Category Archives: Morocco

2016 year in review

Allow me to join the bandwagon of saying that 2016 as a year was just a big ol’ thumbs down. But personally, 2016 was a big year. I finally registered as self-employed and joined the masses as a full-time freelancer and all that that entails. It’s been hard, but fruitful, and satisfying, and I still very much enjoy working for myself. And in terms of travel, well – it was probably my best year yet in that regard too. Jon and I ticked several places off our collective travel bucket list, including a country that I’d been wanting to go for absolute ages. I think 2017 may be a bit slower (I say, when I’m getting on a plane again next week…) but we’ll see how long I can hold off on making a plan to head somewhere new and beautiful.

So in the tradition of my yearly look-back – some of my travels and personal highlights from the past 12 months.

 

January – Playing tourist in London with my friend Joe. I know I go there all the time, but I hadn’t had the chance to play tour guide for anyone in a while, and it was so good to explore one of my favorite cities with one of my favorite people.

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February – For Jon’s birthday I treated him to a fancy weekend away at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. We had an amazing time, which included lounging in the spa, watching the Eurostar trains come in, and indulging in a truly decadent meal (which was quickly followed by a very luxurious and sensual food coma).

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We also had a little weekend away in Bristol to surprise a friend for his birthday. A gorgeous city!

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Also Jon took this picture in February, and it still makes me laugh, so here it shall be.

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March – we didn’t go anywhere, but I did buy a paddleboard and made good use of it on the river as the weather slowly (so…so….slowly) warmed up.

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April – Jon and I went to Barcelona with some friends of ours to celebrate a few different things – new jobs mostly! We rented bikes and cycled all over the city and ate our weight in tapas.

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May – Jon’s Christmas present to me was a weekend away in Cornwall at a gorgeous historic hotel that had great food, fantastic outdoor space, and also happened to be dog-friendly. We already can’t wait to go back. And on the way we stopped off at Tintagel to see King Arthur’s “castle”, and everything was gorgeous in every way.

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June – Phew…June was crazy. A three-week road trip of the States can be pretty intense! We did New York City New OrleansAustin – San Antonio (realising I never got around to blogging about it…oops!) – then finally Ohio before heading back to England, much poorer and fatter.

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July – I took a quick jaunt to Paris for a long weekend with some lady friends of mine. The trip was…not the best, for a few different reasons, but it was wonderful for other reasons. And Paris is always a good idea, particularly Paris in summertime.

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August – Finally, a month with nowhere to go! Some friends came down for the bank holiday weekend, we spent time on the beach and went to a cider festival, and English summer was in full, glorious swing!

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September – Another month with no place to go, but this is also the month we got a car, which was intensely exciting. We broke it in by exploring beautiful nature further afield. The Seven Sisters Cliffs were first up.

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OctoberMorocco, a country I’d long wanted to visit. Hot, vibrant, completely bonkers and a great way to spend one’s 32nd birthday.

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November – The year began to wind down, us with it. Things took a turn for the deeply melancholy. Beach walks and outdoorsy goodness happened while the weather cooperated, and many expat Thanksgiving celebrations took place at the end of the month.

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December – Nowhere to go, but lots to do, including finally making it to the ice rink in front of the Brighton Pavilion, and taking what has become an annual walk along the South Downs Way on the last day of the year, followed by a pub lunch.

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Here’s hoping for a better 2017, in all realms.

Places to drink alcohol in Marrakech

Visiting a majority Muslim country can offer unique challenges for those of us who like to end a day of exploring with a relaxing glass of wine or two. When Jon and I were visiting Marrakech in early October, we spent a little bit too much time trying to find WiFi to Google a place to have dinner that also would serve us alcohol. No regrets! Fortunately, our searches led us to some great places – and some not so great places too.  I thought it’d be nice to share them here, and save you all the trouble.

 

Kechmara

3 Rue de la Liberte | Gueliz, Marrakech 40000, Morocco

This place is located in the hip “new area” of Marrakech and had a quiet, spacious rooftop terrace that was cordoned off to prevent visibility from the street. You won’t get much in the way of views here due to that. The food wasn’t spectacular, but they had some very nice Moroccan wines on offer and the staff was sweet. The tapas looked great, and I immediately wished we’d gone that route instead of the main dishes we ordered!

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Hotel La Renaissance Marrakech

Also located in Gueliz, Sky Bar is at the top of the Hotel La Renaissance, just a 10 minute taxi away from the Jardin Majorelle. You just walk into the hotel and they’ll send you straight up. We were all alone up on the rooftop for quite a while, which was strange, and you have to ask if you’d like ice in your cocktails (which aren’t particularly cheap and without ice they get warm pretty quickly….gross). However, because it’s on top of a massive hotel, the views are stunning. We went up to watch the sunset, although it got a bit hazy by sunset-time. Eventually a few more people showed up for drinks and it seemed that the employees were setting up some things for a more lively night club scene once the sun went down. Not a place I would suggest hanging out for hours, but if you’d like a drink and a view, this ticks all the boxes.

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Le Salama

40 Rue de Banques | just off Djema el Fnaa, Marrakech, Morocco

Down a quiet street just off the Jemaa elFna square, Le Salama was one of my favorite places in the city during our short stay. It’s done up in a colonial style, so strangely it’s like being in 1950s Havana. The bar is all the way upstairs, past the restaurant, and they offer up very nice cocktails with a 2 for 1 deal. Jon and I couldn’t stop laughing about that since the places that usually do that sort of deal are much slummier than this place, but we weren’t complaining. I’ve read mixed reviews from others about Le Salama, but the staff were attentive, the drinks were tasty, and the ambience was calm and collected after escaping the craziness of the square. Loved it.

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KosyBar

47, Place des Ferblantiers, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
Another place with a great assortment of roof terraces – this time with amazing views of the quietly bustling Place des Ferblantiers. The staff are very nice, they serve delicious Moroccan wine and tasty olives, and you can see stork nests from the terraces, which is very cool in my opinion.

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Le Marrakchi

52, rue des Banques, Marrakech 40000, Morocco

This place gets all the buzz due to it’s placement right on the corner of the Jemaa elFna. If you’re hoping for a table overlooking the square, however, you’ll need to book it well in advance. Otherwise, you’ll be seated wherever there’s room when you get in. It’s a restaurant, and there is a bit of a push to order food if you stick around. The wine is really nice, if a bit expensive, and the small plates are worth the money – they do traditional Moroccan cuisine. There was a very charming band of three older Moroccan gents playing traditional music in the early evening during our visit, but they were replaced with some very cringey belly dancers as it got later. (That’s when we left…but whatever floats your boat). It’s one of only two restaurants off the square that serve alcohol, so you’ll probably end up here at one point or another.

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Restaurant Le Foundouk

55, Souk Hal Fassi | Kaat Ben Nahid – Médina, Marrakech 40000, Morocco

I was disappointed with our meal here, but in terms of a place where you can have a nice drink, I can’t fault it at all. And I’ve heard great things about their (say it with me now) roof terrace! Sadly, we sat inside. It’s very much a tourist trap, but I’m not surprised since every suggested list of places to eat includes it. It’s chock full of tourists! So come earlier in the evening, have a drink or two on the roof, then head off somewhere cheaper and more authentic for dinner.

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What to wear in Marrakech, Morocco : Lady Travel

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So you’re a lady going to Marrakesh and you don’t know what to pack? Allow me to help! I’ve got opinions. And pictures. And I recently went to Marrakesh!

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Morocco is a conservative country, and that obviously has an effect on how woman traveling there should dress. However, it isn’t as conservative as many of its African and Middle Eastern neighbors (I’ve got a “what to wear” guide coming up for Oman soon, speaking of, and it is much more conservative). This gives female travelers a bit of leeway. There is no real “dress code”, ie. you will not get arrested for dressing a certain way. But you could get a lot of stares, and more harassment than usual – you’ll definitely get harassed anyway, so keep that in mind.

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You will be dressing for modesty and heat here. During our trip, the average temperature was 96F, so 35C. And that’s early October! In the heat I wasn’t surprised to see many female tourists in shorts and tank tops, but while I wrestle with the morality behind forcing women to cover themselves while men can wear whatever (hint, it’s immoral, and if you can’t handle looking at female skin without feeling ownership of it, that is YOUR problem) it’s nice to have one less thing to worry about abroad by dressing respectful of the local culture and mores. Blending in can be a blessing, and definitely makes it easier to make the most of your aimless wanderings.

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In Marrakech that meant loose trousers for me – one “harem pant” style and one linen pair that was wide-legged and flowy. T-shirts are fine but aiming for a looser, longer fit around the upper arm is both more modest and more cool. Sweating profusely into fabric directly in your armpit isn’t nice for anyone! I saw lots of skinny jeans, but there is pretty much nothing worse in my imagination then stuffing my little sweaty stumps into some fitted denim. Nah. I’m good. But you do what works for you – and if you are planning to hit up any of the night clubs in the new area of the city, you may be perfectly happy in skinny jeans and a cute tank top.

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Now for the real MVP. I aimed for dresses that hit below the knee, and these ended up being the most comfortable, particularly during the day. Maxi dresses get very dirty and are heavily weighed down, while their midi-counterpart gets more airflow. I chose to travel in one of my favorite maxi dresses with a t-shirt over it to hide the strappiness. But I avoided wearing this otherwise. Your mileage may vary.

solo female travel dress in moroccoTravel outfit suitable for landing in cold cold England (with jacket and closed toed shoes) but also walking around Morocco – check!

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I picked up a few more pairs of very kitschy cotton harem pants in the souk as well – I haggled down to a good price and while they aren’t the kind of thing that everyone wears, I work from home, and travel quite a bit, and I love them. They have elephants on!

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When it comes to shoulders, it’s easier to cover them up. Jon and I went out for drinks and dinner a few times, and in many of these places, you won’t be judged for showing a bit more skin while inside (this, of course, is dependant on their clientele). So be versatile and prepared. Pack a scarf that is both big and light to cover yourself on the streets and in the taxi on the way to and from dinner, and remove it when you get in the restaurant if you feel like that’s acceptable. Easy! Light material is the key here though – it’s still very hot at night in Marrakech, and strong air conditioning isn’t much of a thing, so you don’t want a scarf that makes it even worse.

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Other miscellany that I brought – a bikini for the hammam, a few pairs of sandals (although you may prefer something that doesn’t let your feet get as dusty – I don’t mind), good sunglasses, some high SPF, and many hair ties. I couldn’t handle having my hair down in the heat, it would have been just too much. And that’s it! Have fun – the Red City is unforgettable, you’re gonna love it!

Finding chaos and calm in Marrakech

Stepping out of a taxi and into the middle of a bustling square in the center of Marrakesh was unlike any other travel experience I’ve ever had. There were whiffs of the chaos that I’d experienced in the Marshall Islands, sure, but this was something different. It was hot, boiling. And the roundabout we were in the middle of seemed less like an orderly management system for traffic and more an inconvenience to the bubbling melange of donkey carts, scooters, old cars and walker trying to cross from one of the streets to another.

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Our taxi driver had picked us up at the airport and then passed us and our one little carryon over to a man who was meant to take us by foot to our riad – this is standard practice in Marrakesh, with the riads existing inside the maze of alleyways, little to no signage and nearly impossible to find for the uninitiated. But then he asked us for money as we stopped in front of the Riad Africa- pounds, euros, dirhams, he didn’t mind – and this is how we knew we’d come across our first scam, as he wasn’t the man from the riad at all! It was an appropriate introduction though, to this city where no price is set, and haggling can get you anywhere and anything, even when you don’t want it.

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I didn’t know what to expect from Marrakech. This marked my first visit to Morocco and to the African continent itself, and to be honest (shamefully), all that ran through my mind were bits and pieces of the Disney movie Aladdin – treasures in the marketplace, camels in the dessert, incredibly clever monkeys wandering the streets. And to be honest, all those bits are real! (Even the monkeys, unfortunately – they take the form of chained monkeys in diapers and little outfits in the main square, being hawked by their owners to take pictures with tourists for money).

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I knew it would have similar aspects to Istanbul and Oman, but with a twist all it’s own. And it did – it’s a very specific mix of Middle Eastern and African cultures. It is equal parts riotous and chaotic, peaceful and zen. It is its own place, completely unique in the world.

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The most famous part of Marrakech is definitely the souk – the endless winding narrow streets filled with hundreds of stalls and shops selling everything under the sun. Olives in a rainbow of colours, a world of pastries, rugs woven by Bedouins in the Atlas mountains, all manner of dress for men and women, curly toed shoes and bags of the softest leather, and lanterns made of hand beaten copper, silver, and tin. And of course the regular tourist tat – t-shirts and magnets, postcards and keychains.

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The food is nothing to sniff at either. Morocco is famous for their tagine, a a North African/Berber dish named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked. Jon ate one featuring every type of meat I think, during our short stay – chicken and lemon, beef and olive, lamb and more lamb. I stuffed myself on couscous and fell in love with msemen,  a flattened, square dough made from semolina that is maybe the most perfect breakfast food of all time.

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When we weren’t getting lost and haggling in the souk (and taking pictures with the sellers – every time I bought something they made me come inside and take a photo with them!), we were taking in the Islamic architecture on display. The Sadiaan Tombs, the Bahia Palace, Ben Youssef Madrasa, and the Jardin Majorelle all proved to be respites from the noise and clamour of the streets.

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The “Majorelle blue” of the Majorelle gardens was breathtaking, and seemed even more vibrant after getting used to the subdued peachy pink walls that exist everywhere else in the city. The main building and its gardens got us used to blues and greens and quiet before being thrust back out into the city again.

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My favorite place in the city had to be the Ben Youssef madrasa. An ancient Koranic school where the tiles crumbled beneath our feet, it was founded in the 14th century and finished in the 16th. It was closed down in the 1960s and stood derelict for decades before being opened again to the public. Its 130 student dormitory cells cluster around a beautiful courtyard carved in cedar, marble and stucco, with no representations of humans or animals (as required by Islam). Purely made of inscriptions and geometric patterns, the effect is mesmerising. The madrasa was one of the largest theological colleges in North Africa and may have housed as many as 900 students during its hey day. Now it sits on the edge of the medina, gently crumbling, empty except for the tourists wandering through.

 

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Another thing I’m glad we made time for during our trip was an afternoon at a spa. Morocco, similar to Turkey, has a very famous public bath culture, but when you travel with a couple it’s difficult to take advantage – all the public baths are, obviously, gender segregated. Wanting to experience it together, we did some research and found a place close to our riad that had good reviews of a couples hammam and massage. This meant we went in together and did the hammam (a steam room that’s really really hot), followed by various scrubs with regional oils like argan and clay, then some shower stuff, a shampoo, and eventually, an hour long massage, with more oils. Rounded out with Marrakech’s famous mint tea drunk by the pool, it was a wonderful experience. (KosySpa, if you’re interested!)

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At night the city changes, particularly in the Jemaa el Fna, the main square in the old town medina. More stalls open up selling even more kinds of food – snails and kebabs and fresh pressed juices. Games abound, there’s dancing and the snake charmers and fortune tellers are out in full force. Women get henna and smoke steams everywhere – it is intoxicating and chaotic.

 

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Alas, our four day trip came to an end all too quickly. It seemed like we’d seen everything (or at least all the big things)- which is great when playing tourist in a new country. We brought home some bits and pieces and a prized new rug and far too many photos. And it seems like we timed this trip perfectly, with England having embraced autumn while we were gone. Nothing better than coming back from 98F days to most crisp and cool weather imaginable!

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