Morocco’s old-world charm

Image title

Moroccan lady selecting argan seeds to grind to make argan oil

TWICE a year, usually during my wife’s vacation days (about two weeks), from her job as a Cathay Pacific cabin crew, we travel to places that we deem unique and interesting.

These places, (my wife has a bucket list) offer us a world different from the place we call our second home – Hong Kong.

Call it a perk or simply the benefit of being married to a flight attendant, I enjoy these vacation moments as it gives us the opportunity to bond and see the world together, without the pressures of the daily grind.

And one of these places is Morocco.

Exotic, rugged and colorful, it is what most people say, your gateway to the Africas.

Our first stop was at Marakkech, also known as the Red City, where we booked a room for three nights.

From the airport, we took a bus that dropped us off in the middle of the Medina or Main Square.

By day, you can find the regular souks or bazaars lined up to satisfy whatever your shopping desires – Moroccan souvenirs, argan oil (from the Argan tree which is endemic or uniquely Moroccan), rugs and carpets of various shapes, colors, and sizes.

By dawn, the Medina transforms into something magical!

Merchants peddle their goods right on the pavements (haggling is a must!), snake charmers, acrobats, belly dancers and the likes adorn the whole plaza creating excitement, frenzy and a truly distinctive experience full of sounds, colors, and artistry.

Needless to say, as travelers, we must always watch out for our belongings – wallets, bags, etc.

We stayed at the Riad Laora, a quaint, two-storey bed and breakfast/hotel, which is some 10-minute walk from the Medina.

The manager welcomed us with Moroccan Mint Tea, a must when you are in Morocco. The tea’s soothing cool after effect warms your body and relaxes you.

After almost a couple of hours flying from Zurich, (that by the way is another story), I would say it was a much welcome treat!

Our second day started quite early as wehad a lot of sites we wanted to visit. Ourika Valley, due to its many waterfalls and several attractions, is a popular day trip from Marrakech.

We rented a van packaged with a tour guide.

But before our hike up the valley, we stopped a good hour into the journey to enjoy the sights, take pictures and enjoy a camel ride!

Lunch came around 3 p.m. at a riverside restaurant where the water from the Ourika valley flows freely downstream. I thought it couldn’t get any better than this!

ired and starving, we ordered Tajine, a North African Berber dish which is named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked.

I think I fell asleep on our drive back to the Riad Laora.

Our third day was our shopping and relaxation day so most of the way was spent walking around the Medina and checking out the local fare and shopping.

My wife bought a couple of leather Moroccan handmade leather slippers (or Babouche) for gifts.

After dinner we decided to get a massage and try the Hammam.

A Hammam is a steam room, similar to a Turkish bath, where Moroccans habitually go each week to cleanse themselves.

Just in case you have never heard what a Turkish bath is, it is being scrubbed from head to toe using a cleansing black soap and rinsing it all off in a sweaty, hot room.

Once dried, we were then let to a room where we were pampered with a soothing, and relaxing massage.

Next stop, Fez.

We took a train from the Marakkech train station Fez.

Fez is the second-largest city of Morocco. We only booked an overnight stay so our first stop was to check in a hotel then check out the old Medina of Fez.

Before entering, you would stand face to face with Bab Bou Jeloud, or the Blue Gate that leads to the old Medina, where you will be awed by its old -world atmosphere with its avenues lined with souks selling all kinds of local goods.

Also inside the Medina, a must visit is the local Tannery, where workers atop stone vessels with dyes treating the leather they skinned from various animals.

It is also here where hand-made bags, slippers and shoes are made.

Final stop. Casablanca.

A must-visit is the Hassan II Mosque, the world’s third-largest mosque, which stands on reclaimed land from the ocean.

If you’re a movie fan, then you should not miss a visit to Rick’s Café.

Opened on March 1, 2004, the place was designed to recreate the bar made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the classic movie “Casablanca”.

This is the first part of the travel series I will be sharing with you. Next stop is Portugal, and then Spain.