Morocco, a North African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, known for its high mountains, sweeping desert, rugged coastline, and the winding alleyways of ancient medina cities and souqs. It’s a place Mrs FOMOist and I have dreamed of visiting and the desire grew stronger, given the close proximity. Since we were going to Marrakech only for a long weekend (3 days and 2 nights), I really had to fight the urge to do everything! We made a conscious decision to just stay and explore the intricate labyrinth of Marrakech (specifically Medina) rather than getting lured by the heights of the Atlas mountain and the adrenaline rush of quad biking in the desert.
Before I get into the first impressions and our experience, a few things which might help people considering to travel to Marrakech are as follows:
- The currency in Morocco is Dirham. It’s a closed currency which means you can buy it from anywhere but if you have any leftover at the end of your trip, either spend it all or exchange it before leaving Morocco.
- Arrange a return transfer from the airport before you arrive. It just makes life a lot easier. We used a website called http://www.ziptransfers.com/. It was the most reasonable out of the lot and extremely efficient and punctual.
- This you may have read many a times – stay in a Riad rather than a hotel. Riad is a large traditional house built around a central courtyard, often converted into a hotel. We stayed at Riad Khadija Spa in the Medina. It was mid-range, located centrally yet far enough to get a quiet good night sleep.
Now that the logistics are out of the way, let’s get into the real deal. So we arrived early in Morocco and after lining at the very slow customs line, got out of the airport around 10.00am. First impressions? The sun was beaming and we couldn’t wait to walk around in only one layer again! The moment we hit the road, I felt at home – quite literally. The place has a very similar feel to India – specifically Jaipur. Narrow streets with fairly laxed road rules, the city boundaries and building donning the colour pink and the roofs of low-set houses covered in dish antennas.
Once the car ride was over, we were dropped off at the edge of Medina and were greeted by the host at our Riad, who we followed through a maze of narrow lanes to the door of our home for the next three days. Once inside, the host offered us the traditional Mint tea and some biscuits. This was the start of our obsession with Moroccan mint tea. I had heard and read a lot about it but tasting it was beyond all the expectations I had. It was hydrating, even though a hot drink, it was cool and refreshing. Accompanying the tea were these AMAZING biscuits which I couldn’t find again but wished we had asked our host where to purchase – oh well!
After dropping our bags in our room and equipped with a very simple map provided by our host, we set out to find some lunch. On our walk to through the lanes of Medina, the nostalgia of my childhood kept getting stronger. The lanes were littered with tiny hole-in-the-wall shops selling everything from salt and sugar to hand-made leather handbags. There were also “shops” where there was nothing on display apart from older men staring out onto the road. Then there were vendors sitting on the ground selling fresh vegetables displayed on a plastic sheet. I remember going to such vendors to buy vegetables for my mum to cook for us. Then there were the meat shops amongst it all. Tiny shops, with fresh meat hung from strong hooks and in some cases fresh chickens running around the cage in the back, trying to escape their fate. I mentioned it to Mrs FOMOist that I remember my older brother briefly going vegetarian because my dad took him to buy chicken when we were little and he saw exactly how that chicken got from “field” to his plate.
Before arriving in Marrakech, I hadn’t realised the popularity of rooftop/terrace cafés. There are plenty to choose from in all directions with a view mainly on the rooftops of other houses, beautiful sunset and the ability to tower over and admire the busy squares, popular with tourists and locals alike. Now on to the key highlights of the trip:
- Make sure you have sugar in your Mint tea! I know it shouldn’t be a highlight but the level of difference made is worth mentioning. Preferably, ask the sugar on the side rather than in the pot.
- In terms of food, needless to say that you’ve got to try tajine. Our favourite was the beef and egg tajine. Another favourite was the authentic Moroccan soup called Harira.
- Over the weekend Jemaa el Fna comes alive with what could only be described as “pop-up street food market”. If you happen to be around, visit Stall no. 98 for the fresh and tasty seafood deliciousness.
- Have a camel burger at Café Clock and enjoy the free music concert. While it is a bit out of the way from Jemaa el Fna, it really was one of the biggest highlights for me. The food was divine, the service was excellent and the performance was spellbinding.
- Visit as many terrace cafes as you can. In particular, go to Café de France. It is one of the highest overlooking the Jemaa El Fna. Go to the top most terrace, where you can only buy drinks (no food) and enjoy the panoramic view of the Marrakech skyline. We spent an evening here watching the sun hide behind the Koutoubia Minerat and it was breath-taking.
- Majorelle Gardens is a popular tourist spot, however at €5 entry, we opted for the free option of Cyber Park. Think of it as a free wifi enabked green oasis in the middle of all the city chaos.
- If you are thinking about a Hammam treatment, I would highly recommend Hammam de la Rose. It’s not the cheapest, but it allows you to get the treatment together (the traditional hammams have different times for male and female) and it is a lot cleaner as well (based on my basic desktop research). I have never had a spa treatment before so the Hammam treatment with an hour-long full boy massage was an absolute bliss!
- Do ensure you walk around the souqs, they are an experience in themselves. The shopkeepers are very nice and not as pushy. You do have to haggle. I would suggest offering a price at least a quarter of what they initially say and work your way up. In addition to the shopping, we had a lot of fun with people trying to guess our ethnicity. I particular recall a number of Holas, Buongiornos and Salman Khan yelled at me.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, the purpose of this blog is not only to share our experiences but also to keep track of all the amazing experiences so we can reflect and reminisce over them at a later stage. On that note, I am going to end this blog on a more sombre note than usual. I thought a lot about whether to do a separate post about this or whether to mention it at all, but then decided that it’s part of our lives and it has affected us more than I could have imagined. We got back from Marrakech on Monday night and the next morning, we woke up to the horrible news of one of our friends (and one of the best neighbours one can ever have) from Australia committing suicide after struggling from depression, leaving behind his wife and three kids. Fe and Tas were our neighbours for two years, moved to their new house and had their third child less than a year ago. We didn’t know this, but Fe had been struggling with depression for a while and ultimately couldn’t take it anymore. This is the first time when I have truly struggled to decide whether I feel sadness for him or the family he left behind. Regardless of our teary eyed nights of going to sleep, I sincerely hope that Fe is finally content and wish all the strength to his family, kids and friends, including us.