Friday, February 26, 2010

Morocco Bound!

The kids have a 2-week school vacation in February. Last year, we profited from the time off by vacationing with Mark, Susie & Sean in Rome. This year? We are going to spend a week in Marrakesh, Morocco!!

We started planning in late December/early January, and Mike found the most awesome plane tickets on RyanAir. RyanAir is much like SouthWest - a low far airline. Well, Mike found us tickets that were a mere 24 euros/each, roundtrip! The only catch was this was the fare from Reus, Spain. Reus is about a 4-hour drive from Bouzigues. Not a problem for us!

Mike bought our tickets and started researching the baggage limitations. Turns out, we had to pay 30 euros for our one suitcase. That was more than our own tickets.

My family loves, loves, loves fossils. We now know from our fossil collecting experiences that there are a lot of fossils in Morocco. We wanted to go on a fossil hunting trip in Morocco, but the archeological sites are too far from Marrakesh. However, we packed as if we were going to bring home lots of fossils that we find in shops instead.

How did we pack for this, you may wonder? Mike had a brainstorm! We packed 90% of clothes that we plan to leave in Morocco. Clothes that were getting too small for the kids, that we didn't wear much any more, etc. We will donate them to a Moroccan when we are ready to leave, and we will use all that space in our suitcase for fossils and other souvenirs. Clever, right?

Well, as part of our 2-week school vacation, since we were going to be 4 hours from home anyway, we decided to stop and ski in the Pyrenees on the way home. Sweet!

However, that meant packing for 2 separate trips, with 2 completely different climates. Let's just say that it was an organizational feat of wonder, and our Kangoo was full to the brim with suitcases, etc. when we drove out of Bouzigues early Saturday morning, February 13.

The drive to Reus, Spain was completely uneventful. We stopped in La Jonquera (the "frontier") to do a little shopping for necessities. La Jonquera is home of very inexpensive shopping, as it is on the border of France and Spain. We picked up toothpaste, snack foods, spices, etc. It made for a good break in the drive.

Then, after killing a few boring hours in Reus, we were on our RyanAir plane to Morocco! Woohoo!!

Sidebar: RyanAir is hysterical. No seating assignments. Nothing free to drink. Strict rules about carry ons. Bright yellow and royal blue interior (Mike, who is color blind, kept saying how ugly the plane was). And they are constantly selling things to you on the plane: drinks, food, cigarettes!! Can you imagine? They were actually selling smokeless cigarettes on the airplane. Unbelievable.

We landed in Marrakesh around 7:00 PM local time (they are 8 hours ahead of California; one hour ahead of France). We were so excited when we got off the plane! We were the very first people to deplane from the back doors. When we saw the glowing blue letters on the airport, in both French and Cyrillic, we were snapping pictures immediately. First steps into the airport, and I was already commenting on how pretty the mosaic tile work is . . . and how pretty the columns were . . . and look at this . . . and look at that . . . Ahem.

Our fun was temporarily interrupted by 1 hour and 15 minutes of passport control line. It was an awful, hot mob of a "line" to get your passports verified.

The good news? We now have Moroccan stamps in our passports, too. Cool!!

Luckily, our driver waited for us, and he quickly spirited us away from the airport.

Since in was dark, we couldn't see much during the drive. But, what we could see was incredible. It was already obvious that the architecture was different, people were dressed uniquely, etc. We were fascinated!

We entered The Medina, which is the old city of Marrakesh. The driver told us that the wall that surrounds the Medina is from the 14th century! Amazing.

He parked on a side street, and we immediately crossed (on foot) a busy street, thronged with cars, motorbikes, bicycles, and people. Ohmigosh! Then, he led us into a little neighborhood that was hopping with shops still open and selling exotic things. He took a couple turns, ending up walking us down an unlit tunnel into a warren of tiny alleys. Okay, I was a bit concerned! Where in the heck was this guy taking us?! Then, he suddenly stopped at a beautiful door in the middle of the alley, and we entered Dar Silila, the Riad where we will be spending our week.

I said to Mike, "We aren't in Kansas anymore!" We went from a dingy, dark alley to a wonderland. Colorful mosaic tilework . . . palm trees growing out of the floor in the courtyard . . . amazing miniarets carved into the walls, beautiful artisan details on the ceiling, Moroccan carpets scattered around the floors, intricate iron work wall sconces, exotic smells. It was such an bizarrely incredible introduction!

Our host, Mohammed, greeted us at the door. He led us to one of the many seating areas downstairs and brought us Moroccan sweet tea and cookies. Yum! Mohammed turned out to be an absolute delight for our entire stay. He was incredibly helpful, kind, and super sweet!

Then he showed us to our room. We are on the rooftop, and we have 2 rooms. Wow, wow, wow!! There were rose petals scattered on the beds, fresh roses in the rooms, beautiful Moroccan decorations everywhere. It was absolutely lovely!

Here is a link to the Riad. You have to check out the video (especially) and the pictures because they are better than the ones I took, and you have to see this place to believe it!

Seriously - click that link!!

Riads are houses that were formerly owned by families who were either rich and/or royalty. Mohammed doesn't know exactly how old this house is, but it is several hundreds of years old.

We are so happy to have chosen a Riad instead of a hotel. The Riad was the highlight of our entire stay in Morocco! Look at how happy the kids are with Mohammed!!

All hotels are outside the Medina, which means that they are in the "New City", home of fast food chains, big store brands, etc. Bleck.

After we settled in, we left again to find dinner. Our bellies knew it was way past dinner time, so we braved a walk to the famous square in Marrakesh: home of snake charmers by day and Moroccan dancers by night. Day and night you can find food vendors. Yay!

Honestly, I was very nervous about walking to the square. However, Mohammed assured us that we would find it with the map and the instructions he provided. He said, "Just use the Miniaret as a landmark." When you see pictures of the Miniaret he referred to so casually, you may recognize it. It is a very photogenic part of Marrakesh!

So, off we went. And, true to Mohammed's claims, we walked straight there. We were so wide-eyed! Everything was fascinating. Everything was busy, busy, busy. People everywhere! In the square itself, it was almost overwhelming. We wandered past dancers on the way to food.

The food stalls sell skewers of chicken, beef, fish, and lamb. They also sell plenty of vegetarian delights and some soups. We stuck with chicken and beef with grilled eggplant and french fries for the kids. It was served with a round bread, which we now know is standard for Moroccan meals. It was very yummy! Max especially was pleased to learn that he liked the food. He is very particular, and he had been afraid that he would not like the food in Morocco!

Poor Max, though. It was almost midnight for his internal clock, and his eyes were closing at the outdoor dinner table. Even with all of the people coming to our table trying to sell things or take the food from our plates, he was falling asleep. Thus, we headed back to the hotel and ended the first day of our amazing adventure!

Sorry, but in my overly excited state, I completely forgot to bring my camera that first night! Mike took some pictures on his iPhone, and I'll upload those later.

Here are some cool pictures: One I snapped of the scary dark tunnel in the daylight . . . Of course it is scarier at night, and the other is of the door to our Riad - tucked away in a teeny, tiny alley that leads nowhere (literally).

Love to all!

No comments: