 AM
  #1  
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Trip Report and Pictures: Fez, Marrakech and Essaouira

Hi everybody,

Before I begin, I want to thank all the people here on Fodors for their advice and opinions (Jenmaroc, Luisah, Philbill, Clifton). Thanks to you guys I was able to plan this very unusual (at least for myself) trip in such a short time (2 weeks).

I spent 11 nights in Morocco at the beginning of September and I must admit that I had an "interesting" experience. I mean, I am pretty sure I will never forget that trip.

I spent 4 nights in Fez, 3 nights in Marrakech, 3 nights in Essaouira and 1 night in Casablanca.

This is my top 5 list of things I loved while in Morocco:

5. The train ride from Casablanca to Marrakech.

After 4 nights in Fez, I took the 8 hour train down to Marrakech. At some point, right after the train passed by Casablanca, I felt asleep, but when I woke up, I couldn't believe my eyes. The landscape was so arid, deserted and fascinating that it made me forget about the length of the train ride.

4. Saturday morning market in Moulay Idriss.

I did a daytrip to Volubilis and Moulay Idriss from Fez. While Volubilis is worth a visit, I agree that it won't take your breath a away if you've visited roman ruins before. However, visiting the Saturday morning market in Moulay Idriss was fascinating. It was loud and messy and everything about it took me back a hundred years ago. Donkeys everywhere carrying merchandise, fruits and vegetables displayed on the ground, and locals unaware of tourism and the 21st century made it a great experience.

3. Djemaa el-Fna, in Marrakech, at night.

The food stalls, the the noise, the fortune tellers, the chaos and the loud african and moroccan music being played charms you like a cobra. It is like taken out of tale. However, during the day, it's just an ordinary and noisy square. I think it's better to first see it at night than during the day.

2. Watching the sunset on Skala de la Ville in Essaouira.

This experience can't be describe with words. You don't have to be a professional photographer to take National Geographic pictures there. The seagulls, the sound the sea hitting the cliffs, the sea air and the beautiful sunset charges you with calm and serenity.

1. The medina of Fez.

Wow, I have no words to describe this place. It's overwhelming and trapped in the middle ages. Smelly, loud, noisy, dirty, fascinating and chaotic. Those are the words that come to my mind when Fez is mentioned. It's a once in a lifetime experience. I remember when I was visiting the andalusian quarter on a Friday right before noon. The loud and overwhelming "call" urging muslims to go to the mosques in order to pray fills the city in a intoxicating way.

I think that 3 nights was the right amount of time to be spent in each city. I spent 4 nights in Fez because I daytripped to Volubilis and Moulay Idriss. Marrakech is interesting (not as much as Fez) but a bit commercialized and cosmopolitan, which is why I think that 3 nights were more than enough. Essaouira is small and can easily be visited with two nights, but, with 3 nights, I had the chance to spend a day on the beach resting before visiting Turin and Lake Orta, in Italy, the following week. The water is very cold, but it's very quiet. I stayed in Casablanca for only one night in order to leave Morocco early the following day, so I can't really comment on it.

However, there were some things that I really, really hated about Morocco. This is my top 5 list of things that got on my nerves while in Morocco (they're all number 1 on my list)

1.1 Food stalls and non-fancy restaunrants have no kind of health standards. I got so seriously ill that I even had to go to the hospital because, at some point, I thought that I was going to die.

1.2 Being overcharged for almost everything and being asked for money whenever I wanted some orientation. What "enraged" me the most was when people had the nerve to say, right afterwards, "welcome to Morocco".

1.3 Being hassled by false guides who just won't take "no" for an answer unless the word "police" is mentioned.

Fez is terrible in the last two issues. However, I never felt that way in Essaouira.

1.4 Even though riads state on their websites that credit cards are accepted and when a room is booked they confirm it again, they look for ways to get you to pay in cash claiming "the machine is broken". However, whenever I said: "well, I don't know what we're going to do because I have no cash and I still have the e-mail I got from you confirming that credit cards are accepted", a new "machine" magically appeared. This happened in Fez, Marrakech and Essaouira; not in Casablanca, though.

1.5 No "restrooms". Thank God I chose to stay in what I think were very nice riads centrally located in the Medinas...

www.luneetsoleil.com
www.riadabaka.com www.darnafoura.com

... because there wasn't a single restroom that deserved being called so. On that note I must add that even though I enjoyed the train ride from Casablanca to Marrakech on first class, there's no number to grade the its bathroom, but believe me, it was very far from belonging to first class.

To sum it up, I'm glad I finally had the opportunity to go to Morocco, but, even though I don't regret having spent a single day there, I must admit that I don't think I'll ever visit it again.

You can check out my pictures on

http://castellanagrotte.spaces.live....5DE06E1F!1661/

I hope that you enjoy them,

Thanks again... Castellanese.
Castellanese is offline  
Dec 12th, 2007, 08:19 AM
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Thanks, great photos and observations (I need to work my way thru some more of your photos when I have a lot more time). Do you have a smaller selection of highlights?

Morocco is notorious of the persistence and annoying nature of its faux guides, and to me, that substantially detracted from my enjoyment of the country.

Michael
thit_cho is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2007, 01:21 PM
  #3  
 
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Hi Castellanese,

I read most of your report the other day and just got a chance to come back for the rest. Thanks for coming back to write about it and I'm sorry that I have commented sooner. Still need to go look at more of your photos but have enjoyed the ones I've seen so far. I;m going to blame it on being caught up in trip planning for the next one! (Looks like it's going to be Nicaragua for us).

Our guesthouse was right behind some of those carpets in your #61 shot from Essaouira!

I know what you mean about the touts. I think we could have been more put off too, and we were in Marrakesh, but by the time we got to Fez we sort of laughed it off. I think we lucked out in Fez really and it wasn't bad. Actually paid a couple of little girls one day who "guided" us. I know that's not the right way to go about it, but they were cute and we just pointed at them when someone asked if we needed a guide and said we had two already! Usually got a laugh. We had a real guide on another day that Alaa at Dar Seffarine setup for us.

You make me sorry we missed Moulay Idriss but it ended up pouring the day we drove out to Volubilis, so I was sort of tired of slogging around in mud. But agree completely about the local markets. We got to one large one that you'd describe about the same way in Azrou, up in the middle Atlas. Livestock, donkeys and all that. A full size live sheep being tied to the top of a Fiat petite taxi. AND - no touts the entire stay there. I think that Morocco gets so much better, hassle-wise, once you get away from the well known places. We kind of think we've seen Marrakesh, and other than getting back to visitor our new friend Mohammad, we pretty much had our fill there. Got to get back to Essaouira to visit and have more tea with Jalil too who we met at the post office... see if he can try again to teach us some Arabic! I'm sure he thought we were a bit thick, but the visits were fun.

On the other hand, just in general, we can't wait to go back to the Valley of the Kasbahs; Azrou and the berber mountain villages and Chefchaouen (where people popped out of nowhere, once we got away from the main couple of drags, to ask how we liked their town, chatted a bit... then smiled and wandered off)

Again, thanks so much for your report. It's great to see what becomes of people's plans. 'Cept now I feel guilty I never wrote one. haha
Clifton is offline  
Jan 31st, 2008, 01:43 PM
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I know this is a little old, but am hoping Castellanese is checking: I love the idea of the Moulay Idriss day trip from Fez (we've seen Roman ruins in Israel, Greece and Rome so will skip Volubilis). How did you get there? How long was the ride? Is the Saturday market there every week?
Thanks!
alyssabc is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2008, 05:58 AM
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Hi alyssabs,

As far as I'm concerned, the market takes place every Saturday. I took a taxi from Fez (previously arranged by the riad). It was 60 Euros, although I remember that the riad manager had to fight for that price, because, according to her, the taxi wanted to charge 80 Euros. I really don't remember how long it was, but it wasn't that long. I lost track of time both on our way to Moulay Idriss (I was enjoying the beautiful scenery) and on our way back to Fez (I fell asleep).

I must admit that even though the only roman ruins I've seen are the ones in Rome, I wasn't really impressed by those in Volubilis. If I had to do that daytrip again, I would spend the entire day strolling Moulay Idriss.

According to my bookguide, you can also visit Moulay Idriss by taking a train from Fez to Meknes and then a bus to Moulay Idriss. I was going to do it like that, but I figured it would be a long a daytrip, so, in the end, I decided to take a cab.

I hope you have a great time in Morocco. The medina of Fez, Djemaa el Fna at night, Skala de la Ville in Essaouira at sunset and the Saturday morning market in Moulay Idriss were the highlights of my trip.
Castellanese is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2008, 08:39 AM
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I just caught up with this thread myself. Great information.
I'm taking my first trip to Morocco next month. Mine is a packaged tour (first time for me doing that) and will be shorter and more rushed, unfortunately, but I will use some of these tips. thanks
elaine is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2008, 04:49 PM
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Thanks for sharing your trip and especially, your photos. It was a trip down memory lane for me. Although I remember the 'pressure touts and faux guides' the other experiences far outweighed their significance to me. Now I'm dreaming of going back!
wintersp is offline  
Feb 4th, 2008, 02:35 PM
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Thanks, I appreciate the advice. Time does feel at a premium for us as well, so I think we'll also arrange a driver.
alyssabc is offline  
Feb 7th, 2008, 05:22 AM
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I'm headed for Morocco in April and it's great to hear all your comments and suggestions--and dislikes!! I'm wondering about hiring a driver/guide to take us to Ouarzazate and Merzouga. How does one arrange this...and any idea what the cost for five passengers would be?
sightseeker is offline  
Feb 16th, 2008, 03:22 PM
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Hi! My husband and I just booked a trip to Marrakech and Fez in April but now I am concerned about the safety there as people have been telling me that there is a lot of terrorist activity in Northern Africa. Did anyone feel unsafe while visiting Morocco? Would you be concerned about traveling there since there was an attack last year in/around Casablanca? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!
csmith331 is offline  
Feb 17th, 2008, 06:20 AM
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"People have been telling me"...

Sorry to sound cynical, however in my experience 9 times out of 10 those people are simply repeating what they've heard in the mainstream media, not the reality on the ground.
In spite of the bombing attacks in recent years, Morocco is a very safe country to travel in. Of course when you are in unfamiliar surroundings, fear and concern for your safety tend to predomintate over common sense. Morocco is far safer than most US cities, with their high rates of crime and gun violence (it's odd how incidents such as the recent Illinois killings or Virginia Tech don't register with people as a US grown version of "suicide attacks")

If there is one thing to bear in mind, it is the rather high rate of car accidents in this country. Trains are your best bet for transportation.

sebti is offline  
Feb 18th, 2008, 06:53 AM
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Thank you so much for the clarification. I am obviously nervous as the state of affairs in the Middle East are not stable right now. However, after tons of research, I agree that Morocco is as safe as any American city. I appreciate your feedback and am looking forward to a great trip!
csmith331 is offline  
Feb 18th, 2008, 08:03 AM
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jgg
 
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csmith - we travelled last year to Morocco. Left about a week after the first suicide bombing in Casablanca. I will admit we were a bit concerned (especially since we were travelling with our kids) but once we arrived our concerns were completely forgotten as we enjoyed this incredible country and the gracious people. A week or two after we returned home, there was the 2nd incident in Casablanca. So, this is not to say that things won't or can't happen, but you could just as easily be caught up in something in London, Spain or just about anywhere in Western Europe.

After the incident happened before we left I followed the news on the subject intimately (had to do it on the internet as not much written about in the papers here). The one thing I noted was how swiftly the Moroccan government came in and handled the situation.
jgg is offline  
Feb 19th, 2008, 02:09 AM
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correction csmith, Morocco is SAFER than any American city....even when you look at the ratios you are still statistically more likely to be a victim of some crime or another in the US as opposed to Morocco!
sebti is offline  
Feb 19th, 2008, 07:17 AM
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Thanks to both of you once again for sharing your perspective. It's greatly appreciated. I am really looking forward to my trip in April and feel good knowing that others enjoyed traveling there!
csmith331 is offline  
Feb 21st, 2008, 05:27 AM
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Hi,

I never felt unsafe in that sense. I was too a bit concerned about visiting Morocco just a few months after the incident in Casablanca, but, once there, I had also forgotten all about it.

I know that I may have focused a bit more on what I didn't like than on what I liked when doing my top 5 trip report, but, like I said before, I don't regret having visited it.

The top 5 things that I hated the most really got on nerves when I was there, but, when I look back, I must admit that the top 5 things I loved the most will always be in my memory as "amazing stuff I've seen and enjoyed in my entire life".

Castellanese.
Castellanese is offline  
Mar 19th, 2008, 06:21 PM
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Hi everybody,

I'm sorry guys but I had to closed down my space.

When I open it again, I'll post the new link to my pictures.

Castellanese.
Castellanese is offline  
Mar 19th, 2008, 08:56 PM
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Just returned last week from 10 days in Morocco, most of the time in and around Marrakesh and Essaouira and between the two. What an interesting, amazing and lovely country and what wonderfully hospitable people. Can't wait to return.

csmith331: Never once did I feel unsafe or uneasy or threatened in any way. Even amongst the crowds of people in the Djemaa el-Fna in Marrakech at night. There was a strange sense of orderliness in all the chaos and disorder. Please understand that there is a great deal of poverty and underemployment in the country and many people are living at barely subsistence level. It's important that you exercise your street-smarts. As a tourist, wealthy by Moroccan standards, you will be a target in some ways - the smartest and most industrious will be searching for ways to part you from some of your dirhams, most often by offering to trade something in exchange. If you want directions, if you want information, they will want to be paid. Most of the people you see in the streets will not appreciate you snapping photographs of them and their shops or wares. They will say to you, 'Don't take a picture of my fruit stand - buy some of my fruit!'

True story: Goats sometimes are seen climbing the Argan trees. We stopped to take a photograph of goats in trees and the young shepherd boy ran around throwing more of his goats into the trees so we would get good photos - and give him dirhams as a reward.

You can see some of my photographs at http://www.juliamaudlinphotography.com
julia1 is offline  
Mar 20th, 2008, 05:34 AM
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Hi Julia,

Beautiful pictures! I'm surprised by the many pictures you were able to take of local people. The minute most people saw my camera, they would run away as if it were a gun or just warned me that they didn't want their picture taken.

When you have the chance to return, don't miss Fez because it's an amazing city.

Castellanese.
Castellanese is offline  
Mar 20th, 2008, 09:04 AM
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Hi Castellanese,

Thanks so much! People photography in Morocco is difficult, as you say. Many don't want their photographs taken. I think it's important to respect their wishes in that regard. The women at the Argan Oil Cooperative were shy but willing to be photographed when I asked, and all were then eager to see what they looked like on the camera LCD screen. When I returned home, I sent the photographs to them by email. In other cases, I spent some time conversing with people, and then asked if I could take a photograph. Surprisingly often, they agreed to it. And then there were the children - they each wanted 5 dirhams.

I can't wait to return! And Fez is on my list, as are many other places. I can't say why, but Morocco affected me in ways other places never have. Kind of like Turkey on steroids!
julia1 is offline  

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