We were lucky to have time off during the Holidays this year. Being two physician household it does not happen often. Having one kid in college and other in high school taking time off other than holidays is always a challenge. We were scratching our heads about where to go during the holiday season when many places in US and Europe will be closed and celebrating Christmas. We decided to take an exotic tour to Morocco and we sure had fun.
We flew from JFK New York to Casablanca. We changed planes in Casablanca and landed in Marrakech. We wanted to have ethnic experience of Morocco and so stayed in a Riad. Riad is the term given to old Arabic household which are converted into modern b&b. If you inform them in advance they can make lunch and dinner too. We landed there in midafternoon and were welcomed with hot Tajine, a traditional Moroccan food cooked in a triangular slow cooker called Tajine. .
We toured the old town of Marrakech and enjoyed the buzzing market place near the Medina.
We retired early that night due to jet lag.
We walked around the streets of Marrakech and went to the famous garden – Jardin Majorelle. It was a beautiful garden designed by Yves Saint Laurent. There is usually a long line to buy tickets to enter this garden. The garden is worth the wait. The bamboo gardens of Japan and the botanical gardens of Singapore were merged in one here in Morocco.
Later we went to the train station to buy tickets to Casablanca. It is hard to do that online as the websites are in
French. We took a taxi from the train station to the palace called Bahia. It was a beautiful palace with wonderful architecture. We later walked by the spice market of Morocco. We bought home famous spices including the king of spices called Ras EI Hanout.
We had booked in a tour agency called ‘Desert Majesty’ for one night stay including camel ride in the sunset. It is better to book these online ahead of time. We left Marrakech in a car and drove all day to Zagora. The driver was very informative and explained all about Moroccan culture and history. We stopped at Argan oil factory on the way and enjoyed watching the making of Argan oil from scratch.
We reached the desert close to dusk. We took a beautiful one hour camel ride enjoying the views of glowing dessert and setting sun. We received warm welcome in the beautiful campsite and had dinner. We were entertained with Moroccan music and dance during campfire.
We woke up early to see rising sun in the majestic desert. You would think it will never be cold in the dessert. After experiencing the cold temperature without heater in the tents you will appreciate sun even more. We had healthy breakfast and left the tent. We drove back to Marrakech and saw Ben haddou- old Jewish monument on our way.. This place is very familiar and many would have seen this place in Hollywood films including Gladiator. We also visited Telouet on the way and reached the train station in Marrakech. We boarded the train to Casablanca.
We had booked day trips via a tour company called ‘Viator’ to do our sightseeing in and around Casablanca. They provide English speaking driver who functions as your personal guide.
We drove to the nearby city called Fez. We visited ceramic factory and we were able to see how ceramic plates are carved.
The city Fez is divided into three parts. The older part of Medina belongs to 9th century. The middle part belongs to 14th century and the latest part is from 19th century. We were able to view all three architecture from view point.
There is a big University built by Queen Fatima and it has a beautiful blue gate on one side and green gate on the other.
Many mosques and shops were closed on Friday. We then visited a woolen carpet store and bought a beautiful carpet to take home. We also visited famous Moroccan leather factory where you can see how different stages of leather being made. Beware of the smell of the leather factory.
Today was our last day of the trip. We had booked to tour Casablanca through Viator ahead of time. We visited the third largest mosque in the world next to Mecca and Medina. The mosque is called Hassan II. This mosque is so huge and statistics say there can be 100,000 people pray at any given point. It was beautifully made and official tours were available in all languages. We also visited the Hollywood famous Rick’s Cafe which is a restaurant that was built after the movie Casablanca. Though the movie was shot in a setup in California, this restaurant is popular among the tourists. We then went around the city to see most of the buildings and realized there is not much to see in Casablanca. The city can be covered in 3-4 hours if you are short of time and you don’t need a paid tour guide as many speak English here.
We later boarded plane back to USA. Overall Morocco is an interesting place with culture, natural scenery, amazing architecture and unique cuisine. It is a mixture of Europe and Asia. It is not for everyone but for exotic travelers who love to explore the world. People are very friendly and they welcome western tourists. There were many restaurants catering vegetarian foods but there was not a huge variety available for vegetarians. It will be either vegetarian tagine or couscous. The hygiene was similar to many of the Asian countries and so better to be prepared if you have sensitive stomach. It is best to avoid uncooked salads and drink bottled water. No vaccines are needed to visit this place.