Marrakech, with its enchanting medina, charming riads and pink aesthetic, is a loud desert metropolis. Maneuvering through its streets: challenging. Relaxing at the Kenzi Farah Hotel: effortless. The hotel is located in the tree-lined neighborhood of Hivernage. Check-in was swift; finding my room was challenging due to the lack of signage on the buildings. All was forgiven when I entered my spacious room, which overlooked the property’s lush gardens. I didn’t spend a lot of time in my room but when I was in it, I was comfortable. The highlight of this hotel is its beautiful pool and the juvenescent spirit it will evoke within you upon entry. Note: If you’re planning on sunbathing, get to the pool early because the chaise lounge chairs are commodities. My only qualms about the Kenzi Farah are its worn exteriors and the fee to use the gym. These minor deterrents don’t outweigh the good.
As soon as arrived at the Barcelo Fes Medina, I quickly checked into my room, changed clothes, and briskly walked to the pool. Sure, the bathroom was clean, the room was nice and had a great view of Boulevard Allal El Fassi, but the main attraction was the pool. It wasn’t too deep or too shallow; it was perfect and provided a vantage point to view any activity in the rooms above. It was also a great location to chat with the other guests while sipping on a cocktail. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay in the pool my entire visit so when I had to surface for air, I found myself underwhelmed at the adjoining restaurant, Azahar. Despite this minor infraction, I’d definitely stay at the Barcelo Fes Medina during my next visit to the Imperial City.
I had a brief stay at the Le Diwan Rabat, however, during my visit, I was comfortable and impeccably treated by the staff. The hotel is located on a busy intersection but don’t let that deter you: the rooms are quiet. My room was facing the Avenue d’Alger and I could only hear the street noise when I opened the window. I slept without interruption in a room that was clean, polished, and spacious enough for two. If there was gym, I didn’t see it because I was distracted surfing the web courtesy of Le Diwan Rabat’s complimentary Wi-Fi. I also indulged in a beverage at its bar and gorged on croissants during breakfast. Overall, Le Diwan Rabat offers a stylish base for visitors of Rabat, Morocco.
Morocco is draining me. The language barrier, the constant soliciting, the heat and more has begun to wear me down. I’m anxious to get on the bus and begin the journey to Casablanca, which is the last stop on this trip. I love to travel and experience new cultures, however, my senses have been on high alert while in Morocco, and I’m feeling like I need a vacation to recuperate from this vacation.
As we enter the city limits of Casablanca, I notice the appearance of luxury cars: Range Rovers, Mercedes, and Audi coupes litter the streets. In addition, on our way to the beach, we drive through a neighborhood with an abundance of mansions. This city appears to be more affluent than the others we’ve visited while in Morocco. Our lunch at McDonalds – though, quite pedestrian - provides two necessary comforts: a breathtaking view of the North Atlantic Ocean and food reminiscent of home.
Before heading to the hotel, we visit the stunning Hassan II Mosque, the third-largest in the world. Its ornate walls are captivating and selfie-inducing. Unfortunately since I’m not Muslim, I can’t view its interior. After a quick stop to check-in at the Novotel Casablanca, we peruse the shops in the Casablanca Medina. Surprisingly, we’re not harassed by the shopkeepers and the prices are fixed. I’m not good at haggling and I’m pleased with not having to low-ball for some souvenir magnets.
The visit to the Medina is brief and I return to the hotel to rest before for our last dinner in Morocco. We head back to the beach to gorge and reflect at La Terrazza. I devour my meal, joke with my travel companions and prepare to leave the restaurant when I’m approached by a pack of kids who demand in broken English, “Give me money!” I reply, “How much?” The youth’s quizzical look was priceless. This brief exchange, like many others while in Morocco, is added to a list of memorable moments during my first trip to Africa.
My first full day in Marrakech starts with a less than stellar breakfast. More croissants are on the menu since I’m still battling travelers’ diarrhea. We [Moroccan Trio] kick off the day’s activities with an uneventful viewing of another minaret. Honestly, I can’t count how many I’ve photographed on this trip. After a brief stop at the Palais Bahia, we’re ushered into a spice market where I load up on cumin and some unidentifiable powder, which I’m told is great on fish. After an hour of being solicited by spice vendors, we’re dropped off at the Djemaa el-Fna square.
The Djemaa el-Fna square is at the foot of the Marrakech medina and is filled with food stalls. Also within the square are monkey handlers alongside their not so nice colleagues, the snake charmers. Before I can take a picture of a cobra, a handler places a snake on my neck, which immediately infuriates me because I know he wants to be compensated. After some terse words, the handler takes the snake off my neck and I give him 10 dirham. He proceeds to curse me and demand more money. I walk away angry and ready to leave.
Unfortunately the episode at the square dampens my mood and I leave the group to return to the hotel. Hours of swimming and lounging by the Kenzi Farah Marrakech’s pool repair my spirit, but not enough to venture back out into the city. My last night in Marrakech is spent in the hotel lobby joking with fellow excursionists.
Despite my efforts to avoid foods that could possibly make me sick, I wake up to pains in my stomach and a textbook case of travelers’ diarrhea. Panic sets in and I immediately start hydrating and taking Imodium to prepare for a 10-hour bus ride to Marrakech. As I pack my suitcase and double check the room for forgotten items, my anxiety level elevates thinking about the long road ahead with no bathroom on the bus.
Before departure, I pop a Xanax and get on the bus to claim a seat. Situated comfortably on the bus, a calm sweeps over me knowing I’ll be able to stretch out over two seats for the long haul. This calm quickly dissipates when a woman with whom I had a brief conversation the day before decides she wants to sit next to me, ignoring the other available seats. I explain my situation; however my plea doesn’t persuade the woman from moving.
Annoyed and visibly sick, I turn my back towards my seatmate and drift off into an anti-anxiety medication assisted slumber. When I do wake up, I’m not feeling as sick as before and the bus has stopped in a little town within the Atlas Mountains. The temperature is much cooler here and I grab a cardigan to explore the village that favors a Switzerland ski resort.
After a quick self-guided tour of the ski resort, I’m back on the bus headed to Marrakech, the land of God. Upon arrival, I notice the majority of the buildings are pink and the city is pulsating with active denizens. I check into the beautiful Kenzi Farah Marrakech before heading to the Sky Lounge for dinner and cocktails with the Moroccan Trio. No ailment is going to keep me from being festive in Africa.
The early departure times on this trip are starting to beat me down. Breakfast was okay, more gorging on croissants. I’m intentionally not experimenting with the food as a way to avoid the dreaded travelers’ diarrhea bug. Today’s activity is a full day tour of Fes el Bali.
We [Moroccan Trio] load the bus and head to a hill overlooking the old medina in Fes. The first word I utter upon seeing the walled city: massive. As I overlook the medina I can’t imagine living within its walls without getting lost. As we venture into the medina, the first store I see is called “Jamil.” I blush and continue to explore the medina making stops at The Chouara Tannery and the Al-Attarine Madrasa. After some haggling, I purchased a pair of sandals at the tannery and a gandora from a medina vendor.
We stop for lunch at a place called La Medina where I opt for the Chicken Tagine and mint tea. After lunch, we head to the Royal Palace in Fes. Once we get there, I realize we’re only touring the exterior of the palace as it’s off limits to tourists. The door leading into the palace is beautiful and ornate but definitely not worth my time. By now it’s late in the day and all I want to do is get back to the hotel and swim.
After resting for a bit, we take a cab to La Maison Bleue for dinner consisting of, take a guess, Chicken Tagine. While dining, we’re entertained by a duo of musicians that sing and dance, which livens up the dark riad. Also dining at the La Maison Bleue are Fern, Verna and Phil, a group of family members who are on our tour. Throughout the evening, they continue to walk over to our table and refill our glasses with wine. I return to the hotel with a nice Moroccan buzz.
The call time for our bus ride to Fes el Bali was early and I struggled to check out the hotel and grab breakfast with my friends, now being referred to as the Moroccan Trio. Before heading east to Fes, we stopped by the massive mausoleum of Mohammed V and Hassan tower. The esplanade is the final resting place of former king, Hassan II. I was enamored with the guards on horses who were all strikingly handsome. Next stop: Chellah Gardens, a crumbling old city, which was on the top of my “Must-See” list while in Morocco.
As we approached Chellah, I was speechless by its castle-like exteriors. The gardens inside were lush; also present were feral cats that constantly meowed for affection. The highlight of Chellah is the storks nesting on top of the minarets. They make this distinct call, which ether expresses their annoyance with American tourists taking photos or their efforts to assert dominance over other birds.
Once the Chellah visit was complete, we jumped on the bus and ventured towards the Volubilis Roman Ruins. There was no shade here and we got a beating by the sun. Nevertheless, it was still amusing to visit. If you drop by, don’t forget to take a selfie with the giant penis carved in stone located in the area that was once a brothel.
The journey continued to Meknes for lunch at La Grillardière. I was fully satisfied with my brochettes de poulet and orangina. We got back on the bus and drove for about another or so until we pulled into Fes el Bali. I had a slight anxiety attack when we entered the city’s walls because of all the people running around on the streets. As soon I checked into the Barcelo Fes Medina, I changed my clothes and had a swim in the pool before a lackluster dinner in the hotel’s restaurant.
My seven hour flight to Casablanca, Morocco was memorable but not in a good way. Airline Royal Air Maroc should only be taken as a last resort. Its flight attendants weren’t the most pleasant individuals and the plane’s interior was trashed. Despite that, I arrived safely and was warmly welcomed by my guide, Leila.
After an hour or so drive from Casablanca, my travel companions and I arrived in Rabat. I quickly checked in and hit the streets solo while my friends rested. First stop: Sunna Mosque. Non-Muslims aren’t allowed, however, it’s breathtaking from the outside. While taking photos of the minaret, I noticed a Moroccan woman who appeared to be scolding a group of woman dressed improperly. Ladies, take note: don’t walk around Morocco with a lot of skin showing. You’ll receive unwanted attention.
Before heading back to the hotel to wake up my friends, I walked the perimeter of the Royal Palace where King Mohammed VI oversees the monarchy. As a trio, we walked to the medina where my senses went into overdrive as a result of the smell of lamb cooking and the sound of Berbers bargaining with tourists. The sweltering heat led us to a Rabat beach where couples conservatively showed affection.
Our walk back to the hotel was long and included a confusing trip back through the medina. Once we broke through its walls, we dined on non-Moroccan cuisine (pizza) and raced back to our rooms to sleep in preparation for our 8am departure to Fez el Bali.