Morocco: Casablanca, Fes & Marrakesh | Australian Frequent Flyer
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Morocco: Casablanca, Fes & Marrakesh

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kpc

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Ever since I first went to Europe 20 odd years ago, I have always wanted to cross the Mediterranean Sea, and visit Morocco in North Africa. Last November, I attended a conference in Barcelona, and decided to take some leave and I visited Morocco with my partner. After a lot of research on the web and indecision, I finally decided to spend 1 night in Casablanca, 2 nights in Fes, and 3 nights in Marrakesh. As there are not many trip reports on Morocco, I have decided to post a short (that was my initial intention!!) pictorial report here.

We flew Royal Air Maroc for the 2 hour flight from Barcelona to Casablanca in an old 757.


BCN - terminal 1

My first impressions of Mohammed V International Airport, Casablanca were not good…the airport looked like a rubbish tip with a few planes amongst it. Rubbish was packed in piles sky high around the airport tarmac. Immigration was excruciatingly slow…and every page of my Aussie passport was examined with a magnifying glass…almost!!

Casablanca is the economic capital of Morocco, and despite popular belief, it is not the capital; Rabat is. French and Arabic are the languages spoken here, and the English speaking traveller, like us, can sometimes strike a bit of a language barrier!

Partly to avoid the taxi scrum at the airport, and the fact that we had to visit Casablanca’s Main train station (Casa Voyageurs) to buy our train tickets to Fes and Marrakesh, we caught the hourly train (why can’t it be more frequent?) from the airport into Casablanca. It took 30 minutes to get into town where using sign language, pointing at train timetables etc we managed to buy our train tickets (First class, of course…actually, you can only buy first class tickets in advance) to Fes, and then to Marrakech.


Casa Voyageurs Train Station

We then had our first encounter with Moroccan taxis, and we lost badly. We haggled the 50 DH (about $AUD 7) down to 25DH (we paid 10 DH to return to the train station the next day when the taxi used the meter!) for the 10 minute ride to the Hyatt Regency Casablanca.


Hyatt Regency Casablanca - bland from outside but magnificent inside...

I cashed in 15000 GP points for a club room, and we had a very nice room with club access (but overlooking the busy Place des Nations Unies)

Place des Nations Unies

We could have got a room with the view below of the Hassan II Mosque if we were luckier!



As we were quite tired, we had dinner in the club lounge, and after a refreshing shower and with empty stomachs filled, we went out to explore Casablanca at night. We looked at the local medina (shopping area) near the hotel, and then took a taxi to La Corniche waterfront which is washed by the Atlantic ocean, with lots of restaurants in the area. The wind was strong, however, the waves were crashing in against the shore, and we were continually hassled by 2 young girls to buy some chewing gum.


La Corniche waterfront, washed by the Atlantic Waves


After an hour, we hailed a taxi driver, who spoke excellent English, and sought our permission to take us the scenic way back to our hotel! Admiring his honesty, we agreed and he showed us a few sights including the Hassan II Mosque at night which we would visit the next day.
 
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kpc

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As we were leaving Casablanca for Fes at lunchtime, we got up early just before sunrise to explore Casablanca before breakfast but we were stopped by hotel security stating it was not safe for us to go out til there was more light and people around. We then retreated to the club lounge where we had a nice breakfast. I have to say the Grand Hyatt Casablanca was very nice, and my partner decribed it as “heaven” in hell!! Casablanca was not living up to her liking…. justifying my decision to spend only 1 night here based on my web research; it was not as romantic and mystical a place that the Humphrey Bogart movie of the same name portrayed it to be.

We then walked about 40 minutes to the Hassan II Mosque …probably the highlight of Casablanca, and took a 1 hour guided tour. It is the largest mosque in Morocco and the third largest mosque in the world. Designed by the French architect Michel Pinseau, it stands on a promontory looking out to the Atlantic, which can be seen through a gigantic glass floor with room for 25,000 worshippers. It was rumoured to have cost more than USD1 billion…where did they get the money from?




Wonder what they can catch?


Magnificent mosaic tiles adorning the mosque...

Took a taxi back to the hotel and explored the local area around the hotel.
Locals enjoying a coffee as the world goes by...


Local fruit and vege shop...

Headed back to the hotel to check out and to head back to Casa Voyageurs to catch our 1215 pm train to Fes. Fortunately, we could read the train departure board without a problem.


Which is our train to Fes?


 
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kpc

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As we boarded the train to Fes, we were assisted by a "nice" Moroccan man in his 40’s, dressed in a suit, who helped us find our carriage, and placed our bags on the shelves. I thought he was the train guard, but he soon became our best friend for the next 1 hour, before he started to try and sell us some accommodation and tours in Fes. He soon left when we refused to talk to him further! Welcome to the tourist scammers in Morocco!

After a 4 hour train ride we arrived in Fes.


This in the new, as yet unopened, train station in Fes...we arrived next door to basically a tin shed!!

Fes el Bali is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its medina, the larger of the two medinas of Fes, is believed to be the world's largest contiguous car-free urban area. The University of Al-Karaouine, founded in 859 C.E., is the oldest continuously functioning university in the world...


Where is my hotel?

I had prearranged a pick up at the train station, and was extremely glad I did. Arriving in Fes was like stepping back 50 years in time!

After a short trip in a Mercedes limo that must have been at least 30 years old itself, we arrived at Riad le Calife (Euro 100/night), which was going to be our home for the next 2 nights in Fes; the riad is located within the medina, and is rated amongst the top 2 hotels in Fes on Trip Advisor. It actually was a very nicely renovated old house, and probably the highlight of our trip to Fes…an absolute oasis in this ancient world.


Courtyard of Riad le Calife


Riad le Calife


View of Fes Medina from rooftop of Riad le Calife

The next day was our only full day in Fes, so we organised for an English speaking guide to tour the complex Fes medina.


Entrance to the medina - man selling live chickens!! Wonder if he will kill and defeather the chicken for you as well...



 
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kpc

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Some pictures of the Medina...



narrow, confusing alleyways!



Entrance to a mosque within the medina



mosque



more narrow alley ways



a mule to transport goods - no motor vehicles here!





A courtyard within the medina - a meeting place...and to work out where you are!!
 
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kpc

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More pictures of the medina....



magnificently carved wooden door





food....





no electronic weighing scales here...



a leather tannery, within the medina....absolutely stank!

Whilst it was good to be guided around so we didn’t get hopelessly lost in the numerous narrow alleys of the Medina, we invariably ended up in various shops selling carpet, pottery, leather etc….unfortunately, for the guide, we bought nothing!



We took a taxi to the modern section of Fes, the Ville Nouvelle, or "New City", which is a bustling, uninteresting commercial center, for dinner, and returned to our hotel for an early night.

Got up early the next morning to catch the 7 hour trip ride to Marrakesh.

Despite its external apperance, the train was quite clean and nice inside...
 
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kpc

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We sat amongst a group of fellow tourists on the train to Marrakesh so we swapped tales of Morocco, including the various tourist scams that we had all fallen victim too. The youngish solo American woman in her late 20’s managed to avoid using the train toilets for the entire 7 hours, but to be honest it wasn’t too bad, there was a sign saying that it was absolutely forbidden to use the toilet when the train was at the train station….I will leave the rest to your imagination!

After 7 hours, we arrived into the magnificent Marrakesh train station.



We again lost the battle to get a fair taxi ride using the meter to the Le Meridien N’Fis which was to be our home for the next 3 nights. We got upgraded to a nice renovated largish room based on my lowly SPG Gold status….but best, as a SPG Gold, WiFi was free! I initially, booked a cash and points rate (2800 SPG pts + USD45), but as the advance cash rate was just over AUD$100, and included breakfast whereas the former rate didn’t, it was a no brainer.







Le Meridien N’Fis - Very nice hotel resort

Marrakesh (or Marrakech), known as the "Red City", is an important and former imperial city in Morocco. The city of Marrakesh comprises both an old fortified city (the Medina) and an adjacent modern city (called Gueliz). Marrakesh has the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco and also has one of the busiest squares in Africa and the world, Djemaa el Fna. The square bustles with acrobats, story-tellers, water sellers, dancers, and musicians. By night food stalls open in the square turning it into a huge busy open-air restaurant.

After relaxing and a shower, we walked to the famous medina, and the Djemaa el Fna square…it was a truly an amazing place with snake charmers, local artists telling enchanted stories, food and craft shops etc. It was full of tourists, in particular Europeans, who come to Marrakesh for a cheap holiday, like us Aussies going to South East Asia.



Entrance to Djemaa el Fna square



Djemaa el Fna square- during the day

 
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kpc

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Shopping alley off Djemaa el Fna square


Unlike Fes, motor vehicles are allowed inside the medina in Marrakesh



Craft store - a bracelet I bought broke when I got home!



Refreshing orange juice to quench the thirst on a hot day


oven roasted sheep...anyone for the head?



rabbits....I don't think they were being sold as pets!
 
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kpc

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The weather in Marrakesh was a hot 30 degrees during the day, in November, which was going into the winter months. It fell to a fairly comfortable 20 degrees at night.


Snake charmers in Djemaa el Fna




Trained monkeys who will pose for pictures with you....for a small fee of course!



One of the many night food stores in Djemaa el Fna


dinner one night...

My partner fell foul to the local Moroccan food and spent a day resting in the hotel. I explored all the little alleys and shops in the Medina by myself without getting hopelessly lost. If I had bought everything offered to me, I would have had to hire a 747 to lug everything back home.

We succumbed to the Marrakesh sightseeing bus, as it was too hot during the day to walk, which took us around the sights around the medina and to the new part of Marrakesh, Gueliz (really a boring, modern city!).




the sight seeing bus was actually quite good as it gave us a perspective of where everything was in Marrakesh
 
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kpc

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A few camels spotted whilst on the bus tour

On our last night, had dinner (not so nice) in a greatly located restaurant overlooking Djemaa el Fna.



Djemaa el Fna really comes alive at dusk!


Lamb & Fig Targine (sounds nicer than it tasted!), and (boring) roast chicken & chips


Djemaa el Fna at night...it is quite different compared to day time!



Djemaa el Fna at night.




Escargot anyone? we didn't dare risk it as we had a flight the next am

We left Marrakesh early the next morning via Easy Jet to the romantic and modern city of Paris, but not before another round of haggles with the local Marrakesh taxi drivers, and lost again….

So there you go...my impressions of Morocco! I hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting. Of the 3 cities I visited, I enjoyed Marrakesh the most! I don't regret going at all, but probably won't be rushing back anytime soon, tho.

If you have any questions / comments feel free to post...

PS...it is bloody hard work posting trip reports with photos!!! Sorry no trip report on Paris / Barcelona!
 
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thewinchester

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Wow, just wow. Kudos for that TR kpc, bloody great read and very insightful.

Everyone else here think we're being spoilt by some of the great TR's of late? If there was a comp to decide the best it would require scientific research to split them and find the winner its that close.
 

drron

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Another vote for a great TR.Now Marrakesh and Le Meridien-that sounds nice.At this stage elevates it to the probable bucket list.
 

kpc

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Thanks for all the positive feedback:oops: Although I didn't visit these places in Morocco, other travellers I met, suggested that they are worthwhile visiting as well:

  • Meknes (near Fes)
  • Essaouria (by the sea)
  • Tangier
  • Rabat
  • Atlas Mountains
  • Sahara Desert
 

kpc

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On our last night, had dinner (not so nice) in a greatly located restaurant overlooking Djemaa el Fna.



Djemaa el Fna really comes alive at dusk!


Lamb & Fig Targine (sounds nicer than it tasted!), and (boring) roast chicken & chips


Djemaa el Fna at night...it is quite different compared to day time!
Just saw this report about an explosion today in Marrakesh....
A massive explosion ripped through a cafe popular among foreign tourists in the Moroccan city of Marrakech on Thursday, killing 14 people and wounding 20 in what the government called a suspected criminal act. If confirmed as terrorism, the blast in the iconic Djemma el-Fna square would be Morocco's deadliest bombing in eight years.
The explosion just before noon tore the facade off the two-story terracotta-colored Argana cafe, leaving awnings dangling. Panicked passersby dragged away bodies and tried to put out flames with fire extinguishers, witnesses told The Associated Press....
Explosion in popular Morocco cafe kills 14 - World news - Mideast/N. Africa - msnbc.com

We had dinner at this very cafe 17 months ago on the balcony which is now a mangled mess as seen in the pic in the link above. Scary.....:evil::evil::shock::shock:
 

casanovawa

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I went to Marrakesh in June of 2010 with daytime temps of 38C or so which was pretty oppresive so probably bette to get there before or after that... For me personally it was a little underwhelming... I couldn't tour the mosques in Marrakesh as I think you needed to be a muslim to gain access where i could go inside the Blue Mosque etc in Istanbul... And it didn't have as much great architecture as other parts of Europe or Egypt or Jerusalem...

Went to Djemaa el Fna and yes the square does change considerably from day to night... As i was travelling on my own i am less inclined to take risks of catching food posioning so only went and ate there one night with a Dutch guy i ran into in my Riad, had basically vegetables and rice and wouldn't you know, he got sick and i didn't... So after that stuck to mostly Western food...

He also wanted to go exploring some alleys off of the souk at night and we got hopelessly lost, the walls are almost vertical so you have no way of figuring out where you are in relation to any landmark... Then we thought some young guys were starting to follow us a bit and using their mobiles so we sped up our walk a bit down all sorts of alleys, long story short about 30 minutes later we emerged into some part of the market square we recognised...

Anyway, an experience and everyone is different but probably won't go back to Morocco either to quickly...
 
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