Marrakech, Morocco 2007

We had just spent five days in Barcelona (read about it here – Barcelona) , so we were flying from there.  We got to the airport about 7:30 pm for our 9:50 pm flight. The check-in counter didn’t open for another 20 min. We were flying Royal Air Maroc from Barcelona directly to Marrakech, although it appeared to be operated by Iberia. The guy at the checkout counter was pretty rude, but everyone else was nice and we had no problems with the flight, although it was late leaving. We were supposed to arrive in Marrakech at 11:15 pm, but I believe it was almost midnight. Then we had to go through passport control, which took quite a while, as apparently several flights came in at once. When we came out our luggage was all there and our riad driver was waiting for us.

Now, I had know idea what to expect at the airport so I had double checked to make sure our driver would be there to pick us up.  However, even about 12:30am there were tons of petit taxis lined up right outside the airport, so would not have been a problem.

The first thing I noticed when we walked outside was the spicy smell in the air. The airport was a lot bigger and nicer than I was expecting. Our riad was in the Old Medina, just a 10-15 min. drive. By the time we arrived it was after 1:00 am. Our driver had to stop down our street. We walked to the riad about 1/2 a curvy block.

Our driver rang the doorbell and we were welcomed into our beautiful riad, Riad Kniza,  by Abdul. Despite the late hour he gave a brief tour of the riad and then showed us our room.

It was the Ambar Suite. It had a living room and bathroom downstairs and a bedroom and bathroom upstairs. The living room was turned into a bedroom for the kids with two beds in it. Everything was beautiful and exquisitely restored. The service was impeccable, but also friendly and sweet. Nothing was ever too much trouble. The night we arrived Abdul brought us mint tea and some pastries. The pastries were delicious and Michael found his new Moroccan passion- mint tea!

We finally dropped in bed about 2 am (3am Barcelona time), after telling Abdul we probably wouldn’t be eating breakfast until 10 am. When our driver parked to empty the bags and we walked to the riad, Michael had said, “I think our riad is in the sketchiest neighborhood in Marrakech.” I did not want to tell him then, that all of the Old Medina was the same- but the next day our neighborhood would look a bit different.

 Day One –  Friday, March 22

We woke up the next day to a beautiful blue sky and a nice warm day – just what we came here for!  We had a great breakfast with crepes, jam, yogurt and other breakfast pastries.  We ate up on the beautiful rooftop  terrace and got our first glimpse of the rooftops of Marakkech – which included a lot of satellite dishes!!

Our room at the riad included a 1/2 day guide, so I spoke with Samira at the front desk.  She said he would be coming at 2:30 since much in the old medina would be closed from 12:00-2:30 and it was now about 11am.  We weren’t quite ready to tackle the old medina on our own so we decided to visit the Marjorelle Gardens in the new city.  Our riad was near the Bab Doukkala gate so not too far to walk out of the medina.  We did, of course, immediately notice the change in our neighborhood from last night.  Now it was packed with the shops open selling spices, meat, vegetable, etc. and people and donkeys everywhere!!

We walked to the gardens and even had a few people give us directions without asking for money (although that wouldn’t be the case later in the day).  Even being in the new city (Gueliz) we could tell we were in a different place.  We made it to the gardens and really enjoyed them, they were beautiful and very peaceful.  I loved the marjorelle blue.  Even the kids liked the brightly painted buildings and the tranquility.  We also went through a small museum there that displayed Islamic Art.  It had some beautiful and interesting pieces, I would recommend paying the small fee to go through.

From there we picked up a taxi.  We knew we needed to eat lunch before we met our guide at 2:30, but had no idea where to go.  We asked the taxi driver to take us to someplace good in Gueliz.  He dropped us off in front of a shop that looked more like a butcher shop than a restaurant and Stephen kept saying “Right here?? Right here??”  As we got out of the taxi the young men working in the restaurant ran to set up our table.  They were really quite gracious.  We asked for a menu and they said “No menu” and just pointed to the butcher case.

Okay, we can do this.  We pointed to some lamb chops, ground lamb, chicken and beef. Using my limited French I explained a little bit for everyone to share..  Then I explained “no brains” pointing to my head and “no heart” pointing to my heart. He also asked “pomme frites?” and we said yes.  I do not know exactly what they do to grill the meat or what spices they used, but we had a wonderful bowl of perfectly spiced, grilled meats!!!  We discovered there that in the small cafes they tend to use strips of butcher paper as napkins.

As we were eating, two French women came in.  They apparently wanted some wine.  The waiter ran across the street somewhere, came back with a bottle of wine in a brown paper bag.  He showed it to them, then went back and covered it in aluminum foil and had them keep it down on the ground when they were not pouring it.

We decided to walk back to the riad in time for our 2:30 meeting with the guide, but we were a bit further away than the gardens.  We got a bit lost and started looking at the map.  A very nice man came and asked if we needed help, Stephen just asked which direction the main street was, but he wanted to walk us back to where we could see the walls of the medina.  He was really very sweet, would explain things to us and kept talking about his friend in “Chi-ca-go”.  Of course when we were done he asked for money.  Stephen gave him some – but then he asked for more – told us we were Americans and knew we could give more!!  We just said that was enough.  We learned our lesson that day.

Back at the riad we met our guide Latif.  He was about our age, a very sweet, soft spoken man.  He had a computer science degree but not many jobs for that in Marakkech, mostly Casablanca.  He had grown up in the old medina and did not want to move away, although he had traveled to Spain and France for his studies.  He took us out into our first foray of the old medina.

Latif took us through the souks and the markets – what a labyrinth.  What incredible things to see, smell and hear.  There was just so much to look at as everything was new to us.  We wanted to take more pictures of people working in the souks, etc. but they would always ask for money and Latif also explained that many Muslims think when you take their picture it takes away a bit of their soul.  It was fascinating seeing these men work in these tiny little stalls, sewing leather, cutting tin, making shoes, whatever.  Sometimes there were young kids working as well – Stephen described that as a bit Dickensonian.

Latif never encouraged us to buy anything, but when Stephen asked about rugs he took us to a rug shop behind a very large door.  Now our home is all hardwood floors and we have several oriental rugs, but almost all of them belong to my mother-in-law so we were game for buying a rug or two.  We went into the rug shop, were served mint tea and given the whole show.  There were actually several rugs we liked.  We narrowed it down to two, actually one is more of a throw – not meant to be walked on.  Stephen started “Berber bargaining” with the owner.  At one point he referred to Stephen as an Armenian (meaning he was really cheap).  We got the two rugs and had them ship them (although they really wanted us to carry them home).  They had me sign the back of the rugs so I would know I was sent the rugs I wanted.  They actually arrived at our home within a week of our return.

The kids loved the whole “Berber bargaining” process.  They were quite surprised we actually bought some rugs, but thought the negotiations were very fun to watch.

From there we went out into the Djemma El-Fna and walked around a bit.  Stephen and the kids had some orange juice from a vendor.  It was delicious, however, they serve it in a glass rather than a paper cup, and after seeing the method of washing, he decided he wasn’t sure he would do that again.  They just dip it from one water bucket to another.

Latif took us to a café with a large upstairs balcony that is clearly used for tourists to look down on the square, he said to relax, explore a bit and he would be back in an hour and would meet us downstairs.  We had some water and relaxed a bit and took some pictures.  Then we headed back into the square to explore a bit on our own.  The food stalls, snake charmers, storytellers, boxers, etc., etc. – what show!!  There were plenty of locals watching things as well, but they would walk straight up to the foreigners with their hat in hand.  It didn’t bother me so much, but Stephen was definitely annoyed by it.

We met back up with Latif and he asked if we would like to take a caleche (horse carriage) ride back to the riad.  We said yes, so he found a driver he knew, an old man who had grown up on the same street with his mother.  He requested that Michael be able to sit up with the driver, which he loved!  We thoroughly enjoyed our ride home as the sun was beginning to set.

That night we had already planned to eat dinner in the riad.  We had a wonderful table set in one of the rooms off the courtyard.  We started off with a delicious Moroccan soup, then they served us Moroccan salads.  They served us about 8-9 different small plates, basically different vegetable antipasti, beans, olives, eggplant with tomatoes, and on and on.  We each had a tangine, either lamb, chicken or fish.  Everything was very good, and it ended with orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon for dessert.

 Day Two – Saturday March 23

I plan all the trips but make Stpehen do all the navigation on the ground, as I have a very poor sense of direction.  So, before we left Latif the previous evening, I asked Stephen if he wanted Latif again tomorrow – and he quickly said yes.  So, we planned for Latif to meet us at the riad at 10:00am.

We started out with Latif seeing some sites- the Saadian tombs and Badi Palace.


Then he also walked us through the Kasbah and the mellah (the Old Jewish Quarter).  The mellah was our favorite area.  It just seemed more real and less touristy than the souks in the medina.  The interesting thing about the mellah is that while the Muslims will build their buildings with very few windows open to the outside, (they prefer their windows and balconies open to the interior courtyard – thus a riad), on the other hand, the Jews build many windows and balconies on the exterior of the buildings, which we liked.

I was so glad that we had decided to hire Latif for another day.  I think if your main goal is to shop in the souks, you could probably find your way on your own.  However, trying to cover a lot of ground, see different neighborhoods and sites in a day, having a guide is extremely helpful.  I was so glad that all we had to do was to simply follow him, rather than always trying to figure out where to go.  We were really able to just walk and enjoy what we were hearing and seeing.  In addition, we were always able to ask questions and get tons of information.

I had read about the mellah (the Jewish Quarter) in the Lonely Planet guide and really wanted to go, but the book said it was in the “seediest” part of town, so I am not sure we would have ventured there on our own.  By the way, it did not appear to us to be any more or less seedy than any other neighborhood, but perhaps we just did not notice, or things may change a bit at night.  There was a small synagogue we were able to step into which was an incredible flash of blue and white stripes – quite a change from the earth tones seen on the exterior of the buildings.

We ended up at Djemma El-Fna and Latif picked a restaurant for us on the square (not a food stall).  We all had brochette and I also ordered Moroccan salad which was chopped tomatoes, onions and yummy spices.  It was delicious.  Our lunch for all five of us (including Latif) and drinks was only 190dh about $22.

Before lunch, Latif had taken us to a very nice store with beautiful things.  There was a beautiful silver menorah I was eyeing, but when I asked the price it was more than I was willing to spend even with some aggressive “berber bargaining”.  I told Latif I would like a menorah, but it didn’t need to be silver or that expensive.  So, after lunch he took us to another store, behind a big door filled with bowls, platters, jewelry, etc. etc.  First he had us walk around the store and pick some of the things we liked.  Michael wanted a small sword and he had a whole wall filled with swords to choose from – an 11 year old boy’s dream.  He picked about four to five that he liked, then Mounssik laid them out for him to look at them and pick his favorite.  He narrowed it down to 2, but couldn’t decide.  Even Mounssik said “a man only needs one sword,” so he finally picked just one.  So, we gathered our things and he placed them on a low table with four low chairs around it.  Let the bargaining begin!  Once again the kids loved to see their dad in action.  We did eliminate one of the ceramic bowls we had picked (that’s the one in the picture – Mounssik said “take our picture with the bowl you didn’t get, that way when you get home and see the picture you will change your mind and you can call me and I will send it.”)

We got the other stuff and before we left we also bought a large vase and a beautiful old purse for Lauren with brass detailing and coral stones.  We asked about having it all shipped, but they really wanted us to carry it – they said they would pack it all in a basket that would be easy to carry.  Well, they did pack it all in one of those large carry baskets that people buy in Mexico.  They had it all packed neatly and even wove the top with some plastic binding so nothing would fall out.  It was pretty heavy and we still wanted to explore more of the souks so they said Latif could call us when we were ready to head back to the riad and someone would meet us at the riad with our stuff.  That was very helpful, but our basket of “treasures” would later be the bane of our existence with all our many flights to return home!!  Stephen was sweet enough to carry it most of the time – but it was heavy!!

I promised him I would give out his information on the internet so here it is:

His name is Mounssik Abdelfattah.  The store is Bazar El Wafa, address is 2, Marche Milouda – Sidi Ishak.

Also, we realized we would have to unpack the nice packing job they did at some point, since they had included Michael’s knife, which we did not think would make it through security in a carry-on.

From there we went back out into the souks.  Lauren and I each got a pair of shoes.  We had also asked about buying some mint tea and spices.  Latif said not to buy them from many of the vendors we had seen as they are left open all day to the dust, etc.  So he took us to a pharmacie where they sold all kinds of medicinal herbs, spices, etc.  They took us into a room (I regret not taking any pictures) and there was a guy in there with two women assistants.  They put on what only could be described as a well orchestrated show, letting us smell touch and try many different things.  We bought some mint tea, some spices for meat (when asked what was in these spices, he said a little bit of everything you see in this store – wow – including the bird feathers???), and some eucalyptus which is meant to clear the sinuses.  Lauren was still having problems with her sinuses that started the day we left Barcelona.  When they gave her some to try she said –  “wow – that is the first thing to clear up my sinuses”.  She carried around here little cloth packet of eucalyptus the rest of the trip.  I would strongly suggest if you travel to Morocco to buy some spices.  Every time I smell them it brings me back!

After this we had Latif return us to our riad where we went upstairs on the roof and relaxed a bit as the sun started to set.

We had a 7:30 dinner reservation at Al Fassia in Gueliz.  Samira had arranged for a driver to pick us up and bring us there and then bring us back home.  Al Fassia is run completely by women.  The food was very good, particularly the cous cous.   After dinner, we went back to our room to start packing for our departure the next day and our desert adventure!

Read more here:

Ouarzazate, Merzouga, Sahara Camel Trek

Fez, Morocco


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5 responses to “Tanzania Safari – The Good, the Bad, the Unexpected and the Amazing!! – The planning stages”

  1. Jimmy Cook says:

    Good post . I got a perfect idea about the safari. I am very much excited to go there.

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