Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Hotel Le Meridian N’Fis in Marrakesh

I can be a pain in the neck when I don’t get my way. When we booked, we had been told our room would be at the Sofitel Marrakech, and I was excited. When we got our final package, we found we were going to the Meridian N’Fis, not the same kind of hotel at all.

“Oh, but it is one of the finest rooms!” we were assured, and they explained that it just was too cumbersome to have some of the guests in one hotel and some in another. Umm. OK.

We hopped in a cab from the Jamaa El-Fna; it was easy. The cab ride cost a dollar. We could have walked, but we didn’t know where the hotel was, and it was maybe a mile away. Our guide had called and said we would be arriving separately (our guide, Antonio, was superb) so they were expecting us. They gave us an orientation, and showed us to our room.

 

Entrance to the hotel:

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Passage to our room:

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Gardens and pool:

 

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Gorgeous serene spa:

 

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Lovely seating areas:

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Hallway to bar, lounge and restaurant:

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You can see, it is a lovely hotel, modern, clean, has some atmosphere. Here is our room. It is spacious, the bathroom is large, and we have our own sitting area with complimentary wine and fruit, and our own patio outside. It’s lovely.

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You can see it is very modern and very clean. We also discovered it is across from a mall, which, when we visited, reminded us greatly of Qatar and Kuwait, and we wondered if Gulf money was invested in creating the mall. It had a Carrefour, and many modern stores. It was fun wandering around with the Moroccan shoppers. The hotel is only a short distance from the oldest and newest shopping areas in town.

I tried to be a good sport. (I am betting AdventureMan would roll his eyes; I was quiet, and disappointed, and not very happy.) I would never stay here in a million years if I were not part of a group. It is western. It is Morocco-lite. I remember with great nostalgia the homey hotel we stayed in years ago, with its wonderful tiny restaurant and genuine food, tiled walls and beautifully worked wood and I wish we were staying somewhere “more Moroccan.”

The bed is wonderful. The bath is wonderful. The promised Wi-Fi is non-existent.

We had a “garden” view. I asked the conceirge where the rooms were that had the view of the Atlas mountains, and he said only a few rooms, at the top of the hotel had a view, and only on a very clear day. It must have been these rooms:

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The food in the dining room is pretty good. In fact, we ate pretty well. Breakfast featured one woman making thin, flaky Moroccan pastries, worth waiting in line for.

As we left the hotel for El Jadida, there were souvenir vendors at the bus. Our fellow travelers who had stayed with the group were a little shopping-starved, and these vendors did great business. The prices seemed reasonable, too, as shoppers snapped up silver bangles, earrings, clothing and shawls. As the buses began to pull out, the most popular vendor hopped on her motorcycle to head for the next stop. I admired her entrepreneurship.

 

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December 26, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Gardens, Hotels, Morocco, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Restaurant | , , | Leave a comment

On Our Own in the Souks of Marrakesh and the Jemaa el-Fna

Free at last!

We are as giddy as children let out of school as the groups head left and we head right, going deeper into our favorite territory, the souks (small shops) in the great city of Marrakesh.

Before we ever went to Marrakesh, many years ago, we read a book by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, author of Guests of the Sheikh, called A Street in Marrakesh, talking about how her family lived in the center of Marrakesh, among Moroccans, and the adjustments they made as they grew to learn more about their environment. You know how you can read a book and feel like you had lived it? We felt we had lived in Marrakesh.

When we visited with our son, we had a car and were driving all through Morocco. We had left Ouazazarte and driven over the Atlas Mountains, stopping here and there to buy fossils and “thunderballs” which are also called geodes. It was late, and dark when we got to Marrakesh, and we had to stop and ask directions at a gas station how to find our hotel. We knew we were near, and we didn’t know how to close the distance. This was before smart phones and Google Maps.

Our son and I watched AdventureMan from the car, and as we watched him ask the two men working there, one pointed left and one pointed right. We were dying laughing. And, actually, both were right, there was an obstacle between us and the hotel and you could go right – or you could go left. At that moment, a motorcycle drove up, listened to the question and offered to guide us to our hotel. This is the essence of Morocco to us; the kindness and the hospitality of the Moroccans.

I wish I could remember the name of the hotel, but our room was huge, and full of tile work. Our son had his own area, on a separate level in the same room, and his own TV. It was a far cry from a sterile, modern hotel; this was full of color and detail, tile and wood work.

The next day, we hired a private guide for a tour of Marrakesh, and had a wonderful time exploring all kinds of wonderful places.

So now, off we go, and the smells and the feel of the souks almost make us giddy; we are back in our element.

As we wander, we can hear roosters crowing, and, in the middle of the souks, we find a souk devoted to roosters. It is the middle of the afternoon, a quiet time of day, perfect for wandering.

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Me and my attraction to light fixtures 🙂

 

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A mural of the Koutoubia mosque; one of the reasons we felt so secure in this souk is that if you get lost, you just look for the highest tower around, and that is the Koutoubia mosque, which takes you to Jemaa el-Fna.

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We walked to our content, and then settled in at late afternoon to a cafe with a terrace high over the Jemaa el-Fna, where we had our choice of tables and could watch the market come to life. As we sipped our mint tea, the other tables filled; Moroccan families, tourist couples, assorted characters. The day is gorgeous, we have a shaded location, life is sweet. We’ve soaked in the sights and the smells. We’ve done more than our 10,000 steps. We enjoyed this afternoon immensely.

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December 26, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Books, Cultural, Entertainment, Exercise, ExPat Life, Fitness / FitBit, Hot drinks, Morocco, NonFiction, Quality of Life Issues, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Dining in the Dar Es Salaam, Marrakech

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We have driven a couple hours to get from Casablanca to Marrakech, and the bus lets us off just a short walk from the restaurant, the Dar Es Salaam. I don’t believe this restaurant is open to the public; I believe this restaurant is a dedicated group-tours service restaurant.

I admire what they do. They have a lovely venue, it looks like it might have been one of the grand old homes in the city, or even an old mosque. It has elaborate decorations, and lovely spaces. Whatever it was at one time, it has been gutted, and turned into a restaurant that can seat and feed many many people in a very short amount of time.

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Those are not leftover bread crumbs on the table, they are rose petals to welcome groups.

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Dar Es Salaam empty

Tables were marked with signs indicating Smithsonian and/or Purple, and as soon as eight people were seated around a table, service began, first hot towels, then water and small appetizers/mezze. They were pretty good. Most were not heavily spiced.

Dar Es Salaam filling

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Appetizers were some kind of lentils, a beet salad, a mashed potato and pea combination, something maybe with a little lamb, and olives. The olives were delicious.

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They served a huge tajine with some kind of beef dish. It was well cooked, like beef and carrots, with little or no spices that I could detect. Nourishing. Filling.

The venue is spectacular. It is truly a fabulous environment in which to take a meal. The catering service has paid attention to detail, with rose petals on the table, good settings, enough water, good sweets at the end of the meal and hot mint tea poured with a flourish. The restrooms were clean and there were several. I admire the way they can serve so many people so quickly, get-them-in, get-them-out and give them a meal in which there is little to object to . . . unless you’ve had Moroccan cooking before, and like a little taste in your food. We like taste in our food.

We’ve been married and traveling together for so long now that we know we aren’t going to be able to stay with the group. We love Marrakech; we’ve been here before. The last time was with our son, about fifteen years ago, but not a lot has changed. Our group leader looks a little worried, until we explain that we know the city, we speak Arabic and French, we know the customs, and we can find our way to the hotel on our own when we are finished. We walk – we almost run – away before anyone else knows we are gone.

 

December 26, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Character, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Entertainment, ExPat Life, Food, Geography / Maps, Hot drinks, Morocco, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Underway on the Guadalquivir

 

Before we even get underway, we hear the big engines start to rumble. AdventureMan wants to sleep a little longer, but I am exited and want to watch us cast off and head down the Quadalquivir, which is Spanish for the Arabic Wadi El Kebir, or big waterway. Or valley. I always think of wadis as dry, a place to potty under the bridge when you live in a country with few public conveniences, but the Guadalquivir is big, and deep, as wide as the Neckar River when we lived in Heidelberg.

The sun is coming up as we depart:

 

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Most of what we pass is countryside, low and fertile.

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Now and then we encounter another boat.

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We meet and chat with other passengers as we watch the countryside go by. Soon, there is a lecture (none are mandatory, but all are interesting) about the context of the voyage, which is called Passage of the Moors. We get a lot of information from different lecturers, some of it repetitive, which is good, because when you hear it more than once, it might stick. There are lectures for the whole boat, and lectures for separate groups, and as we are in a gathering of the Smithsonian group, we pass Cadiz, en route for Casablanca. My heart grieves; I had dearly wanted to see Cadiz, but instead we had the wonderful day seeing Seville on our own, hopping on and off the bus and visiting the two museums.

 

This is an oddity. This is a small ship, and does educational trips, but educational trips for grown-ups. There is not one single child on board the ship, nor are there things for a child to do. There is a swimming pool, but it is outside, and unfilled; the weather is probably too cool. There is a spa, and there are lounges and a library, there is a lot to do – if you are an adult. (You can find the ship by Googling Voyages to Antiquity)

 

I skip the afternoon lecture to sit out on our balcony, which is large, and has beautiful wood fixtures, deck chairs, and a nice table. I read, I watch the waves go by, and wish I had a fishing pole. We are on the sunset side of the ship, so I get to take a photo of the sunset over the Mediterranean Sea.

SunsetOverMed en route to Casablanca

 

And the next morning, we enter Casablanca!
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We dock, and for a while watch other ships come in, watch dock life in Casablanca, and pack for our day and overnight in one of our favorite cities in the world, Marrakech. The ship we are watching coming in is a sister ship to the ship that went aground in Italy not too long ago, a much bigger ship than we are on.

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Our entry visa into Morocco:

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December 26, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Cultural, ExPat Life, Morocco, Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment