Morocco

  • Date: September 2014
  • Duration: 6 days
  • Currency: Moroccan Dirham
  • Lasting impressions:
    • I LOVED the Moroccan architecture and decor, all the arches, domes, wall carvings, mosaics, rugs, wooden ceilings, everything a richly detailed, colorful pattern. Enchanting. My bedroom is decorated after this fashion to this day.
    • The muezzin (daily prayer call) is distinctive and off-putting when you don’t know about it, but you quickly get accustomed to its call 5 times a day.
    • Practice your French! English or Spanish speakers are not common, French is your best bet.
    • There is no alcohol. You might know this, but you may not be adequately prepared.
    • Stay in a riad (traditional guesthouse). They have lushly decorated rooms and charming indoor courtyards, offering a wonderful place to relax after a day of touring the busy city.
    • The scarcity of local women out in public was slightly unsettling, being a woman that is used to traveling without a male companion. We were thankful to be traveling with a male friend this time.
    • Embrace getting lost, street signs (if present) indicate the street they lead to, not the street you’re on. Locals will help you find anywhere, your hotel, a restaurant, a tour… and they will expect a tip for their help. It’s usually worth it to find where you’re going, places are often subtly marked if at all.
    • M’Smmen (honey pancakes) is the street food of the gods. Just what you need during a break during a long walking day.
    • On the ferry from Gibraltar, we missed the summons to get our passport stamps while on the boat, which resulted in us being detained on the boat an extra hour late at night, alone with an entourage of military officers. Getting to Tangier from the ferry port was a frightening challenge.

Itinerary

  • Tangier  – 1 day
  • Marrakech – 3 days
  • Casablanca – 2 days

morocco-map.001

Tangier

Getting there: Ferry from Gibraltar

Highlights:

  • Ferry from Gibraltar, mostly locals, but if you’re a tourist, MAKE SURE TO GET YOUR PASSPORT STAMPED AT DURING THE RIDE. We somehow didn’t hear the announcement while watching the sunset over the water, and realized too late that it was a crucial error. We were not allowed to exit the ferry terminal along with all the other passengers, and had to wait almost an hour talking to the police. It was scary to say the least, and then had to make the commute from the port to our hotel in Tangier alone. This is how we learned that people would guide us anywhere, for a price. The price is almost always worth it.
  • Muezzin call, will serve as your 5am wakeup call. Shut your hotel windows if you are close to a mosque or you’ll wake up early.
  • Kasbhah, a small, walled portion of the old town where the colonial governors used to live.
  • Medina, a labyrinth of alleyways with vendors selling crafts, clothes, and Moroccan goods.
  • Cap Spartel, where a taxi ride toured us through winding streets of mansions. We got dropped off near the Gate of Hercules, where we saw some camels hanging on the gorgeous beach, begging to be ridden by tourists. We obliged.
  • Grand Socco square, the ideal space to grab a coffee, mint tea, or snack while watching people coming and going.

Marrakech

Getting there: 10 hour night rain ride from Tangier

Highlights:

  • Our riad (traditional guesthouse) was an oasis, a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of the Moroccan streets. It looked like a rundown shanty from the outside, but the inside was an open-air green space filled with plants, fountain, beautiful mosaics and decor.
  • Djemaa El Fna, the biggest central square, filled with vendors, cards, food stands, snake charmers, monkeys on leashes, and voodoo chanters. The most popular offerings were fruit, orange juice, figs and dates, pastries, and argan oil, which we learned can be used for just about anything.
  • Badi Palace, a huge stone ruin of a previously decadent palace. The remaining features were coppery, brown stone walls and fountains.
  • Saadian tombs, a small courtyard of tiled gravestones, and three large buildings with ornate arches, ceilings, and patterned tile work.
  • Bahia Palace, similar to Spain’s Alhambra, a small maze of connected and ornately decorated rooms.
  • Dar Si Said, a small Berber museum, showing examples of rugs, furniture, pottery, and other crafts.
  • Rug “shopping”… we were offered a “free tour of Berber crafts” by a man on the street. Naively we accepted, and followed him down deep into a building, where we forced to view hundreds of rugs and aggressively pressured to each buy one. At one point I was actually tempted to scream to escape, but I figured that no one would hear us. We bought inexpensive rugs in exchange for our release. Not a good experience.
  • Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa, another small, ornately decorated building.
  • Ourika Valley, we took a day tour out to the countryside for break from the “medina madness”. We were surprised to find a green valley, different from the stark deserts we had expected. Some of the tour was carefully planned stops at local shops… but eventually we got to a part where we could walk up the hills and see a waterfall.

Casablanca

Getting there: 3 hour train ride from Marrakech

Highlights:

  • Hassan II Mosque, overwhelmingly stunning and immaculate, a huge white tower and building. You are humbled by the sheer magnitude of the structure, although the tower does appear to lean (the guides would not confirm this). It had a huge open plaza in the front, and was bordered by water at the back. The main prayer hall inside made one feel tiny and insignificant in comparison.
  • Sacre Coeur, a distinctive white church with two towers.
  • Parc de la Ligue Arabe, a long green strip leading through the city.
  • Mohammed V Square, near the Hassan II Mosque with a large fountain in the middle.
  • United Nations Plaza, containing a modern art dome structure next to the
  • Rick’s Cafe, made famous as the setting of the movie Casablanca. Expectedly touristy, but worth going to if only to say you’ve been there. “Here’s looking at you kid!”

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