After presenting at London's Society of Wedding & Portrait Professionals conference, Emir and I added an additional continent to our journey when we hopped a quick flight down to Marrakech, Morocco. I've been itching to explore Morocco for quite some time and with such great prices on carriers like Ryan Air (2 round trip tickets from London to Marrakech for a total of only $160 USD!) and easy access from London, how could we not?
Our first look at Africa was from the air. We found out later that most of the green fields we saw from the plane were either oranges, olives or dates.
We decided to stay at a riad in Marrakech's ancient kasbah (an older, walled part of the city) instead of a traditional western hotel located elsewhere. Best. Thing. EVER! Riad's are like homes with a small number of rooms instead of a hotel, whose room numbers may number in the several hundreds. It creates a feeling of comfort and personal connection that is hard to find in any other way.
Traditionally, riads are hidden treasures featuring 3-4 rooms with windows serving up generous portions of natural light from the central courtyard/garden. They are true havens of peace and serenity in an otherwise buzzing part of the city.
Our riad's driver met us at the airport and gave us a tour of our surroundings while taking us through the gates into the kasbah.
We stayed at the riad Maison Mnabha where we were treated to incredible breakfasts of fresh fruit, breads, jellies and my personal favorite: fresh squeezed orange juice (If you've never tasted fresh squeezed, it is drastically different than what you buy at the store. Simply amazing!), all served on the gorgeous roof-top terrace.
The view from our roof-top terrace.
Are you kidding me!? Look at our room! The level of attention to detail and ornamentation was out of this world. (The place was also absolutely spotless. Clean, clean, clean!)
The main receiving room where we checked in was lavishly decorated with lanterns, rugs, columns, etc... and at night, it becomes even more inviting as jazz tunes flow from the stereo and light patterns dance on the walls from the countless candles strewn about. (This room heavily influenced our current obsession with lanterns. We happily brought some home from the shops that line the streets of the kasbah.)
Exploring the area, we walked down some other quiet streets before hitting the kasbah's main drag, eventually leading us out through the gates and into the rest of the city.
We headed towards the famous market square known as Jemaa el-Fna to marvel at the musicians, snake charmers, and countless "souks" (shops).
The colors were astounding... I was in photograph heaven! Traveling only with backpacks, we weren't able to bring much home with us (though we did end up packing (and paying for) a 9kg box of treasures to fly home with us). Of all the traditional goods/wares the local artisans made, my favorites were the lanterns. We managed to bring home a few. :)
The shop owners and local artisans are more than just crafts people... they're incredible sales people. Here, I couldn't resist a classic henna tattoo and a mosaic mirror. :)
After spending the morning in the market, we were ready for lunch and needed to find our way to the bus station to get tickets for the next day's journey east to the Sahara... so we asked around and continued exploring the city while en route. Our path brought us past the city's opera house...
and down one of the main streets, lined on both sides with these orange trees!
We found the bus station, bought our tickets and celebrated over lunch before heading back to the market square to see it come alive in a different way at night. On our way back, we saw this gorgeous sign letting us know we were headed the right direction.
Headed back to the market, we passed "Cyber Park" (kind of like NYC's Central Park) with free wireless!
Back in the market square, things were getting busy!
One night, a few days later (after returning to Marrakech from Merzouga and the dessert), we decided to go out for a schmancy dinner to enjoy our last night in Africa. Around the corner from our riad was by far, the most over the top, lavishly decorated restaurant I have ever seen or even heard of. La Rotonda features ancient antiques and collectibles from around the world, stylishly showing them off in an upscale eatery that appears part restaurant, part dance club, part... museum.
They were quick to point out that their guest list has included folks like Penelope Cruz, Matthew Maconaughey and even Hilary Clinton. I offered to let them put photos of Emir and I on their 'star wall,' but they didn't seem interested... go figure. :)
We found the people in Marrakech (and Morocco in general) to be incredibly outgoing, very friendly and quite welcoming. Already can't wait to go back! (PS: If you're hungry for even more photos from Marrakech, check out my FaceBook album.)