April in Paris–I mean Marrakech!

Yes, I believe every one of us will remember where we were supposed to be, and where we actually were, for the month of April, 2020! I was supposed to be traveling….far and wide for about 2.5 months with Marrakech being my first stop. For this April/May/June stint of travel I had 10 flights booked, a train ride, a couple of auto rentals, and hydrofoil rides–and, yes, I am still trying to obtain refunds and vouchers!

I’ve only visited Morocco once, primarily staying in Marrakech (April 2016) with a few nights in Essaouira, a beach town which is a drive of about 2-3 hours away from Marrakech. Because I had such fond remembrances of my time there, I wanted to revisit some of what I had already seen but also take in some new experiences. So, I decided to schedule a week long visit to Marrakech before touching down in Nice.

As in other landings in other countries, Marrakech, was no exception. I arranged, through my Riad (lodging), for someone to meet me at the airport and transport me to the Riad. The driver was there to deal with my luggage and ME! That process went on without a hitch.

As soon as I stepped inside the inviting, lushly planted courtyard of the Riad, I was warmly greeted by one of the receptionists. She invited me to sit down on one of the comfortable sofas in the open lounge area and, fortunately, I didn’t miss the sofa and land on the floor, as my eyes were so busy taking in as many elements as I could-up-down-and all around me!

I was offered a refreshing drink, accompanied by Moroccan delicacies that teased my palate for what was to come in the days ahead. We discussed the services they provided but she also reviewed what we had already arranged by email and then, she finished, by inquiring what else I might need during my stay. When we felt we had sufficiently covered the information we both needed,  I  felt I was ‘off to the races’, but in a calm, serene, and safe manner!

Let me just get this out of the way. Morocco has a reputation towards harassing/intimidating women. There are numerous articles on the internet. I have listed just a few below. I wanted to eliminate this anxiety as much as possible, so I would feel at ease while exploring. As it turned out, I believe being older, being escorted, and paying attention to recommended tips in the articles I read on this subject all helped.

And, as it turned out, the staff had my back my entire stay. The one word that comes to mind when describing my time at this Riad is: PAMPERED! But for me, as a woman traveling alone, pampered didn’t mean having a massage every day but rather having them take care of me so I would feel safe and secure. I quickly recognized they were a trustworthy, kind, friendly staff. Surrounded by that atmosphere, I found I was able to allow myself to relax and take in the wonders of what I was seeing and doing, hassle-free.

Here are a few examples of their hospitality:

Since a taxi couldn’t come to the Riad’s entrance due to the narrow, winding, busy streets and alleyways of the Medina (the old historic part of town surrounded by high walls), I was never without a male staff member guiding me through the maze of streets to the taxi area. I was often encouraged to walk behind him, mainly due to mopeds whisking by us. If I decided to visit a restaurant that was in walking distance of the Riad, same thing, an escort.

As a precautionary measure, the Riad also gave me a mobile (cell phone), which had the number of the Riad reception desk on speed dial.

They always scheduled the taxi driver for me and he was always someone they knew and trusted.

My tour guide was someone they recommended. When I arrive at a new location, I often like to arrange for a guide the following day so I can get my bearings, but also to have the stimulating highlights introduced to me by a professional. By doing so, it gives me time to consider a revisit to a particular sight, if I find I want more time to investigate and delve a little deeper. Again, the hotel arranged for the guide to meet me at the Riad and when we departed ways at the end of the afternoon tour, he guided me back to my Riad.

I also arranged a day tour on the outskirts of Marrakech. Once again, I used a tour company the Riad suggested. Picked up/dropped off at the Riad. Mobile with me. All went well.

To add to the pampering, reservations and recommendations, done…taxis booked.

If I so desired, my dirty clothes were cleaned and pressed and in my room at the end of the day.

Hungry or thirsty? A menu in my room and a call down to the reception and this was handled for the time and the location in the Riad that I preferred. Breakfast, of course, was a given, in my room, every morning.

So, as said, calm, serene, pleasurable, with my senses left for the stimulation of what I was experiencing.

And here is the top of the heap of ‘we will take care of you’ gestures. I stayed at the Riad for several nights and returned after a few nights in Essouira. I was planning on renting a car and driver to get me there and back.

But, the original receptionist that assisted me insisted I would be just fine on the public bus! At that point, I trusted her. She booked a one-way ticket for me and arranged for a taxi to take me/pick me up when I returned to the Marrakech bus. But that wasn’t enough. She gave me the Riad’s mobile, just in case I needed her help. Then, she called my hotel in Essaouira and demanded one of their staff meet me at the bus station to guide me to the hotel and take care of my luggage. And, sure enough, there was a staff member waiting for me, with a cart for my luggage.

For the return, i went back over to the bus station and booked the ticket myself. The tickets were so inexpensive, I decided to book two so I could have the seat, next to me, for stretching out a bit and also to ‘house’ some of my belongings.

On the way there, I was seated next to a young French woman. Neither of us were fluent in each other’s native language. But, we found a way to communicate and learn about each other and our desire to go to this beach town. The hotel, as it turned out, was just a brief walk away, but it was still very comforting to know I didn’t have to go on a hunt for my lodging by myself.

Since this Riad staff’s pampering gave me the assurance I could return alone, Marrakech shouted at me for want of another visit. Of course, the food, the sensory experiences, a longer, drawn out visit to the Majorelle Gardens, needing a resupply of Argan oil, and a recent article with new information about places to shop–well, as said, Marrakech was calling! Unfortunately, the coronavirus abruptly disconnected my call!

To give you an idea of my lodging:

As mentioned, upon my arrival, I was toured around. The courtyard area had shady seating areas too:IMG_5633fullsizeoutput_2d91IMG_5637The weather cooperated. And, I think you would agree, the rooftop setting shown below was just too tempting to resist. fullsizeoutput_2d8ffullsizeoutput_2dacfullsizeoutput_2dadSo wha la! Why not have dinner on the rooftop with my own waiter by my side!?? And, yes, there was a glass of wine somewhere to be found on my table. IMG_5649Salad and bread–the first course. A typical Moroccan bread, Khobz, which I didn’t happen to find very flavorful by itself, but is used to scoop up other tastier foods on your plate. This is a more familiar salad that we, as Americans, are used to having. Hold on though, because one of my next posts will show you the more usual vegetable spread offered!fullsizeoutput_2d8bI didn’t even come close to finishing my chicken tagine. IMG_5654

A Riad I stayed in was similar to staying at a small boutique hotel. The range of room rates for Riads definitely vary, just like hotels. Think: bare bones to bed and breakfast to boutique hotels to ultra luxurious. I spent time at other Riads and I will post about them.

Here is a definition I ran across: “Simply put, a riad is a traditional Moroccan house. The term comes from the Arab word ‘ryad‘ (meaning ‘garden’) but is applied to townhouses built around an inner courtyard or garden. True riads will have lush plants in four planting beds and a central fountain, but many variations exist.”

The walls and floors are often made out of ‘tadelakt’ which is a plaster that has a waterproof surface applied to it. If you want to take more of a peek at the Riad I stayed at in 2016, here is their website link: https://www.riadkheirredine.com

I don’t have any idea why I didn’t book with them again. Maybe I didn’t want to take a chance on spoiling my warm remembrances. I also know I like to have a variety of  experiences and prefer to recommend places I have stayed or at least visited. Here is where I had myself booked this month, Riad Dar Assiya–April 2020. Interestingly enough, both Riad Kheirredine and Riad Dar Assiya are each owned by two Italian women partners. As far as I know, they are not the same four Italian women! Here is the link to Dar Assiya: https://darassiya.com

Travel to Morocco can be intimidating in a variety of ways, especially for women and some may just want to ‘arm chair’ travel there or go in a group or with a partner, for instance. For me, the catcalling was held down to the minimum and, as said, had something to do with my more ‘elder’ age but also because of the male staff member that always accompanied me. For more information about being a single woman traveler in Morocco, here are just a few of the links I found when I ‘googled’ something like woman traveling alone in Morocco :

https://www.goabroad.com/articles/traveling-to-morocco-alone

https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/10-things-morocco/index.html

5 TIPS FOR FEMALE TRAVELLERS IN MOROCCO

 

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