I showed a friend the camera phone photos I took during our week in Morocco (he actually asked to see them, I was a little surprised, it seems that everyone does so much travel of their own now they aren’t ever interested in anyone else’s) and a very narrow theme was immediately evident: doors, men in pointy hoods and the occasional medina/souq appearance. How formulaic. While a small sprinkling of the evidence is here, those doors may well get their own post (5 of 7 postcards bought home were also of doors ahahhaa).
We had almost, up until the day of our departure, decided not to get a hotel our first night, as our flight arrived after 1am and the first trains started from 4. Common sense (and our advancing age) prevailed, and the airport hotel was duly booked. Best decision ever.
We loved our Moroccan breakfasts, especially the daily pancakes served up in Marrakech. One oily and flat, like a Malaysian roti, the other puffy and light, like an English crumpet. With a bread basket, fresh orange juice and mint tea on the side. All eaten with piles of butter and super sweet honey. The Italians who we always seemed to share hotels with didn’t appreciate the pancakes so much. At least one pancake style would be left on the table while they would, however, have finished all the bread. There is a stereotype that Italians only like Italian food, and some stereotypes are mostly true.
I love mint tea: mint tea for breakfast, mint tea for an afternoon break, mint tea post dinner. Mint tea all the time! We had one glass of wine each the whole week we were there, and subbed it out the rest of the time with this super sweet replacement. New Years eve was even celebrated with a glass of mint tea (and then an early bed time, advancing age and all that). I aaaalmost considered buying a silver teapot and tray set, but then didn’t. Next time, perhaps.
Meat, and food generally, is much more immediate at the butchers stands in the souqs. The chicken butchers would have fresh chicken meat in front and shelves of live chickens behind, ready to be taken home (alive). We passed one vendor struggling to keep two live chickens on the scales with one hand, while adjusting the weighted scales with the other. Another day we walked past a butchers with four fresh goats heads lined up in a row, little tongues protruding ever so slightly. I appreciate that this meat is likely fresher, and the animals likely treated better, than any of the factory over-farmed animals that end up in our supermarkets, but it turned my stomach a little all the same. I’ve had vegetarian thoughts ever since I was 20 so maybe this will be the year I finally succeed.
There were donuts in Fez, though annoyingly I never got a second chance at the stall who sold the best and cheapest. Knowing that scarcity breeds demand, that donut seller was only at his spot for short and varied times each day.
But, it doesn’t always feel so easy to find food. Our first morning was spent in Casablanca, where a combined total of 5 pan au chocolats were the only food we had from breakfast until lunch. One internet resource or guide book had said that Moroccans generally eat at home, so most restaurants generally cater only to tourists, while the cafes are more of a male tea drinking establishment.
It also wasn’t so easy to get lost in the medina, especially once you got north of the souq in Marrakech. There was always a man or a group of children ready to tell you that there was nothing further this way, though whether it was because they were genuinely helpful or because they just really didn’t want you invading their part of town I’m not really sure. It does feel that a way of life is being experienced as a theme park by all the tourists rolling through, so if it was the latter I really don’t blame them. More amusing was the group of kids who tried telling us in French that we were heading down a no-exit street, who then laughed at us on our way out again. Our favourite thing to do here (and generally everywhere) was just to wander and get lost and the constant hustlers offering to take you to the tannery, or to the square, or to the museum got a little boring.
We were lulled into a false expectation of how warm it was going to be by misunderstanding people’s comments of ‘oh how warm it will be’. They of course required the follow up of ‘compared to here’. In Fez our concrete-room-on-the roof with a centimetre gap under the door didn’t provide much warmth, nor was the breakfast on the exposed sunless terrace so comfortable. But it was much warmer compared to Trentino, and wearing close to every item of clothing in our bags wasn’t enough to stop either of us catching colds when we arrived back in Bologna at close to midnight.
I had a revelation on this trip, though it is rather startlingly obvious, that if I had stayed in Wellington post graduation and worked in steady jobs between then and now, that I would have earned enough money to have both paid off my student loan and saved a fair deposit for a house. The choices we make, huh. I still choose this option, but interesting to think that those other things could have been nice. I know some people manage to do all the things all at once, but I’m not so smart.
Other things about Morocco:
There is a cheap (maybe 45 dirham, or €4.5) and easy train from Casablanca airport to the main train station. We stayed at the Relax airport hotel near the airport, which has terrible reviews on Booking.com but is actually really fine. They also have a free airport shuttle, bonus! That both picked us up after our late flight and returned us to the airport the next morning, where we caught the train.
There seem to be Ibis hotels next to all the main train stations (at least in Casablanca, Fez and Marrakech).
Trains are a super easy and comfortable way to get around. They are slightly pricier than the buses, but only by a little bit. We travelled second class where you do not get a reserved seat but never had a problem with space (we were travelling in late December) except for the time we shared spots with an annoying English family and their annoying teenage sons, who would have preferred to have their feet up on a chair, rather than us sitting in it.
We were told things about dodgy stomachs so only used bottled water and sanitised our hands before eating anything. Matt started out a little freaked out by the street food, but relaxed a little when I pointed out that our breakfast pancakes and orange juice likely came from those same street stalls. Most of our meals were eaten in restaurants.