Tuesday 26 March 2013

Holiday in Maracech!

Hello everyone, I am still alive, and thought I would come back and share my holiday diary with you! I'm sorry it has been such a long time since I have posted.. I guess I just used Facebook more than this to keep in touch now, but here goes here is my holiday entry.

Big thank yous go to my lovely husband Douglas whose "Share Save" from work paid for this amazing birthday holiday :-) 


We set off from home (Sheffield) by taxi at 9am, on our way to the train station and Manchester airport. We had big fairly empty suitcases with us! We got to the airport in plenty of time, our flight was due to leave at 3.30.

We went through into the posh departure lounge - loads of shops to gently part us from our money! It worked, because D got me some new headphones and some Irish whiskey for himself.

This photo is of Douglas in his new holiday shirt. Fabric courtesy of my parents who got it on a holiday about a year ago, creation, courtesy of a good friend of ours. I think he looks wonderfully touristy! :-)


At the gate, we all lined up and waited for what seemed like an age. A plane close to ours had a water bowser truck stuck/wedged under it.. The driver had gone too close and had got stuck!! As I said, it wasn't our plane but it Was our water bowser!! This delayed our flight by about half an hour, but I'm sure that the people whose plane was damaged would be delayed pretty badly!

You can see the bowser lorry with it's roof firmly wedged under the areoplanes belly.

The journey was 3 hours 40 mins, and was fine. We read a bit, and listened to music via my new earphones. I had a snooze.

We stepped off the plan to a wonderful warm evening, through a rather slow customs line to the arrivals area having got our suitcases. A man had a notice with my name on – we had booked a taxi as part of our holiday! The driver was very friendly. We drove firstly on a large dual carriage way that was very busy, then past huge orange walls into the Medina, the old part of the city. From there, the roads got narrower – there were lots of people on 2 stroke mopeds (with hair dryer engines, according to Douglas!) There was no polite British waiting for a gap in the traffic, it was a "push and hoot" strategy – chaotic and crazy! We glimpsed tiny shops, cobblers, bike menders, TV repair, cafes, patisseries and of course the street stalls selling HUGE strawberries and hands of bananas. We went past a spice seller, and got a wonderful nose full of exotic scents!

Our driver was giving us tips about who to trust and who not to trust (not men in streets) he offered us a tour guide for Sunday afternoon. He said she was very good, made lots of customers very happy and had lots of local knowledge.

The car could not take us all the way to our Riad because the streets were too narrow, so the driver parked up and took us (he pulled our suitcases) the few hundred yards to our destination. We were very grateful (and tired) and is custom over here we tipped him for his help.

The doors to Riad Amssaffa were wooden and carved with beautiful detail. Inside everywhere was tiled floors, lovely arches and very.. Morroccan! The so called "Piscine" which I was expecting to be a small but decent swimming pool was no more than a pond, but the court yard was lovely.

This is the courtyard from our breakfast room with the tiny swimming pool!

Our breakfast room (below)

Another lovely one of our breakfast room
Below, looking out into the courtyard

Our bedroom taken from the bed.

The photo below was taken from the roof our our Riad. It shows the typical layout of a Riad ..a courtyard, open to the air with rooms round it. You see three decorated red doors in this photo.

Our room had a huge fairly firm bed, a TV (with terrible picture) power points in rather awkward places but a good hot shower. We slept pretty well, not surprising since we were both exhausted

Sunday 17th March 2013

We expected to be woken at 5am by the Call to Prayer, but our room was a quiet one, and we heard nothing. We got up slowly and went down for breakfast at about 8. We had 2 large warm fresh rolls each, jam, butter, cream cheese and rather sweet yoghurts. We were also given some flat breads.. a bit like Roti. They were strange and a bit greasy, but lovely with jam on top. They would have been even nicer with Marmite on, but I didn't take any with me :(

D had (reportedly) wonderful coffee – the best he had drunk outside France! France invaded Morocco years ago, and has left an influence which includes the language and the style of coffee it seems.
I sat in the open air courtyard to write my diary up, it was sunny and warm, with little birds, possibly sparrows hoping for breakfast. Fatima, 3rd wife of the owner gave us a map and gave us two routes to the main square, one for the day and one for the evening for our own safety! We put our sunblock on, and headed out to the Jemaa al fna, the main square at about 10.30am.

We set off on the suggested route, but soon veered off into the souks, little alleyways with enticing shop after shop, designed purely to tempt tourist and their money apart! You can buy anything from food, ghastly pink shell suits, lovely terracotta tagines, tassles (oh bliss) leather shoes, belts, bags.. everyone wants you to "go see my family making carpets" or wants to help give you directions or be your guide to the square. By this time, we were getting used to saying "La Shukran" no thank you! Also when we were offered help with directions, we tended to walk in the opposite direction to the one offered, because they were just after our Dirham, and would probably take us completely the wrong way.

The wonderful Souks

One of my first purchases was a pair of "Ray Ban" designer sunglasses. They cost me about £3!!!

 Lovely tempting things on sale. The photo below shows tea pots for mint tea, and the decorated glasses it is served in.


We wandered around for about an hour and a half, stopping to buy a beautiful djellaba each (a long sleeved, down to the ground gown, mine has decoration on the front, Ds has a hood). I think, despite Ds first real attempt at bartering, we paid well over the odds, but they are lovely "robes"

As we wandered round, dodging donkeys with carts full of goodness knows what, hairdryer mopeds, bicycles and a few mini vans, Douglas got greeted with calls of "Hey! Ali Baba" which was quite amusing at first. We were totally lost, then suddenly we saw the road with our Riad on!! We went back to have a rest and use the loo, and get some more money exhanged into Dirham. We set off again, and this time someone in the Riad (one of the staff) offered to take us to the square, for which we were grateful. The bloke explained that tour guides have to be registered, so he would walk a bit in front and we should follow (he wasnt registered). The guy walked at quite a pace, but we managed to keep up with him through little alleys with shops selling lovely colourful moroccan pointy shoes, big silvery lanterns with lots of holes in, photos of Berber womens eyes (often made pointy by the khol that you can buy here).

There were plenty of beggars, mainly old people who just sit with their hands out, but there was a mother with her young family also begging. It was difficult, but we knew that if we started to give money to one, all the others would then also want money!

Our guide took us most of the way to the Jemaa al Fna (main square) and told us which street to go down to get there. We set off on our way, and he called out "don't I deserve a tip for helping you?" We gave him a few coins and went on. Everything costs money here.. even going to the loo in a cafe means a tip for the cleaning lady!

We got to the square, which was a large paved area with buildings and a mosque round the edge.
The square is filled with traders stalls, the larger ones selling freshly squeezed orange juice, others selling dried apricots and figs. There were less formal sellers with small piles of silvery items, articulated wooden snakes, a man carrying loads of tiny wooden stools with woven tops, and a woman offering to paint squiggly henna patterns on my hands.

Below is my first blog video!! It gives an idea of what the main square is like. Next time, I will do a better commentary :-)

This is a photo of the orange juice sellers in the square.

You can see the mosques in the distance

Dried fruit being sold in the square

The traffic found the edge – cars taxis motorbikes, motorbike trucks and tourist horse and carriage seem to have no formal lanes, they just weave in and out and seem to cope!! Seat belts are not compulsory, and driving chatting using your mobile seems the norm, as does driving your bike with no helmet. We saw one man with a little child (possibly about 3) standing in front of the seat, and a slightly older kid, perched on the back. The bloke put his helmet on but the two kids were just left to hang on as he drove! It was hair raising to us, but the norm over there.

We stopped in the square in a terrace cafe. D had mint tea which smelt divine, not very nice to drink in my opinion but D really enjoyed it. I had fresh orange juice – REALLY fresh – none of this cartoned stuff we get in the UK.


We sat and watched the world go buy, I took loads of photos and we decided to have lunch there. We both decided to have tagines.. mine veggie of course. Mine had potato, courgette, olives and preserved lemon in it. The lemon added an amazing sour tang to the rather bland veggies. D had a lamb tagine with prunes and nuts in.. not a big portion but quite tasty he said. We ate our meals with a large fresh roll that came with the food. Our meal plus drinks was about 300 dirham.. about £28, which was a bit expensive, but the terraced cafes do charge a bit more due to their location.

D's tagine above , My tagine below.

We got back to the Riad, using the hand drawn map provided this morning, buying some little biscuits on the way back. We had walked quite a long way that morning, and by the time we got back to the Riad we were totally exhausted!! I'm sorry to say that by 2.30 when we had arranged to meet the guide, we were both soundly asleep! We woke at about 4. Douglas had a shower, and tried on his djellaba. He decided that he looked like Obi wan Kenobi (Star Wars reference)

We went up onto the roof terrace, and enjoyed reading up there in the lovely warm air, with ?Swifts screaming around in the air above. The roof has several large solar panels, and quite a few large satellite dishes! It was warm enough up there for even Douglas to be comfortable in just jeans and T-shirt which is amazing since he normally has about 6 layers on when I can cope with just one :-)

We decided to head out at about 5.45 and look for the Earth Cafe, a place high on the trip advisor list for good places to eat for veggies. It was also mentioned in several guides we had. We walked down the now nearly familiar route to the main square, with calls of "look in my shop" and "Ali Baba" as we went past!

We (Ok, Douglas) navigated his way via a cafe in the square, and a few notices for the Earth Cafe! Sign posts and road names are not very common here :-) We stepped through a little doorway into the cafe that had its menu written up in English on a mirror. We both had filo pastry parcels.

Below. The menu is written on mirrors. It all looks lovely!

Mine had courgettes, red and yellow pepper and carrots, ricotta cheese in the middle and a tiny bit of orange and cinnamon sauce (not enough sauce) it was lovely. D had a parcel with pumpkin, spinach and other veggies, with goats cheese in the midde, slices of apple on the top and an apple sauce round the outside. He really enjoyed his too. He had a pot of mint tea, and I had nearly a pint of lovely fresh orange juice, complete with pips! The cost was about £20 for the lot.. very reasonable for such lovely food. Just before we finished, it began to rain gently through the open courtyard, which was quite a surprise! It only rained for a little while, and it was still nice and warm.
The inside of my filo parcel.. it was utterly delicious!!!!!!

Lovely fresh orange juice, and behind, a glass of mint tea.

The photo below was taken when we had finished our meal. It is looking up through the open roof of the courtyard. The light faded very quickly at night!
We walked back through the square, and if we thought it was busy before it was packed! The orange juice sellers had put their lights on, and loads of street food sellers had arrived and set up. The vendors were brandishing menus in our faces "come eat at no. 97! no? You come back tomorrow? Warm welcome Ali Baba!"

Some of the shop keepers were packing up as we walked home, but most were still there with lovely lit lanterns, leather satchels.. food.. so much more... the square is quite different at night!


Below: Lanterns lit up to tempt purchases.

There are also a lot of scruffy cats around – semi feral I think, but during our holiday we only saw about 3 dogs. We think the cats are welcomed because they keep the vermin at bay. 

Below: Spot the cat!

Even cats ride motorbikes here!

Back at our Riad, we went back to our room, feet tingling due to the distances we had walked. Before we collapsed into bed, Douglas met another house guest in our bathroom.. a cockroach about 2 inches long!! Yikes! I am pleased to say it vanished, and did not re-appear for the duration of our stay. Phew.

Monday 18th March.

Douglas decided he wanted to find the spice souks, so after breakfast, we set off again for the main square and down again further to the right area of the Medina. The travel rep, Hamid was in reception, so I decided we would book an evening at "Fantasia" for the next day. It was food and entertainment.. totally touristy but might be fun... after all, we were tourists! It was 400 dirham each (about £36 each). Quite expensive, but I thought for an evening of food and entertainment it should be fun.

We stopped half way in the main square, and had drinks. We had to contend with the shoe cleaners wanting to clean our shoes, and ladies wanting to sell me bracelets, and blokes offering both of us cigarettes.. its a bit frustrating but they are only trying to make their living. We got to near the spice souk and found a public garden area to sit in!

Beautiful carpets on sale near where we had a rest

After a rest, we went into the spice area, and chose a seller, and Douglas chose lots of different spices.. morroccan mixed (Rass al Hanout), a sweet and a hot paprika, saffron and other things. We also got some strange gloopy looking stuff which was soap! The Souk was quite dark inside compared to the bright hot sunlight outside. The spices are displayed in cones about a foot tall some cones were fake and brightly painted, but most were natural and made of the spices.

Below: Fake cones of spices on the right, real ones on the left. Coloured skeins of wool hang from the awning. 

Lovely spices.. Turmeric, paprika and more

We purchased a lot of spices.. enough to share with family and friends. We spent about 42 Dirham, about £40 but Saffron is so expensive that it bumps the price up everywhere. The seller gave us two thank you gifts.. a teracotta dry skin remover, and a strange teracotta flange type thing that has rouge for your cheeks or lips if you wet it a little!

After our shopping, we went to another cafe with a terrace. Douglas ordered a cous cous dish with meat kebab, and I ordered a pizza, not wanting yet another bland tagine. Our food arrived, and Ds dish was HUGE! The dish was the bottom half of a tagine (like a soup bowl) with cous cous on it, and sticks of cooked veg leaning on each other like a bonefire pile. When D got inside he found a large chunk of chicken and then lamb underneath! It came with some broth to pour on, and a little pot with harissa paste on. There were also about 4 skewers of meat for him to get through!

My pizza, on the other hand was very bland and dissapointing.. I had to cheer it up and give it some flavour with Ds harissa paste. At this point I decided it would be nice to take some harissa paste home with us :-)

We wandered back to our Riad again, knackered as usual by the time we got back. We had a lovely hot shower and collapsed into bed for an afternoon nap. I didn't feel very well and had a dodgy tummy, so we rested and read until about 7.30, when we went down to have our evening meal in our Riad. D had yet another lamb tagine, I had a veggie tagine. The potato was nice, but it was fairly bland as they all have been. I managed about half of my dish, plus most of my bread roll. We had a fairly early night having given up on the TV. There were 4 stations, all in Morroccan apart from 1 in French, but the language was too fast for him to understand.

I slept in chunks, waking about 3am very homesick and very much awake. I listened to some music and read for a while before managing to go back to sleep at 6 until 7.

After breakfast we set off for the square again aming to find me an internet cafe so I could catch up on emails and D could sit and drink.. yes.. you guessed it.. mint tea!! We walked round the square, and I couldnt find the cafe with Free Wifi promised on it (I could have sworn I saw one yesterday) so we just sat and drank. We found the "Olive" souk, and purchased a jar of harissa paste. I find the souks fascinating, and wanted to buy one of everything, but our budget and suitcases did not permit!

Shoes, anyone?

Below: The owner of this stall demanded "1 Euro" for me taking this photo.. I just walked on ;-)

We walked and walked, stopping at an internet cafe. It took ages for me to get their password to work, but I was able to catch up and send an email or two, but before I could do very much, Douglas started eating my chips which was really annoying, so I had to stop and eat them, then he wanted to move on again. Grrr. We wandered on, and eventually found Marakech Musuem, so we decided to go in. The building was beautiful, with lovely mosaic tiles on the floor, ceiling and pillars. There was lovely delicate carviing in the coving too. The museum held mainly modern art, which was a bit dissapointing, but some of the peices were pretty.

Below: A lovely painting in the museum

Below: Carving up near the roof of the museum

We had lunch in the cafe there. I had a delicious half bun sandwich with cheese and tomato. It needed a sprinkling of salt, but was the 2nd best best meal I had (1st being the Earth Cafe).


 Douglas had bread and sardines which he enjoyed too! After lunch, we went to the Medersa Ben Joseph "College" which was included in the price of the museum entry. It was another lovely building but not deeply interesting.

We went back to our Riad, going the very long way round by mistake, arriving back at about 2pm as usual, knackered. I think we walked for about 4 hours that day!! We had a restful afternoon, enjoying the opportunity to read and rest before the evenings entertainment.

At 7.30 we were walked to a waiting people carrier with another couple from the Riad who were also going to the "Fantasia" evening. We had a hair raising drive for about 15 mins, then were transferred to a minibus with about 5 other people. We were driven through Marakech to the outskirts. It was an interesting drive because we saw some much more modern parts of the city. We got to the "Fantasia" show ground. It consisted of a modern but Morroccan style building with a large horse menage in the middle and rooms made to look a bit like Berber tents round the edges. There was a camel with a palanquin on its back, but I decided I really did not want a camel ride! We went into the dining area, and were sat round a large table with the others from our mini bus.

Below: The "tent" and some of the entertainers

The first course for non veggies was soup. I was offered a salad.  When it arrived, it was more like the finely chopped tomato and onion you get in a pickle tray with a curry, but as it was my first fresh not "cooked to death" veggies of the holiday I was very grateful! I had taken some cream cheese triangles with me from breakfast, so along with the bread brought for the soup, I enjoyed the salad very much. Douglas said the soup was fine.


The second course for the non veggies was a half lamb, very well roasted. Douglas said the lamb was lovely. Some of the ladies on the table were a bit freaked out because the rib cage of the lamb was showing. There was something white and shiny on the serving platter, and we both hoped it was an eyeball to freak them out further, sadly it was just a joint! We wanted it to be an eyeball because people who eat meat should be aware that they are not just eating a lump of something from a shop, but an actual part of an animal!! The ladies did not have a good word to say for anyone or any thing, and were telling quite rude stories

I was brought.. yes you guessed it.. a veggie tagine, pretty bland as usual – it was quite oily too! Having eaten quite a lot of bread and salad already, I wasn't really very hungry, but I ate a few bits. I really am dissapointed with the bland tagines out here. I was expecting rich tomatoey spicy sauces!

The third course was a huge platter under a silvery cover for the meat eaters.. it was a dish with cous cous in similar to the huge dish Douglas had at the cafe when we visited the spice market, just bigger. I waited for a mini pile of cous cous for me, but I didnt get anything. I didnt really mind because I had eaten enough already.

Below: The cous cous dish was hidden under this

The next course was fruit. A large platter with apples oranges and clementines! I had a clementine, and it was really juicy and tasty! The fifth course was a couple of tiny biscuits each.. again not really very tasty at all.

During the various courses, troupes of dancers with musicians or percussionists came round. They did a little bit of jigging at each table, tried to encourage guests to join them, then went on to the next group. Most of them looked pretty bored as you will see from the photos. Some teenagers from a table near ours got up and danced around.. they were far more entertaining that the troups!

This is a short video showing the dancers. Notice how one of them is more interested in fiddling with her ring than putting on a good show!

After the meal, we all went outside and sat round the menage to see the "spectacular" which turned out to be anything but that. Just as it started, so did the rain.. We hadnt come prepared for rain, and Douglas got rather cold, so I wrapped my scarf round his head to stop him from melting ;)


The "entertainment" which we watched from the eaves of the dining area was horses and their riders galloping up from one end of the menage to the other, firing big old blunderbuss type guns into the air and galloping down again. They did this several times in the pouring rain, then some other horsemen came out and did a few tricks (sliding out of the saddle and getting their horses to gallop along whilst they were hanging half off) The next part was a coloured trolley/tank like thing that slowly rolled out into the middle of the menage. A solitary belly dancer appeared and did quite a long not very exciting dance whilst sheltering underneath a picnic umbrella held over her! The lighting was poor so the whole effect was pretty bad.

The finale was all the troups walking up to the top of the menage to some music (it was still raining) really not exciting at all, and I felt sorry for everyone walking in the dirt in the rain! I went to the loo because I needed to go before we got back on the minibus. Douglas told me that the ending of the evening was hysterical..there was a sign that was supposed have static fireworks on it that said "Shrukran maa Salam" Thank you and goodbye, but due to the downpour it was a damp squib, and even people with fire torches could not make it light properly!!

It was about 11.15pm by the time we were ready to go back, and we were both quite tired. The roads were much quieter, but the mini bus was quite noisy.. the "hags" who were complaining earlier spent the return journey being very rude about their husbands, and retelling stories about how one of them had set fire to a new neighbours shed, and that the fire went very close to next doors oil storage tank!! We got to bed at about midnight, and slept like logs.

Wednesday 20th March

We had the normal breakfast, chatted a bit to the other Brits staying in our Riad and decided to head over to the artisan quarter, where the crafts people get a decent cut of the sale price of their items, unlike other places where they would get a lot less (there were protest banners about this in the main square). This was a Government run scheme, and seemed like a great idea, especially as the prices on the goods were the ones you pay... no bartering at those places!!

This photo was taken on the way to the Artisan Market.. I'm pretty sure its Bougainvillea.

This is Rue Mohammed 5 one of the main roads round the old town, lined with orange trees!

Our first stop was a ceramics shop. We purchased a tagine for my dear friend Eliese – we made sure it was an oven suitable one. We got some mini tagines and some beautifully decorated mini bowls too. D got some red leather slip on shoes, and in another shop, he found a lovely big leather jacket that fitted him beautifully. The leather was really soft, and the jacket had loads of pockets. Ds other leather jacket had seen better days.. I purchased it for him about 14 years ago before we were even engaged, so we got some money out of our account and purchased it!! The one I purchased 14 years ago cost about £100.. this new one cost a bit more but as I said, the quality was wonderful.

Below: We went into a shop selling and making mosaic, but we couldn't bring any back as it was very heavy.

Below: Douglas purchased a lovely chemise and some red slip on shoes!
 I took the photos back at our Riad later.


The next purchase was a tiny silver moroccan shoe for my charm bracelet, and some earrings for Ds Sister, then a black shirt/top for him. We went to a tailors and Douglas arranged him to make me two tops in the same style of his. The man firstly said we should come back on Saturday, but D explained that our last day was the day after! He asked for a little more money and said we should come back after 1pm and they would be ready.

We had lunch in a lovely open air cafe.. I had a panini and chips, Douglas had chicken, and found a friend to share a little with :-)

Another long walk back to the Riad, our feet tingled as usual and an afternoon nap ensued. We chatted and I emailed (I found out that the Riad had wifi!!) then we chatted to a couple who were waiting for their taxi to the airport and home.

We went out at about 6.30pm, back to the Earth Cafe, where we had exactly the same dishes as we enjoyed a few nights ago! I hope to replicate this dish at some point. We had our last evening stroll through the smoky square, stopping only to get some rather nice sticky cakes for pudding. Oh, I also got a pale blue pashmina scarf for my mum. Strangely, our suitcases were much heavier on our return!!

Thursday 21st March.

Our room that last morning looked like a bomb had gone off in a market stall – bits and peices all over the place! We went back to the Artisan market, had lunch in the cafe, then picked up my two lovely tops!! We made our wa back for about 1.30 and were told that we should have vacated our room by 12.. oops! We packed everything up, rolling all our treasures up in clothes to protect them on the way home and got out of our room having apologised!

We sat in the shady lounge, chilled and chatted to the holiday rep before heading out with our suitcases for the walk to our taxi. We used all our spare dirham at the airport by buying some food for the journey, some biscuits and turkish delight as gifts and waited for our flight.


The flight left at about 8.30pm and got in at just before midnight. It was a good flight, but a slightly bumpy landing. We were both very tired. It was bitterly cold outside. We were glad we had booked into the Hilton hotel at the airport, but the wait for the transfer service (only 5 mins) was horrible as it was trying to snow.

We got to the hotel, and the receptionist was very nice pleasant, finding an extension lead so D could plug in his breathing machine. We decided to put up with single beds - we had requested a double, but by that time  we just wanted to sleep. Douglas ordered us some breakfast, hung the request on the outside of the door, and soon we were settled and fast asleep.

Douglas ordered breakfast for about 8.30. A very nervous and totally incompetent waiter brought bits of breakfast for me (no sign of the hash browns I had been looking forward to)  and the wrong breakfast for Douglas! He tried again, told me they had no hash browns. He got Ds breakfast correct but forgot the tea, came back with it but then forgot the milk!! We had a word with reception on the way out really not impressed at all.

We got to the railway station just before the train was due, and had a good quick journey home, looking out at the snow building up outside, hoping we would get home ok! We paused to get a few essentials from the M&S in the station before getting a taxi to take us home.

We made it back, happy that we left the heating on at a low level for a few hours every day.. it made a big difference!  Douglas was exhausted, so went to bed for a few hours, whilst I slowly unpacked our wonderful goodies and put our first wash on.

The cats were very pleased to see us back. Lilly (below) was very interested in our purchases!

We spent the rest of the day, and the next snowed in.. Oh what a change ...

Well, I hope you enjoyed my account, it has taken hours to get the photos in the right place! If I know you, and you want to stay in touch on a more regular basis, search for me on facebook - I'm 

Anna Happy Goss