I'm thinking my next fun trip for spring break will be to Morocco. I have an email in to a former student who spent almost a whole year there, but I am wondering if any Insiders have been to Morocco? Which city would make the best base? (I'd probably fly into either Casablanca or Rabat, and I like the fact that both are on or near the ocean, but I hear both Marrakech and Fes are really interesting.
Thanks for any ideas!
I'm sorry, but I am a dead end here. I wonder if folks like newhiltonmember or arkwright or jasper might have some good info for you? Oh, I would say when visiting Morocco, be sure to take a ride on a dromedary!
I would really like to read about your trip to Bologna and Ravenna in another post if you have the time. Hope it was fun!
I never made it to Ravenna -- after doing the archives in Bologna for three days I was done in and mostly stayed in bed or just went out locally. The hotel (not a Marriott) was great, but since I have been to Ravenna before (and even bought a ticket this time, but only $15 RT) I didn't feel compromising my health was worth it, especially since Ravenna, as magnificent as it is, is sprawling in terms of the great sites. And despite taking two pairs of what I thought were comfortable shoes, they weren't so my feet were miserable. Turned out I threw out my most comfy boots after the rainy filming of the documentary in Chinon.
But even though I haven't heard from my student, I got a six month ok for some aspects of health and have had SynviscOne shots in both knees (synthetic cartilage). So I made reservations to Casablanca, and will stay at the Sofitel Tour Blanche (there aren't any Marriotts in Morocco and I don't have a clue why). I also figured Casablanca as the largest city probably offers the most guided day excursions. I'll be there five days. Whoopee! My bucket list continues.
Whoopee! I am currently working on a trip to Prague, Bratislava and Vienna for next Spring. I also want to go to Garmisch and Salzburg, but I think that's too much for one jaunt.
Btw, is Synvisc One new? I did the (Orthovisc brand) shots in one knee this year (but had to do 4, each one week apart) and it really helped. If you've previously done the 3 shot treatment, I'd be interested in knowing if the one shot treatment provides results that are as good as the multiple shot therapy.
My wife has been taking the Synvisc for a couple of years now, and it helps her, but that only takes care of it for a while. This last january, she had one knee replaced and loves it now. It took a couple of months of recovery and physical therapy, but it is now the knee she depends on to be strong and stable. She is in love with that new knee and will get the other replaced someday, when the Synvisc shots stop helping much. Once she gets the other knee replaced, then we will start planning "The European Vacation" (our first one to Europe, and hopefully for 3 weeks), to use up those Marriott points we've been collecting. Don't be scared when the joint replacement time comes. It was hard for the first few weeks and then got better for her, really quickly. The key was to be faithful with the therapy and exercises every day.
I have been to Morroco!
I started out form the Marriot Vacation Property in Marbella Spain which is about45 minutes from the ferry/hydrofoil crossing from Algeciras to Tangiers.
It took approximately 30 minutes to cross over.
Spent the day in Tangiers as sort of a scouting trip for a longer trip.
Some of my brother's friends who travel alot, did not like their time spent in Morrocco, so I thought it best to try it out and examine some of their concerns.
My conclusions were
1) My brother's friends did independent travel, hiring a car and driving around on their own wich is difficult as they do not speak Arabic or French and are not familiar with the customs. They were very fair in coloring and stand out like a sore thumb so were mobbed. People literally will surround you and move in very close to you and you need to know how to handle this. A colleague in my office traveled around Spain and Morrocco on her honeymoon. Her husband is fluent in Spanish, and they had a wonderful trip driving around though they were primarily in the Atlas mountains and seashore, and are scientist that spent their time collecting fossils.
2) I went with a very experience tour operator that consisted of a Spanish guide fluent in spanish and arabic, and a local step on guide that we picked up at the docks in Tangiers. I also dressed appropriatedly and forced my brother to follow the local customs, e.g. he had to walk 7 paces in front of me despite his protestations. We had absolutely no problems moving about. They probably figured out we were foreigners as my brother is taller than everyone else and fair, and even though I wore my Hijab, sunglasses to protect my eyes from the glare, and the color of my eyes from the crowd, with a long black skirt and long sleeved loose black blouse which looked enough like an abaya that no one bothered us. My brother was thoroughly tramatized by it all, with all the crowds surrounding us and moving towards us, but they backed away as he walked forward and I trailed behind as they were not exactly certain who they were dealing with. I had him put on the sun glasses and look over the tops of their heads and keep moving. When I lived in WDC in my younger days I was often mistaken for Queen Noor.
3) I took the business card of the step on guide. If I return I will hire him as he was very good. You definately want a car, driver and guide for this trip, and let them navigate all the local customs and crowds. It will be more enjoyable..
4) I have always wanted to try the Hotel Mamounia in Marrakesh. It is one of those famous properties that you just ahve to try, just like the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok or Hong Kong. So much history has happened in these hotels, and they are the best in hotel experiences. Anyways, I just checked the directory to see if there is a Marriott and there are none, so I don't have to feel guilty.
I highly advise anyone interested in trying Morrocco, to stay in Spain first and go over to Morrocco as a day trip first and try it out as it is very different than any other travel experience I have ever had. This includes Turkey, Southeast Asia, etc.
I was just in the south of spain in March of 2012 to visit Alhambra which is a 2 hour drive from Malaga. Driving back from Alhambra (near Granada) to Malaga, I noticed all the road signs are in spanish and Arabic. Our guide who looked very spanish was fluent in Arabic as well, and probably was ethnically part or all arab. It was a reminder of how closely linked these 2 countries and cultures are after 700+ years of Moorish rule in Spain. As a western, I find it easiest to explore it from this point.
I think Synvisc came out in 2010, and is now being considered for other joints (that would be great, if it works! - thanks for the info). And my orthopedic surgeon said my knees weren't at the replacement stage (unlike most of the rest of me) yet. That's good because when I had a big toe joint replacement it took 9 months of PT to recover. Apparently that is considered worse than knee or hip because you put your whole weight on your feet, but even so I'm not anxious for another replacement anything. So Synvisc please work!
Thanks, Gem Princess, for the great information! Fortunately I'm fluent in French, so that should help some. I decided after my last trip to Turkey, where I was hassled (by carpet salesmen, but not regular people) that I would get myself a more serious hijab. (I have blonde hair, bangs, and hazel eyes.) And I will say "je suis une musulmane" if bothered. Happily I know some women in the French department who have traveled to Morocco, and French fluency seems to be one of the keys. Since I've been to Egypt and the West Bank, I don't feel at all uncomfortable in Muslim countries (my hotel overlooks one of the Hasan II Mosque and the ocean and is part of the French Accor hotel chain).
I actually felt more uncomfortable in Andalusia, Spain, not because of the people (and I loved Cordoba and Granada) but because Spanish is not one of my languages, and hardly anyone there except the hotel manager spoke English. I finally found out Italian worked quiet well.
The idea of a private driver is a good one especially if there are not guided tours from Casablanca. In Egypt I always had private tours, mostly for the reasons you mention. And since at one of them I had a female guide, no one tried to bother me at all -- it was then and may still be punishable with six months in prison if a male hassles a female Muslim. Even the swarming kids didn't get near me at Giza! I found this out from my male Egyptologist tour guide, who said I had been lucky to have a female guide. And while in Luxor with him, even though I wasn't bothered any more than in Paris (usually by people trying to sell tour guides), I noticed the difference.
BTW, since I'm such an early morning person, I don't go out after 6pm at the latest, even with the time change, so that should probably help with the swarming.
PS - This of course means I'll be drinking gin at Rick's a lunch !
PPS - Your experience on the roads in Spain reminds me of Israel, where I would never rent a car. All of the traffic signs I saw in most of the country were in Hebrew or Arabic, but not English. Especially since most were red or orange, I felt quite lucky to be part of small tour groups.
Turkey is much more westernized (and I did travel all over from Istanbul-Bursa-Avalyk-Kusadasi-Pammakale-Fetiye).
The only problem I encountered in Turkey when I went out on my own for a few minutes to the bank across the street to cash travelers checks in Kusadasi was extremely slow service cause I was alone. At first I thought it was cultural, a slower pace. But when I went the next day with my husband, everything happened very quickly, and much more politely.
Morrocco is a whole different situation. Its muslim and its african. My brother's friends, all men, and fluent in French did not like it. They said they had crowds of people surround them, and the hands of so many people going through their pockets, they were even certain who the crowd it was.
And don't forget they don't like the French much as they ruled the country, and not very nicely, employing torture and murder to maintain control. There is a much better relationship between Spain and Morrocco, as the royal families spend much time together, hence the car ferry ports, and all the road signs in spain that are in Arabic.
When I go back, its with a car, driver and guide to create a perimeter. And you definately need a male traveling companion, so I would take my brother, or my nephew with me. Even Benazir Bhutto married and had a child before attempting to run the country as president. I don't think she was assassinated because she was a female ruler, but because she is her father's daughter, but she did understand the cultural parameters she was dealing with before taking it on, and its wise not to underestimate the risks. True, men are not allowed to hassle muslim females, but then muslim females are not allowed out alone, and are supposed to be accompanied by a male relative, so in their eyes, when you are out alone, you are just asking for trouble. The other thing I learned while there from my Morrocan guide, is that male relatives can be jailed, if their female relatives are inappropriately dressed, but they look at this as a safety precaution, cause any woman inappropriately dressed is fair game, and it would be impossible for male relatives to handle the situation, so they put them all in jail, allegedly for protection. Anyways, I had to tease my brother about how I just saved his life, cause he was making fun of how I was dressed, along with all the other english speakers from UK, Canada, US and Australia as I did stand out a bit in my black garb and headscarf. But when we got off the ferry, everyone mobbed around the rest of them while I pushed my brother out in front, and we walked away without even being bothered.
The place is fascinating which is why I want to go back, but it is definately dangerous, which is why my ex-husband wouldn't let me travel with him in that part of the world. He said security was too challenging and he didn't want to spend his time worrying about what might happen to me.
Another great way to visit is if you know someone there, and stay with them, and let them handle all this.
P.S. best not to drink alcohol in public in a muslim country. This can bring on a host of problems. Even our college friends from muslim countries stopped drinking in the US when the countries all became more religious. They said it could hurt their families back home if someone saw them and reported it back home. We use to go out alot to Mama Ayeshas (middle eastern) and Mama Destas (Ethiopian) food. With Ethopian food in college, we had Tej, sometimes lots of Tej. After college when we came back to visit, no one was drinking anything but fruit juice, and none of them brought their wives.
It sounds a lot like Egypt. I don't have a male traveling companion -- and I don't actually like ANY traveling companions unless they are part of a tour. My French dept. female friends who have been there have not had any problems (they mostly went around 4 yrs ago and did travel alone). I'm not sure why, but my female student (also blonde, young, and only learning Arabic), never had any problems in Marrakech and Fes where she was studying for a year (2011), and can't wait to get back. And she didn't wear any Muslim garb.
I do get it about the French language and colonialism, though at a Sofitel it shouldn't be a problem and I will decide (like in most places -- e.g. Belgium, whether it is better to speak French or English). My real hope is that like most hotels in big cities anywhere, they have guided tours. Private tours were VERY cheap in Egypt (probably even more so now), but normally I prefer traveling alone or with a generic group. Who knows, I don't mind wearing a niqab if I can buy one in the US without attracting unnecessary attention from the Homeland Security Agency or my most hated group the TSA.
Anyway, I am 60 years old and am determined to do and go to the places I most want to see. Morocco was only slightly down on my list after hearing about the former French dept. chair's experience because I hadn't realized both its ancient Roman and early Islamic connections back then. My attitude toward travel (except the TSA) is that I could just as easily get hit by a car at home. And I'm frankly really tired (I know this sounds oh so elite, but it's not) of going to the same old places (everywhere in France, much of Italy) because they always involve serious work. I want to keep learning, so if that puts me in slight danger (as I suppose I could have been in Egypt though never felt it), so be it. My ex father-in-law, an astrophysicist, had a great love of archaeology and spent most of his free time in Syria. Alas, that will probably never be possible for me, nor will there be much left to see thanks to Assad. But what he said to me struck a chord, especially after my trips to Turkey, Egypt, the West Bank, etc. -- he had never experienced such wonderful hospitality anywhere else in the world. And he'd been to most places. I have had the same experiences (except for the d^^%ed carpet salesmen in Turkey) in the Muslim world. I know that's not true for everyone, but I do my best to blend in to any country I visit.
So unless you never hear from me again after March, I'll be okay! And my very Presbyterian colleague who teaches Islamic history says Morocco should be fine for someone like me. So I'll take my chances. If I go far afield, I will certainly have a driver, but I mostly intend to take guided tours.
I hear you on getting tired of the same old places!
While I was in Morrocco I had intended to ride a camel, but when I saw the camels and the setup, I changed my mind.
That's when I came upon the idea of Ariceife, one of the Canary Islands. I got to go camel riding like I always wanted to, but in a much nicer environment that what I saw in Tangiers. Matter of fact it was pretty spectacular, with the volcanic mountains and sand that looked like the beginning of time.
I am just glad that I saw Morrocco and Turkey in quieter times.
I do hope to return as there is always more to see, but I have lots of other places on the list that are easier to deal with.
Morocco has been on my bucket list also.
We (when I was part of a 'we') were planning to see Morocco and Andulsia on a trip a number of years ago. But, we kept extending our time in Spain and only did a day trip to Tangiers through a tour agency. I enjoyed it!
We did the hydrofoil from Algeciras to Cueta and then a bus to Tangiers. Boy, going through the border into Morocco was very, very sad! It was very Third World.
And although we did buy a couple of rugs, those carpet salesmen can be a real pain.
We had planned on seeing Casablanca, Fez, Marrakech, and Essaouira... and maybe Rabat.
It's still on my list and someday I will get there!
Enjoy your trip!
Your description of Third World country reminded me of when I got off the main streets of Cairo or Luxor and saw the back streets, where there was unimaginable poverty, mules were everywhere, etc.
I plan to stay in Casablanca and see what day excursions I can get. France is the only country where I will rent a car (of the places where I travel). Italy and Greece are insane, and the latter positively dangerous with the winding hills. And as for England, if I attempted to drive on the left I would probably end up in a British prison for excessive vehicular manslaughter.
A really nice day trip from Vienna is the Lipazzaner Stud Farm in Piber (if you like horses)
Sounds like you have already settled on Casablanca, but I can heartily recommend Marrakesh. The square, the entire Medina area, are all fascinating but not particularly intimidating. The food is terrific and there is lots of entertainment in dining establishments(belly dancing!) and in the open. The storytellers in the square are a very memorable sight, even though I couldn't have understood a word. A drink at the Hotel Mamounia (sp?) is an absolute must, as it is one of the great hotels of the world. A favorite of Churchill and many others. When I visited, before the recent renovation, there was a terrific jazz musician in the lounge. He had performed for decades all over Europe. That hotel has spectacular gardens and public spaces, and there are other visit-worthy gardens. Daytrips to the mountains or the seaside resort are practical. Morocco is half Berber, half Arab and quite modern, despite the donkey carts still in the streets. It is Muslim, but seems open to western ways and as a modestly dressed woman I felt entirely comfortable. Everyone speaks French and there are lots of French tourists.
Great shopping, whether in the souk or (my preference) in government-managed craft centers. Hotels outside the Medina feel like resort properties, even the relatively well-priced ones, but transport is needed. I know there are lots of hotels in the Medina, but don't have any idea whether some are walkable to the square. I guess you can tell that I really liked the place.
Casablanca was mostly a free flight trip on Delta, and used a lot less miles than even Rabat. Delta doesn't fly anywhere else in Morocco. I have highest status with Accor, so that settled the deal, and especially since it's my first time in Morocco I prefer to take day excursions with groups. Then the following time (like in Turkey) I can do things on my own and decide what is comfortable and what is not. But thanks for the advice! My former student, who wrote back, agrees with you. She stayed a year mixed between Fes and Marrakech.
We just returned from Marrakech. We added 3 days there after a week at the Marriott Playa Andalucia near Marbella.
everything I read recommended Marrakech over Tangier and Casablanca which are more commercial than Marrakech or Fez. We were very pleased with our choice. Our hotel was in the old town and we can strongly recommend the one we chose (Dar Charkia). The old town can be overwhelming and we often were lost but we never felt insecure and the hotel provided lots of guidance. It was a very fascinating place to visit and we really enjoyed it. Compared to the markets in Istanbul, the Turkish markets are almost a shopping mall. If you want to see something exotic then try Marrakech.
We flew from Malaga on Vueling Airlines which is Iberia's low cost airline. It was an inexpensive connecting flight through Barcelona. Although we didn't use it, others in our hotel used the rail from Casablanca which they said was easy.