Saturday, March 10, 2018

Essaouira - Moroccan Beach Town

I liked Essaouira a lot, and I'm glad I went there. It's a very inexpensive beach town and the people are wonderful, which I've found to be the case all over Morocco...with the exception of Marrakesh cab drivers, street hustlers and medina merchants, most of whom will take you for as much as they can get. And even they somehow seem to do so charmingly.

Still, as much as I enjoyed my time in Essaouira, I probably won't be going back, for a couple of important reasons. After spending 5 weeks there, I realized that there just isn't enough for me to do. 

I choose places with low cost of living to spend the longest amounts of time because I can work without paying tourist prices. It's actually much cheaper than living and working in the States. But when I come up for air after spending days at my computer, I want something interesting to do - attractions to visit, movies to see, or just going out to eat.

There is no shortage of places to eat in Essaouira -
particularly on and near the beach, as well as in the medina, but not much else that appeals to me. I can spend months in equally cheap Mexico City, and always find something to do. There are so many attractions and cinemas to choose from.

The other thing is that it's not real convenient to get in and out of. The bus ride to Marrakesh is almost 3 hours long, mostly through desert. And while there are regular flights to London and Paris, they aren't every day. Plus, just getting to the airport is convoluted.

There are petit taxis that take you around town, and grand taxis that will take you to the airport. But even though I stayed on the edge of town closest to the airport, I had to take a petit taxi in the opposite direction to the center of town to transfer to a grand taxi that would take me to the airport.

Also, there are no ATMs at the airport. So I had to make sure I had an extra $15 cab fare when I was leaving, if I planned on coming back. It all just seemed like more trouble than it was worth. Still, there were a few things I really liked about the town.

Grocery shopping was a joy. So many things were ridiculously cheap. There was a pastry counter near me where I got these three items for just 40 cents.

A container of pitted olives was only 50 cents. 

What was weird, though, was that I went to Morocco to get away from the holiday hoopla and found it even in a non-Christian country.

Still, the town had a very exotic feel to it. 

Essaouira Chamber of Commerce

Even the modern architecture was very well blended with touches of the past.

It was just a few little touches...

...that made all the difference.

I liked that there were so many open spaces.

They were all over town.

And very well used, for resting, visiting or children playing. 

You did have to be careful where you were walking, though.

And I have to say, finding a pipe in my apartment's utensils drawer felt a bit exotic, too.

The Medina

The Essaouira medina is my favorite of the few medinas I've seen in Morocco. I liked it much better than the ones in Tangier and Marrakesh.

It didn't hurt that I had to walk along the beach to get to the entrance.

Since everything is cash only, it's nice that there is an ATM conveniently located at the entrance.

Though there were some very narrow streets, it didn't have
the closed in feeling that the Tangier medina had.

There were many more open spaces.

The small restaurants and coffee shops that offered free wifi were much preferable than Starbucks.

There were so many places to eat, and the prices were definitely lower than you'd find in most places.

You could splurge on Sole Meuniere for less than USD $8.  

In addition to the restaurants just scattered around the medina, there was a square that was kind of like a food court.

Once you got in, it was just restaurants on every side. 

I liked the merchandise better than I'd seen in other medinas.

I also liked the decor items for sale. 

And I loved all of the artworks.

I don't remember seeing art galleries in the other medinas. 

But this one had some very colorful artworks that greatly appealed to me.

I love the loose, flowy clothes that is found in abundance in Morocco. 

It was even available in more muted colors.

The Beach

Since Morocco is located on the North Atlantic coast, the water will never be warm enough for me to consider going in it. And definitely not the middle of winter.

But like a lot of others, I found the beach, with its wide boardwalk, a great place to hang out.

There are plenty of places to eat. 

Places for kids to play... well as adults. 

Lots of choices for lounging. Some belong to the restaurants, the fanciest one belonged to...

...a nearby spa hotel. 

So, all in all, there was quite a bit to like about Essaouira. But, for me, I think a week would have been plenty enough time there.

I don't think I will feel the same about Marrakesh, but I'll know for sure after spending a month there soon.

Saturday, February 10, 2018


Marrakesh Medina

I only spent 4 nights in Marrakesh and they weren't nearly enough. I love the city so much that I'm going back in several weeks and staying for a month. It's almost as cheap as Mexico, so I can live there very well on very little. 
Burros are much more common than horses in the streets.

It's also cheap and easy to get there from London or Paris, both of which have never been cheaper to get to if you avoid high season flights, which I intend to do. So Marrakesh, like Mexico City, will be my go-to spot when I want to just *live* somewhere - work, eat, sleep, hang out - with plenty to see and do right on my doorstep when I get cabin fever.

The bad tourist strikes again.

The thing about both of those places is that I don't feel like I'm missing out by not spending my days seeing everything it has to offer, because I will get around to it when I'm ready and in the mood. Not like Paris and London, where I feel like I am wasting my time and money if I'm not out and about every single day, at least for a little while...which is exhausting.

I went to exactly 2 major sights in Marrakesh while I was there. I tried to go to a 3rd and Google Maps said I was there, but it was surrounded by a big wall and I couldn't find the entrance. Next time.

Marrakesh Medina

I was quite underwhelmed by the medina in Marrakesh. Granted, I saw very little of it. But it seemed to me so much more touristy than the one in Tangier, which is the only one I'd seen up until then, that I wasn't tempted to explore further. 

There were certainly nice things to be had, and the prices weren't bad, considering that the medinas are mostly tourist traps. There were lovely rugs.

Bags, clothes and accessories...

...spices, oils, etc.

Maybe I was immune to its charms because I knew I couldn't buy anything. My tiny bags are packed to the max and airlines are getting ridiculously strict about what you can carry on. I'm easily fine size-wise, but electronics are heavy and the weight limits are shrinking.

So there was nothing there to tempt me, and it didn't feel authentic or exotic enough to be fascinating. It kind of looked like what I would expect to be an Epcot representation of a typical Moroccan medina.

My favorite medina was definitely the one in Essaouira, which I'll tell you about in the next post.

Jemaa el-Fnaa

Souk at Jemaa el-Fnaa
If you Google Jemaa el-Fnaa, or look at photos on Instagram, you will see what looks like a fun and interesting place. The photos will be mostly taken at dusk or at night, the lights making everything look even more carnival-like.

I never came across anything that said the same thing didn't go on during the day, as well. But, just my luck, I went in the afternoon and found the big square practically empty.

That didn't stop all manner of hawkers trying to get me to buy stuff. But as I didn't have many dirhams on me, it was easy to just keep saying "I have no money." in French.

The hotel of my dreams.

I got a room at the Trois Palmiers hotel on for forty bucks a night. It was in a newer section of Marrakesh, Gueliz, and it is my favorite hotel ever. For one thing, I love the neighborhood. Moroccan architects are better than I have ever seen in any other city at blending the new with the old. I adore the new architecture in Marrakesh and Essaouira.

But I completely fell in love with this hotel. Every single aspect of it was so wonderful that the low price was like a miracle. The location was perfect for me, and so was everything else.

The room was just lovely, beautifully decorated and not too small, with everything I needed and more.

It had a balcony that overlooked a quiet residential area, and the beds were sooo comfy, so I slept like a baby every night.

A lovely bath with etched mirror and shower door.

Even the door to the room was special.

The rest of the hotel was every bit as fabulous. There was a nice dining room...

Which overlooked a tiny but lovely pool...

...and offered the most fabulous free breakfasts, included in the measly $40 a night rate.

There was no other food available from the hotel, but there was a very nice little cafe with great outdoor seating, right outside the front door.

They had menus you could take and order from, to be delivered to your room, and the prices were amazing. If you click on that photo to blow it up, you'll see - about 10% of the prices would equal $US.

For instance, this chicken panini plate with fries cost about $2.50, and it was both filling and delicious.

Still, as fabulous a deal as that was, it's even cheaper to get a monthly apartment rental nearby with a full kitchen. So I probably won't be staying at the Trois Palmiers again unless I go to Marrakesh for little short hops from Europe...which is entirely possible, especially since the weather is so much better there than in Europe. 

Except in the hot season. I won't be headed there during the summer.

Eating in Marrakesh

There were a ton of cheap places to eat in Marrakesh, multiple choices on every block.

There were fast food joints...

...and nice places where you could get traditional tagines, that still were not at all expensive.

Almost everywhere had outdoor seating, because the weather is consistently gorgeous in Marrakesh. However, as much as I love outdoor dining, there are so many stray cats and dogs in Morocco that it's almost inevitable that they will find their way indoors.

I went to this one place that looked so upscale, I was surprised to see how low the prices were.

However, the food actually wasn't that good. So when a cat appeared in the inside patio, I didn't feel bad about feeding it, even though I knew that would just encourage it.

Odds and ends around Marrakesh

Marrakesh Train Station Rear
The first thing I saw when I arrived in Marrakesh was the back of the train station. 

Marrakesh Train Station Interior

The entire property is so beautiful, I would be happy to move right in and live there.

Marrakesh Train Station Front
Even though there is a McDonald's attached to the front.

I would love nothing better than to make frequent use of this train station. Unfortunately, I find the trains in Morocco to be a bit uncomfortable, and I don't feel any great urge to go anywhere else in the country at the moment, with the possible exception of Essaouira.

But to get to Essaouira from Marrakesh, you take a bus. There's more than one, and the bus station for the company I used isn't bad, it's even got a cafe. But it's nothing compared to the train station, which is perfectly understandable.

However, the bathroom in the bus station has something that I have not seen anywhere else. Instead of toilet paper, there is a hose attached to the wall that you are supposed to clean yourself with.

I guess that's actually better than toilet paper, but without anything to dry yourself with afterward, it seemed to me somehow...incomplete. Fortunately, I keep flushable wipes with me at all times, though I didn't flush them here. If all of that is TMI, I do apologize, but it's these kinds of things that actually keep travel interesting for me.

Another thing I was surprised at was to find the local mall decorated for Christmas. Since Morocco is obviously a Muslim country, I actually went there in part to get away from the holiday madness. A little bit goes a long way for me and it starts way too early everywhere these days...even, it seems, in non-Christian countries. Go figure.

Still, I'm not expecting to see any Easter rabbits, even though I'll be there at the time. Of course, I could be wrong. 

In any case, I'm very excited to be going back, even to the same neighborhood. Marrakesh is definitely my favorite place in Morocco. Thus far, anyway. There's plenty I still haven't seen, and may get to eventually.

*Yes, I know the ~authentic~ spelling is Marrakech, but I'm not going to call Florence Firenze or Rome Roma when I write about them, either. I don't live in Morocco, spending months at a time there notwithstanding, and I never have. I'm tourist - well, a visitor, anyway. And it's only one tiny letter. So I spell it like the foreigner that I am.