Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Riads of Morocco

Riad in Essaouira
Usually where I stay is the least exciting aspect of traveling, I aim for the cheapest possible spot in the best possible location. But, in Morocco, I had heard that the Riads where the place to be - so true. These small guest houses usually have around 10 rooms centered around a common courtyard which is either covered or uncovered.

Our first Riad was in Essaouira and was wonderful. It was run by a funny wall eyed woman named Fatima who might not have been 100% with it, but made a great effort to act out everything she wanted to tell us. Our personal favorite was her imitation of a camel complete with sound effects.

Atrium in Marrakesh Riad
Our next Riad in Marrakesh has got to be my favorite place that I have ever stayed. It was homey, and comfortable, and just all around great. The atrium in the middle had a "dipping pool" just big enough to put your feet in or jump in for a quick cool off. There was also a rooftop lounge area with a couch and canopy. Nothing like stepping off the busy streets of the Medina into this calm sunny room.
Olives and Beer in Marrakesh
As with our Riad in Essaouira, the best part was the guy who ran the Riad. He was the nicest most attentive guy always there to let us in and provide us with a refreshing plate of olives and a few beers. He also made us breakfast and served it at the tables next to the dipping pool.

Riad in Fez

Our Riad in Fez was more Hostel than homestay. It still had the Atrium feel but there was no personal touch and the place was filled with loud tourists. There was also a weird see through bathroom door thing going on....

If you go to Morocco, make sure to stay in one of the many Riads in each city.


Fishing Boats in Essaouira harbor
Our Ryanair flight landed in Marakessh, but we immediately got a ride to Essaouira by a taxi we had arranged in advance.  The ride was about two hours, but we were happy to get some well needed rest. I think we paid around 50 euros total (between the three of us) to be picked up at the airport and taken to our Riad. There was a much cheaper bus option between the two cities, which we used to get back to Marrakesh, but this seems like the best option since we were leaving form the airport rather than the city center.

Women in Medina
As with the rest of our stay in Morocco, our Riad was in the middle of the Medina. The Median is basically the old part of the city. In Morocco, this meant no cars, no drinking, lots of street vendors and crowds. All the streets are narrow and winding and its very easy to get lost. Once we located our Riad with the help of a man we hired outside the entrance to the Medina, we checked in, and explored the Medina.

Spices for sale

I just thought this dog was cute
Next we left the Medina and headed out to the nearby fisherman's harbor. From hear we had great views of the Medina and the coast line. We also got a chance to see the fishermen going about their everyday business. We tried to get a ride but weren't able to haggle down to a price that we thought was reasonable.
Medina from the harbor

Boats in the Harbor

View through stone window

Old cannon near the harbor
After lunch, we arranged to have a camel ride down the beach. Little did I know how up and personal we would be with camels later on in the trip or I might have skipped this particular ride... But, the time it was my first Camel experience and it was very fun. The beach was practically empty and the views from the dunes was gorgeous.

 We ended the camel ride just in time to grab a quick drink (outside of the Medina of course) and watch the sunset over the Atlantic. Although the weather was not very warm, it was still a very clear day and the sunset was well worth watching. As always, I tried to see the green flash before it entered the water, but was once again disappointed.
During our day at the Market, we met a Moroccan vendor who was about our age. He told us he was training to be a tour guide and would like to meet us for dinner to practice his English. We were a bit dubious but figured there was no harm in meeting him at a restaurant so we agreed. The restaurant we went to specialized in Tangine, a traditional Moroccan dish of meat and vegetables that is cooked in a funnel shaped clay dish. Usually, patrons provide their own ingredients, and the restaurant cooks and prepares the meal.

So our first stop was the local night market to get chicken, spices, olives, potatoes and the other necessary ingredients. Picking out the chicken was particularly traumatic since the vendor asked that you select the chicken and then he slit its throat, plucked it and chopped it up in front of you.
The rest of the market was delightful. Plenty of fresh vegetables and olives which the vendors were more than heppy to let you sample before purchase. With the food and the price of the cooks, the meal only ended up being around $2.50 a person.

One warning, Tajine takes forever to cook. I think we waited for like 2 hours and by that time conversation with our new Moroccan friend had reach unprecedented levels of awkward. After dinner, we quickly made our way back to the Riad to get some sleep  before our early morning bus to Marrakesh.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

24 hours in Madrid

As I mentioned in my previous post, due to the high cost of airfare to Morocco, we ended up getting round trip flights to Madrid and then using the discount carrier, Ryanair to get to Morocco. This meant we had a 24 hour layover in Madrid. Amazing.

Streets of Madrid
Madrid is a beautiful city and we had great weather. Unfortunately, RS and I had had a bit of a rough flight without much sleep and perhaps a bit too much fun and needed to take a long nap after arriving at 8am. AM headed off to see the a few sites and then met up with us around lunch time to enjoy the rest of the day.
I had already been to Madrid during my Spain trip in high school, so it was nice to be able to just enjoy the city without feeling pressure to do a bunch of sightseeing. We had a great time walking around and taking in the scenery and marveling about how sunny it was there. Seriously, so much sun. It didn't even start to get dark until around 10 pm.

El Retiro Park
Our first stop was the El Retiro Park. The place was full of people out enjoying the day but it wasn't overly crowded.We were able to rent a row boat for about 5 euros so we could paddle around the pond for an hour. And by paddle, I mean AM rowed us while RS and I tried to get some sun. You may have noticed by now that I love boats. I don't know what it is, maybe its in my blood, but I will use any excuse to get on a boat and I try to on almost every trip.
Row Boats in El Retiro Park
Our next step was the Plaza Mayor - the main square in Madrid. As luck would have it, we were in Madrid during one of the largest soccer matches of the year. So the place was packed. Full of fans waiting for the game to start and demonstrating the superiority of their team. I think it was Italy vs Germany.
Plaza Mayor

Fan in the Plaza Mayor

Crowds in the street before the game
Of course with all those crowds, the worlds largest profession was booming. After lunch we spent a few hours people watching and noticed the quiet the operation was going on by our hostel.
Worlds oldest profession
After dinner, we headed to a Flamenco show at Corral De La Moreria and enjoyed some sangria. The show was amazing and we were surprised to leave the show and still be in broad daylight. After the show, we went to a church service at the Basilica de San Francisco before visiting the nearby palace and enjoying a street side churro for dessert.

All and all a wonderful day in Madrid. Sadly, the soccer fans celebrated (or drowned their sorrows) late into the night and I didn't get much sleep before our 4 am wake up call to head to the airport. At the airport, every available floor space was filled with exhausted fans waiting for their flights home. We stepped over them and  headed to the Ryanair terminal for our flight to Marrakesh.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Entrance to the Medina in Fez

When: May 2010
Where: Morocco with a stop over in Spain
Who: RS and AM

In May 2010, me and my friends RS and AM went to Morocco for a week for the memorial day holiday. I had always wanted to go to North Africa and I was excited for my first serious taste of the Islamic Culture after our quick trip to Istanbul.

Because airfare directly to Morocco was so expensive, we ended up flying to Madrid and then taking a cheap Ryanair in and out of Morocco. This meant our first stop was a 24 hour layover in Madrid, Spain.

And of course, the always popular Google document:

Friday May 21

-LB and RS: 5:30pm - Flight out of Dulles Airport to Madrid

-AM:3:57 pm- flight out of National to Madrid

Saturday May 22

-LB and RS: 7:15am - Arrive in Madrid

-AM: 8:15 am - Arrive in Madrid

Meet at Cafetería Robot Londres in Terminal 1 of Madrid Airport - Past Baggage Claim.
Flemanco Show - 19:00 (7:00 Pm) (27 Euros - includes show and drink)


C/ Morería, 17

Getting there from the airport:

From terminals T1-T2-T3, take the metro L8 to Nuevos Ministerios stop, then change to
line L10 to Tribunal and finally change to line L1 to Gran Via.
Using the metro to go to the airport could take 45minutes aprox, take 1 hour to be sure
you don’t loose your flight.

*the taxi service from the airport is fast except in the morning when traffic jam can
make it difficult, the cost is around 25-30€ and it takes arount 20-30 minutes.*

Sunday May 23

-6:30am - Depart from Madrid

-7:45am - Arrive in Marrakesh

Transportation: Mohammed, my new best friend, is meeting us at the airport with his private taxi. He will be holding a sign with my name on it (600 dhs or 55 Euro)

Riad Amana (52 euro per night) 14. Rue Khader Ghailane - 44000 Essaouira, includes breakfast

Monday May 24

-Early morning back to Marrakesh from Essuaria

- Ali Ben Youssef Madersa

- Saadian Tombs

- Dinner

-Hamman (?)

"You can ask the cab driver to drive you to "Riad Larouss": "Pharmacie populaire" and then call me on 00212 6 61 08 20 42 when you are there: someone from Riad Koubba will collect you and show you to the Riad."

Hotel in Marrakesh: Riad Koubba ( - 85 euros (30 euros each) per night including breakfast

Riad Koubba - 27, derb Belbekar, Zaouia Lakhdar - Médina - Marrakesh - Marrakesh and its region - MOROCCO
Tel. 00212 6 61 08 20 42

Tuesday May 25 - Marrakesh

-Breakfast/ Orange Juice in Djemaa El Fma

- Late Morning/ Lunch in Souks

- Afternoon back in Djemaa El Fma

Hotel in Marrakesh: Riad Koubba ( - 85 euros (30 euros each) per night including breakfast

Riad Koubba - 27, derb Belbekar, Zaouia Lakhdar - Médina - Marrakesh - Marrakesh and its region - MOROCCO
Tel. 00212 6 61 08 20 42

Wednesday May 26

Leave Marrakesh for desert tour ($423 each)

8am (Reception) transfer across the highest Atlas road pass of Tizi-n-Tichka to Skoura. Detour along the route to visit the traditional Berber Village of Telouet and the Kasbah of el Glaoui, former Berber War Lord and Pasha of Marrakech. From Telouet there is the option (summer only) to cross the Old Trade Route via the pink salt mines and villages of the Ounila Valley to Ait Benhaddou; otherwise take the main highway. In Ait Benhaddou visit the World Heritage Site of Ait Benhaddou, one of Morocco’s most spectacular ksours (fortified villages) that once stood on the route of the trans-Saharan caravan route through the Atlas mountains too the fondouks of Marrakech. Continue through Ouarzazate to Skoura. Converted Kasbah on HB (Half Board with dinner, bed and breakfast included)

Thursday May 27

8am transfer to Merzouga and the sand dunes of the Erg Chebbi sand sea. Along the route pass through Kelaa Mgouna (valley of the roses) where, in Spring, Berber children line the route with garlands of the fragrant roses grown in the hedgerows for the French perfume industry. Time permitting, leave the main route at Tinghir to drive along the Todra gorge, passed palm groves and allotments, to the mouth of the Gorge (20m wide and 200m high). Continue through Erfoud and Rissani to Merzouga. Late afternoon camel trek with a desert guide for 1-2hrs to a desert camp where the camels are hobbled, mint tea is served and dinner is freshly prepared and served under the stars. Camel trek on HB (Half Board with dinner, bed and breakfast included)

Note: there are no facilities inside the Erg Chebbi desert dunes. Another option is an evening camel ride and a night in a hotel on the dune line. Most clients however prefer the camel trek for the experience of journeying across the sandy desert dunes to a desert camp and nomad tent for the night.

Friday May 28

Rise early to watch the sunrise and then camel trek back across the dunes to shower and prepare for departure. Transfer direct from Merzouga to Fes along the Ziz Valley Gorge and via Azrou and the cedar forests.

Arrive Fez from desert tour

Instruction from Helen from Fez-Riads:

Please ask your driver to take you to Ain Azleten in the north of the medina. He should phone the pension on 00212 (0) 535 637 303 as you're approaching Fez so that staff can come to Ain Azleten to meet you.

Hotel in Fez: Pension Sekaya (around 36 Euros - 12 euros each)

16 Sekayat Demnati | Zqaq Roumanne, Fes, Morocco

00212 (0) 535 637 303

Saturday May 29 - Fez

Hotel in Fez: Pension Sekaya (around 36 Euros - 12 euros each)

16 Sekayat Demnati | Zqaq Roumanne, Fes, Morocco

00212 (0) 535 637 303

Things to do while in Fez:

-Medersas (theological colleges)

-Bou Inania on Talaa Kebira - LP says "one of the most important sights in Fez"

-Sahrij and Sbaiyine in Al-Andalous

-Seffarine (near Seffarine Square)

-The Mellah - Original Jewish Ghetto

-Ibn Danan Synagogue - built in the 17th century

-Funduqs - Caravanseries

-Sights in the medina:

-Bab Bou Jeloud - main gate at the medina

-Kairaouine Mosque and University - largest mosque in Africa and oldest university in the world (?)

-Nejjarine Square - see the fountain

-Kissariat - covered markets w slippers

-Chouwara Tanneries - animal-skin dying

-Attarine Medersa

-Batha Museum (Dh10) - sultan's summer palace 19th century

-Chemmaine Souk - can buy fezzes here

-Ville Nouvelle - More modern/affluent neighborhood

-Drinks at the "seedy but undeniably enjoyable Le Marocain"

Sunday May 30

-6:00pm - Depart from Fez

-10:00pm - Arrive in Madrid

Monday May 31

-LB and RS: 11:05am - Flight from Madrid to Dulles

-AM: 12:35 pm - Flight from Madrid to National

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Bangkok River Boat Ride

As you can imagine for a city with a river running through the center, Bangkok is home to many boats and one of the best ways to see the city is by hiring a boat to take you through some of the back canals. The first part of the trip brought us down the main strip of the river which is dotted with high rise hotels and office buildings with the occasional temple pagoda peeking up between them.

Once we got into the back canals we started to see the other side of the city. Its amazing how different things were from the tourist center.
Children playing in the canals

Jim Thompson House

Jim Thompson House

The Jim Thompson House in Bangkok is the former home of a famous expat who made his home in Thailand as a silk producer. In addition to the store which sells Jim Thompson silk products, the site also serves as a museum of Jim Thompson's beautiful house and gardens.

Cafe at Jim Thompson House
Garden at Jim Thompson House
The house was designed and built by Jim Thompson in Thailand about 50 years ago. He combined several traditional Thai wooden houses to create the large spacious home on display today. In addition, he spent many years collecting art and furniture from the area and neighboring southeastern Asian countries which he then used to decorate his house.

The house is surrounded by beautiful gardens and Thai shrines as well as various small houses that now serve as museums to display Jim Thompson's collections.  Across the nearby canal is the home of the Thai silk weavers.
Canal by Jim Thompson House
Narrow alley near silk weavers
 I was able to wander through the narrow alleys until I cam across the open doorways of the weavers who were more than happy to invite me in and pose for photos.
Silk Weaver