Saturday, May 28, 2016

Traveling to Morocco

Morocco has been an up and coming tourist destination for people from all around the world. I am very lucky to have gone to such a beautiful and cultured country. Morocco is an Arabic country with the main languages of French and Arabic. They have a variety of cultures there making it a wonderful place to absorb new things in the world.
Moroccan food generally consists of meats, bread and couscous. They use special pots called "tagines" to cook couscous and various meats in a gravy. They also have pastilla which is a sweet yet savory dish made with pigeon meat. I'm not a big fan of pigeon but tried it with chicken which was delicious. Harira soup is made with lentils and is very common and delicious. Moroccans are famous for "Moroccan whiskey" which is basically mint tea, not alcoholic. When you enter a Riad or are trying to buy souvenirs in a shop, they will offer mint tea to show hospitality. I loved it and even brought some home (but I like it without sugar). To navigate and learn some extra information, I would highly recommend the Fodor's Travel Guide for Morocco. My dad reads it before we go to any place and brings it with us (we call it his travel best friend) :).



To get there we took Royal Air Maroc. They do not have the best reputation for time but we had no complaints. Many people take Air France with a stop in Paris, but my family would rather have non-stop. We took off from JFK international Airpot to Casablanca. We booked our trip with Petrabax, a local company which would provide us with tour guides and drivers. We had one driver from the beginning to the end of our trip and he was very good.
From Casablanca, we drove two hours straight to Rabat. We stayed a night in Hotel Le Diwan and toured the city. Rabat is a metropolitan city, mirroring New York City, London, etc. We walked around the first day (after a long nap) and ate at Le Petit Beur, which I would highly recommend. We found it in the Fodor's book along with many other restaurants. There we had our first Moroccan meal. The next day, we met with our tour guide and went to the Kasbah des Odeyas which to me, felt like some version of Oia, Santorini. After eating a quick meal by the sea, we drove several hours to Meknes.




Meknes is a small city with not much to do. It's very pretty and we enjoyed learning about its history. We stayed at Riad Yacout, which was small and beautiful. The layout of the bedroom was amazing. We went to the Graneries which had a rich history and there they gave us a guide who worked there and we took lots of pictures. It was a nice sunny day and we walked by the small river. In the center of the city, we went to see a tomb with gorgeous architecture around it and drove away from Meknes to Moulay Idris. Moulay Idris is a holy town with lots of history. The King Moulay Idris came to this town and made it the holy town of Morocco. There was not much to do there but we drove through the town and then drove for Volubilis.


Volubilis is a town dating back to ancient Rome. It is filled with ruins, even Roman mosaics. The mosaics made me a little skeptical but overall it was a bight and sunny day, providing for great pictures.


After Volubilis, we drove for a few hours to Fes. Fes is a old city with lots of history. There is old Fes and new Fes. The city is brimming with architecture and I was very happy to capture so many pictures. We first went to see the outside of the famous wall. This wall was huge and had the typical geometric Muslim architecture. After the wall, we went to the overlook, which oversaw all of Fes and provided for many beautiful pictures. We then went to see local pottery and crafts.


Our guide in Fes was very enthusiastic to take us to get local goods, but my 11 year old sister and I thought it was boring. We bought lots of pottery with lots of bargaining. They also make the price higher, so make sure you bargain for the price you want to pay, as long as its reasonable. Then we took to the souks. This is a narrow, crowded location with local vendors everywhere. They sell jewelry to meat. It was super crowded with tourists and locals wanting to pickpocket, so make sure you don't bring much and keep your belongings close. In the souks our guide also took us to another exhibition to see carpets, although they were pretty (and very expensive). We passed and continued along the souks absorbing the local culture. That night we were staying at the Riad Fes. This is a beautiful Riad, with old charm and modern living. By this time, we were dying for pasta and ate pasta and chicken in the lounge.
We had customized our itinerary to stay another day in Fes. The second day, we just visited nearby towns to see what was around Fes. There was not much to do so, we drove back, on the way we stopped off at the mall, grabbed some much awaited pizza and went back to the Riad. The Riad is perfect for getting a massage or going for a dip, and was very relaxing. My sister and I chilled out and did a quick photo shoot (on the blog) while my parents went pottery shopping. The next morning we left to go to the Sahara.




The Beautiful Riad Fes
On the way to the Sahara, we experienced natural diversity. Before coming, I was not very enthusiastic about living in a tent or going to the desert, but I have to admit, that was one of my favorite parts of the trip. We went from the snow covered mountains to the desert sand which was an amazing sight to see. After a long time of trying to find our tents, we finally found them and went to the bonfire. We look at our tents which were great, considering it was a tent in the middle of the Sahara. They had running toilets, sinks, and showers with clean beds and clean living. One downfall was that there was no wifi. My sister and I were lost without our phones, and come on I had to save those snapchat streaks lol. We ate wonderful food in the dining tent and went to sleep. If you read my Saharan Dreams blog post, you know that the one night we stay in the desert, there is a giant sandstorm. We were supposed to stay in the tent two nights, but got shifted to a partnered Riad in Merzouga due to the sandstorm. Riad Madu was wonderful and we took great pictures the next morning.




After the night with the massive sandstorm, we visited a local fort and had traditional Berber pizza. The Berber's are an ethnic group dating back thousands of years. They contribute to local art and are  noticeable by the type of clothing they wear. After visiting a local fossil museum, we went took a camel ride to the sunset! It was an awesome experience. We took two camels and sat on a dune and watched the sunset come down upon the dunes, a sight I will never forget.


The next morning, we headed for Skoura. On the way we went to see gorgeous gorges (lol) which were far apart. Although they are beautiful, I would not make time for them if time is not permitting.  One aspect to traveling around is that its heavy on driving. We drove everywhere and for the most part they were two-three hours long. But to the desert from Fes and and from the desert to Skoura, it reached up to 8 hours both ways. We played card games, talked and listened to music, making the car rides bearable. You can take airplanes to some of the cities, but I feel that the drive is very scenic and if you have good company, its fun, also I slept a lot which did help lol. However, I saw something very intriguing which I would be very open to doing my next time in Morocco. People were ATV-ing everywhere. They carried luggage in backpacks, or if it was a big group, they had a car with their luggage following them. I would love to do that and I hope I can someday. 



Skoura is a little town with not much to do. We stayed in a gorgeous Kasbah. It had a beautiful location and the rooms were perfect for our family. We could have stayed there for longer. The first night, we had reached late, so we ate a delcious dinner and went to sleep. The next morning we went to Ouarzazte. This city is the Hollywood of Morocco. We visited a movie production set where we saw sets of The Mummy, Game of Thrones, and several French movies. We then went to lunch at Cote d' Sur, a wonderful restaurant with amazing harira soup. After we walked around for souvenir shopping. After a short day, we went back to the Kasbah and relaxed. 


The next day, we drove for Marrakech. On the way, we went to see Ait Ben Haddou, a big Kasbah. It was beautiful, but required stone stepping, over a quiet little current. I was wearing Birkenstocks and a maxi skirt which I would not recommend. The Kasbah is wonderful and there are many things to do in and out of the Kasbah. After, we continued straight to Marrakech. 



We then did a straight drive to Marrakech with lots of scenic photo opportunities. We stayed in the Riad Anika, which is right at the entrance of the Medina. I highly, highly recommend it. The service is fantastic and the Riad is gorgeous. The breakfast was to die for and so were the soaps lol. When we reached the first night, we went straight to sleep. The second day, we woke up and went out with a guide to explore. We went to the major attractions such as Bahia Palace. We roamed around and went to a fantastic Lebanese restaurant for dinner. The next day we were due to leave and half a day to buy souvenirs and roam around.






After a few hours outside, we drove to Casablanca. The drive was not very long and we reached at a standard business hotel. We walked around Casablanca, but there was not much to do. That night, we had our last Moroccan meal and then hit the bed. The next day our flight was in the afternoon, so in the morning we went to the Hassan Mosque. This is a beautiful new Mosque. After walking around for a little bit, we headed to the airport to say to goodbye to Morocco and hello to reality.


Overall, Morocco was an amazing experience. We only visited the eastern and southern portion, so we still have northern Morocco left. Hopefully I get to go back. There is so much culture to witness and I am glad, that at such a young age, I have been to so many places and have seen so many wonderful things. I am very privileged and there is still so much left to see in the world. I can't wait to see where I go next, and what new things I will learn.


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