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A Very Berber Birthday! Trip report and travel tales, Spain, Morocco & Lisbon

A Very Berber Birthday! Trip report and travel tales, Spain, Morocco & Lisbon

Feb 9th, 2007, 06:43 AM
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A Very Berber Birthday! Trip report and travel tales, Spain, Morocco & Lisbon

It goes so fast, and now back seems like it never was except for the amazing memories and photos to remind me of my very favorite vacation EVER!

For as long as I can remember I've always wanted to go to Morocco. When planning this trip I tacked on Spain and Lisbon. I ended up cutting my trip short a few days( on the Lisbon end- so apologies to the Ldc) due to shear exhaustion and a nagging earache.

My friend Robin joined me for the first 11 days, Madrid, Morocco and Valencia. I was then on my own for a few days in Madrid and a few in Lisbon. It was a crazy fasy-paced trip with awesome experiences and 4 extra pieces of luggage. This report will probably be lengthy , we did ALOT! So for those interested here is where you will find the details of what was indeed " A VERY BERBER BIRTHDAY" and then some.

First up- Prep, arrival and remember to notify your bank!
laartista is offline  
Feb 9th, 2007, 06:48 AM
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oh goody....can't wait for this report!
cruisinred is offline  
Feb 9th, 2007, 06:59 AM
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Me, too!
AnnMarie_C is offline  
Feb 9th, 2007, 08:48 AM
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We leave 5 weeks from today for Barcelona and Morocco. Looking forward to the report!!
jgg is offline  
Feb 9th, 2007, 09:00 AM
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Can't wait to read your report. I seem to recall a trip report on the south of France last year from you and it had me in stitches!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Feb 9th, 2007, 09:04 AM
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Happy to hear your back and had a great trip. Anxious to hear all about it!

Stu T.
tower is offline  
Feb 9th, 2007, 09:23 AM
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Day 1 Thursday 25 Jan.

So here was the plan. My Continental flight left Newark on the night of the 24th Jan. @ 8 pm. Robin , who was recently called back to Delta as a flight attendent, left at 3:00 that same day. I drove her to Newark where she would be connecting thru Atl. and meeting me in Madrid the next morning. For those who have read my previous reports, you will know I am a terrible flyer, hate it! and like the many times before had my Xanax ready. Also as before I used my miles for a Biz. class ticket. Now I could have flown with Robin on a buddy pass, but I would be going standby and didn't want to take any chances.

The flight was fine, I was sedated, didn't sleep thou and arrived in Madrid at 9:00 a.m Thurs. Robin was getting in at 11:30. I breezed thru customs and found out where the lockers were so we could store our stuff while we tooled around Madrid for the day. We had a 10 pm flight to Marrakech that night.

Next, grabbed a coffee and to the nearest ATM to get cash, only to find the screen telling me UNABLE TO PROCESS YOUR REQUEST. What? Why? I'll tell you why, REMEMBER TO NOTIFY YOUR BANK OF OVERSEAS TRAVEL! I didn't. Now normally this would have been an OH SHEET! situation, but I had my spankin new global phone that the parents sent me for my upcoming B-day. Pretty nice gift Huh? Yeah it was ,but not an unselfish one. My neurotic mother wanted to be able to contact me at anytime, especially while in Morocco. Still, I was glad to have that phone and after letting mom know I had arrived safe ,I quickly dialed up Bank of America. The thing is it was the middle of the night in California where my account was opened so all I got was the automated service which just happens to be voiced by my long time ex- boyfriend (no lie). The last thing you want to hear while in Spain, on vacation, unable to get cash is the voice of your ex telling you he CANNOT HELP YOU! I had exactly 8 euros in my pocket, left over from Amsterdam in Sept. Think , think, what to do. I know, call the lost card services, they are always open. So I did, they were, told them I didn't lose my card but needed $$$$. The nice guy took care of it, lifted the block on the ATM, back to the machine and Voila! Euros.

I waited for Robin to arrive and was psyched when she finally showed up. Told her of my bank snag and went back to the ATM for her to get cash. No luck, no $$$ for Robin. She insisted she did not have to notify her bank, there was no block and that it was probably that particular ATM machine. From very recent experience I knew better, but whatever, it would take 7 atm's and into mid afternoon before Robin would buckle and call her bank. She had her Blackberry but the sim had not been activated yet. I offered my phone. Was there a block? YES! But in addition her bank card (Northfork) could not be used at ANY, NONE, NOT ONE, ATM in all of Spain. LOL-

We arrived at terminal 2. At terminal 4 which is like 10 miles away there is a locker storage facility. We caught the white bus, took it to 4 and on the level right below departures to your right past the rent a car windows is a door that leads to the lockers. They charge 3 Euro per day per locker. They screen the baggage and have 24 hour security. We stored our suitcases and headed out for the Red Bus that would take us to the metro station. When you exit terminal 4 head to your right and there is the little red bus. Parked right across from the parking garage that had been bombed by ETA a few weeks prior. A sobering site to say the least. The damage was massive and quite unbelievable. The bus took us to metro stop Canillejas where we would folow the other people across the bridge, down the steps, to the green line to eventually end up at Gran Via.

Next- A day in Madrid
laartista is offline  
Feb 9th, 2007, 10:29 AM
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Hey, thanks e1.

We stepped out of the Metro to find it cold and lightly rainy, no umbrella. But good news, Starbucks was within our field of vision. Go ahead make your remarks about Starbucks, but here's my feeling on the Starbucks worldwide thing. When traveling, it is nice to have something familiar, especially your coffee. Now I for one like Starbucks and when I spot one in a far off place it's like seeing the mother-ship. I feel like I can walk in ,order in English and it's all good cuz it's Starbucks, so 2 Grande skim lattes and we were on our way.

WE had no real plan for this day. Robin had never been to Madrid, I had been once in 99 for 2 days. I had left all our guidebooks for the entire trip on my coffee table so we decided to wing it. I did remember the royal palace, and that it WAS grand so that was our goal. That was our goal, however there is a little thing that takes place in Europe in January. In Spain it's called REBEJAS. Now any good shopper knows that means big big sale! Rebejas would end up meaning big, big trouble for Robin and I who thank goodness had similar shopping styles ,tastes and each brought an extra luggage. Where were our priorities? Hey we're girls! So a little shopping, a little stroll over to Plaza Mayor for little tapas, a little shopping and at 4;00 finally make it to the Royal Palace which gave us exactly 1 hour to scope the joint out.

I was suprised at how well I remembered this place- it is unforgettable, especially the views from the covered arcade. Even on a cloudy miserable day, just beautiful. We took lots of pictures, toured the palace and headed back toward the Gran Via, stopping for the occasional photo op along the way. Our flight to Marrakech was leaving at 10:20, we needed to get our luggage from the lockers and take the public transport back to the airport so we planned on leaving the city no later than 7:30.

We arrived back at Madrid airport around 8:00 pm. Retrieved our luggage and checked in at Royal Air Maroc. I had purchased the tickets thru Iberia. This first leg was operated by RAM. The tickets were RT Mad- Mkech, we bought them only 10 days prior because, well I was busy with work and forgot, so they were kind of expensive. $330 US rt pp. Popped my Xanax, asked for an aisle, ended up in the 2nd to last row next to a "fart machine"- no joke this guy stank up the plane the whole flight ( 2 hr) and everyone was giggling, including me from under my scarf which was wrapped around my nose to block the rancid stench. Too much info? Hey, it's a detailed trip report and that's a detail that affected my flight. Another interesting tidbit Robin and I noticed was the number of men on the plane reading porno magazines on the way to an Islamic country. I thought it was odd, especially the ones who were apparently sitting next to their wives. LOL. These are things I notice-strange stuff.

Touchdown at Marrakech at 11:20, time difference of an hour from Madrid. Off the plane it was suprisingly chilly and a short walk to the 4 windows they call Passport Control. This was my first time to the African Continent, I was excited and nervous and Oh my God it took forever to get out of that airport, which is tiny. We did stop at the ATM for Dirhams. Rate of exchange was app. 8.5 D- 1 USD.

Next Cabby to Le Meridien Marrakech
laartista is offline  
Feb 9th, 2007, 10:44 AM
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Starbucks as the mother-ship! - I love it. (and the rest of your report is pretty good too).
isabel is offline  
Feb 9th, 2007, 11:10 AM
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We exited the M-kech airport to an alley way- literally. Where were the taxis we were prepared to bargain with? Not there. We just looked at each other and started laughing. I said- yeah- don't know, maybe there is a secret place to find the taxis. It seems that secret place is around to the front side of the building which we found by following the locals who were returning home.

*** Side note**** I had done tons of research on Morocco prior to this trip. In all that I read from Lonely planet thorn tree to Trip advisor to virtual tourist to here. I read how the hassle was unbearable , the bargaining was exhausting and Marrakech can try your nerves from the time you arrive. I have to say in all honesty we for the most part DID NOT experience this.******

To continue I had read that a grand taxi should cost no more than 120 D at night and that we would have to negotiate a price. How delighted we were when the very first driver approached us and we said how much to Le Meridien and he said 100D and we said O.K. and we were off and it was a hop, skip and a jump to the hotel where we would stay for the first 2 nights in Marrakech.

Le Meridien is lacated in The Palmerie area of Marrakech. We got our first night free with amex points, paid 135 Euro for 2nd night NOT including breakfast. The hotel property is beautiful. The rooms however- not so much and we found the Le Meridien a disappointment compared to other Le Med properties. Check in was smooth, ou bellman Abdul was sweet as sugar, but when we got to our room there was just 1 big bed. Robin and I looked at each other and said No!. Abdul, we reserved a twin, with 2 beds. He told us to wait there and left us in the room for about 20 minutes. We just sat there, it was around 1:30. Abdul returned and in very good English ( he told us he was practicing) said he had another room. He then grabbed the large bottled water and 1 glass and handed it to Robin and the vase with 1 fake flower in it and handed it to me along with the 2 chocolates from the pillows and said to follow him. Thru the hallways we walked carrying the items from the first room to arrive at the second room which had no water, no fake flower in a vase & no chocolates on the pillow so good thing we brought them with.LOL. The room was just O.K. kind of stark, tile floors which were cold, but the room was cold and we would soon find out the heat didn't work. The bathroom was nice thou,as was the view of the pool, but the beds were uncomfortable and neither of us would sleep well that night despite our exhaustion from travelling since the night before. We tipped Abdul 50 D ( 6 USD, our bags were large) and an I love NY pencil. ( We brought a bunch of I love NY stuff with to spread good New York cheer around Morocco-and it worked). He kissed us both on both cheeks and shook our hands and told us if we needed anything, anything at all to ask HIM, and he would "walk anywhere in the night for us", he will show us the city and be our guide. Merci Abdul, Merci.

more later need a nap
laartista is offline  
Feb 9th, 2007, 11:33 AM
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I travel a lot and one thing I've noticed in some foreign countries is that, every once in a while, there seems to be a period when your bank at home is engaged in some kind of updating process and, therefore, is not communicating with banks abroad through the Cirrus or Plus network. I suspect that this "downtime" takes place in the middle of the night where your bank's systems are based - which happens to be in the morning, or middle of the afternoon, or some other time when you need money in Europe or Asia. If I have trouble with one ATM, I try another from a different bank. If that one doesn't work, I take a deep breath and go do something else for an hour or so. I've never had a problem the second time around.
Kate_W is offline  
Feb 9th, 2007, 11:46 AM
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You have a fantastic sense of fun in your writing. Can't wait to read more!
Kristina is offline  
Feb 9th, 2007, 01:17 PM
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Link to pix from day 1 in Madrid- I have to get Robins, and will post hers as well.
laartista is offline  
Feb 10th, 2007, 06:28 AM
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checking why last entry didn't post
laartista is offline  
Feb 10th, 2007, 06:30 AM
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Day 2-Marrakech

I want to start off by saying I LOVED Marrakech. People have described it as sensory overload and I completely agree. It is the craziest, most awesome place. That said...

We awoke Friday morning to a cold wet day which kind of sucked but hey, we were in Marrakech and psyched to see it. Starving from missing dinner the night before we splurged on room service breakfast. At 17 E each it really was a splurge but we got eggs, bacon, sausage, pastries, coffee and the best O.J. ever. Now Robin is a type 1 diabetic so she couldn't have the o.j but did take a sip. She said it would be worth an extra shot, it was that good. The portions were huge so the next day when we ordered breakfast we decided to split one. Being girlie girls it takes us no less than 1 1/2 hours to get out of the room which is why we decide to multi-task with room srv. breakfast.

Because it's Friday (the day of prayer) most everything is closed from around 11 to late afternoon. We had decided we would do the souks on Tuesday after returning from our desert trip so we thought we would start with some sights. First up the Majorelle Gardens.

Kind of far from our hotel we got a petite taxi for 30 D to take us to the gardens. Our first driver also Abdul was a young nice guy, little english, my french., not so good so I sat up front to show him the map & where we wanted to go. He kept teasing me about the holes in my jeans- he found it funny. He offered us a day of touring for 300D (37 US). I was wishy washy but Robin made the final No decision and he just dropped us off. The ride to the gardens took us thru M-kech around the outer medina walls. We were wide eyed at the people , the sights the donkeys (everywhere). The city was truely a mix of old a new. And although somewhat decrepit, beautiful in it's own way. All the buildings different shades of light pinks,that even in the rain it was amazing.

The Majorelle garden was the villa originally of French painter Jaques Majorelle. Fell in love with M-kech moved there til he died in the early 60's. The place was bought by Yves Saint-Laurent and restored- he did a great job. Peaceful and lovely with cacti and different fauna, deep red walkways accented by blue, green and yellow painted walls and urns that lined the walkways, not to mention the tilework which I as a mosaic artist flipped for. Snapping away with my camera and it dies. I had just put a new battery in and charged it so I was both confused and annoyed. Robin took the bulk of the pix there and finding a new battery for my camera would end up ruling our afternoon. We stopped at the gift shop for a few postcards and got one of the petite taxis waiting outside the gates.

Our second driver Mustafah, suggested a camera shop in the new town (guilez). It was about 1:30 so when we got to the shop cLOSED for Friday prayer, to reopen at 3 pm. Mustafah said for 100 D (12 us) he would drive us around and back to the camera shop at 3 and then to the main square. We agreed. Since nothing was really open we decided we would like to get a coffee. Mustafah dropped us at a coffe house and said he would be back in about 20 min. We hadn't paid him and it seems that the taxi thing is on the honor system.

The coffee house scenerio was a bit odd for us. Even thou we were in the new town, we were the only women in there. And needless to say, every head turned. Robin later said she felt somewhat uncomfortable, but really it didnt bother me I was chatting up an older man while waiting for our coffee. he had been to New York and was telling me about it. We took our coffees and sat outside under the awning watching the people go by. And they watched us.


laartista is offline  
Feb 10th, 2007, 06:45 AM
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What a hoot! You're on a roll, keep 'er coming!! We leave for Madrid and parts south in about 10 weeks.
dcd is offline  
Feb 10th, 2007, 07:30 AM
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Mustafah returned for us and said he would be taking us to a shop for "wonderful gifts". It's all a game, the taxi drivers take you to a touristy place for you to shop. Knowing that and also knowing we were NOT shopping until Tuesday and considering everything else was pretty much closed we agreed. There were lots of tourists there and the only good part was we got to scope out the wares that would be available at the souks and get a rough idea of pricing. We oohed and ahhed and left empty handed. Next Mustafah suggested the BEST kaftan merchant in all of M-kech- alright fine, we'll go. This shop was right outside the medina walls and they did have very beautiful things so I ended up buying 2 small shirts for my nieces. I knew the price was not good but I just wanted to wrap it up and go. Next Mustafah took us across the street to a berber pharmacy. We would spend 2 hours there and boy was it fun.

The pharmacist, also Abdul, had his 2 sisters working with him covered head to toe. As we entered a British group was leaving. Abdul sat us down served us delic. mint tea (by the end of the day we would be up to our eyeballs in mint tea) pulled a cart up of lotions and potions and started his pitch. He had remedies for everything. From psoriosis to indigestion to hemoroids. I picked up a small tin and opened to see a pretty pink gel- and asked what it was for. At first I thought maybe some berber lip gloss and when he told me it was for herpes I was glad I hadn't tried any. LOL I asked if they had a big problem with that there and he said No, it was for the tourists. LOL A little Berber humor for ya.

Next up some black stuff wrapped in a piece of linen that Abdul stuck up my nose and said sniff- for sinuses- which I do have a problem with. As my eyes teared, Robin was busting a gut while snapping away. Her turn and time for a massage of the neck with some eucalyptus oil. This time I was the one laughing and taking pictures. The sisters stood by and giggled as we questioned Abdul about all the remedies. Then the one sister gave both Robin and I Henna tatoos on our hands. I'm like messy marvin and kept smudging mine by accident so mine pretty much looked like a blob on the underside, but Robin's came out great. We gave each sister an I love NY pencil and met the owner who wants to open a berber pharmacy in NYC, I think it's a great idea! We took some group photos and left with the following:

Sinus remedy
2 khol eye makeup applicators with kohl
3 bags of herb mixes for tea
2 bags saffron
2 bottles of eucalyptus oil
1 bottle rose oil
1 jar rose cream
2 bags moroccan mixed spices
our henna tatoos and
2 free pumice stones as gifts for a grand total of 600D (75 us) and that was after Robins first stab at major bargaining which she eventually got much better at to say the least. So much for not shopping until Tuesday!

As we left our new friends at the pharmacy with whom we exchanged email addresses with, they wanted copies of the pix, there was Mustafah waiting for us. Robin and I decided we would give him xtra for waiting so long. Next stop back to the camera shop in Gueliz.

We pulled up in front I jumped out and no luck, no sony battery for my camera. The guy did suggest another place which he wrote down and I handed the slip to Mustafah and he promptly took us there. It was raining pretty hard now so we weren't too upset we were stuck in the taxi.

We arrived at an appliance store in the new town. I got out and took my camera in. Yes, they had a battery but I also needed a charger which was with my guidebooks on the coffee table back home. BUMMER 150 US later-that sucked, BUT I needed my camera, it's only money bygones.

Mustafah then dropped us at the La Koutoubia Mosque. We paid him 150 D (20 us) Kiss kiss, hug, hug, an I love NY mini mug and his biz. card and we were off. It was now about 5:00 pm.

more later
laartista is offline  
Feb 10th, 2007, 08:16 AM
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Been following your report and enjoying it. It's good to hear another report where hassles weren't too bad. I've been doing a lot of reading for our trip to Morocco and Spain, leaving next month. Somehow strayed across a few posts of yours on LP and TripAdvisor so had been wondering how it went.

Keep it up!
Clifton is offline  
Feb 10th, 2007, 10:14 AM
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Great pictures too! So, which one are you in the photos? I like to put a face with the writer.
Kristina is offline  

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