Northern Africa

Country #93 - Morocco

The Shuks

This morning I had quite possibly the most beautiful breakfast of my life. Not only is my room in Dar Ayniwen stunning, but the house and grounds are as well. I had breakfast by the pool in a setup that could best be described as flawless. Breakfast was delicious and I especially enjoyed the Moroccan spin on pancakes. After finishing breakfast I headed up to my room which had already been made up in the short time I had been gone to eat. I was impressed! I grabbed my things and headed to reception to take the shuttle into the city. As it is about ten to fifteen minutes from town Dar Ayniwen offers a free shuttle both into town and to the airport. It was so useful and very much appreciated!

The shuttle dropped me off in the heart of the Old Medina. I had been mentally preparing myself for today but knew going in that Marrakesh was probably going to be pretty overwhelming, and it definitely was. My first stop of the day was the Koutoubia Mosque. It was huge from the outside but was unfortunately closed to go inside. From there I walked to the most hectic part of the city, Jemaa El Fna, the main square. It was definitely as crazy as I had anticipated! There were people everywhere and lots of people trying to sell you things. There were monkeys and people dressed in costumes and it was a lot to take in. From there I ventured into the Shuks, which are basically a bunch of small stalls arranged on top of each other where people try to sell you things. I wasn’t really looking forward to it but I knew that I had to try it!

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The Shuks were also as crazy as I had anticipated. I had to keep close watch on my things (this was true for the whole day, but especially in the shuks) and had to also keep track of where I was. It is very easy to get lost inside as it is literally like a maze. It was interesting to walk through but I was not a huge fan. From the guy who tugged on my arm against my wishes to try and get me in his shop to those who told me to “smile” it was not an overly enjoyable experience. I think it might be better if visiting with other people but I was mainly just concerned  with not getting lost or getting stuck in an uncomfortable situation.

After making it out of the shuks in one piece I then headed towards attraction that was a very stark contrast: Le Jardin Secret. Le Jardin Secret, or the Secret Garden, is a sanctuary in the middle of a crazy city. It was recently renovated to its former glory from complete destruction just a few years ago. It was really interesting to read about and to take the tower tour up to the top where you could see out over the city. The cost to enter is definitely worth it as it offers a place to relax for a bit before getting in the middle of Marrakesh again. The garden itself was beautiful and I really enjoyed my time there. It also offered a good example of a Riad, which is a common type of hotel set up when staying in Marrakesh that has a garden courtyard similar to that of the Secret Garden.

After visiting the garden I made my way towards the Marrakesh Photography Museum. It was a long walk through stalls but it was much more enjoyable as I wasn’t right in the heart of things. The museum was truly incredible. It was indoor / outdoor and the building it was housed in was stunning. The photographs were incredible and featured mainly old and historic shots of Morocco. After finishing the small museum there is a great terrace with a view of Marrakesh on top that is a nice plus! I had a great time learning more about Morocco through the museum and highly recommend it.

Once I finished at the Photography Museum I made my way back towards the center of town. This was the most enjoyable walk of the day as it was mostly residential and not stressful at all. Instead I was able to take in the beautiful architecture and enjoy the culture without someone trying to sell me something unnecessarily. I ate at a small but tasty place called Roti D’or. I had a shawarma wrap that was pretty good minus the fact that half of it was lettuce that I had to pick out after asking for no lettuce. It was still tasty though! It was a nice break with wifi in the middle of the day as I don’t have cell service in Morocco.

After lunch I spent the remainder of the day visiting some of the main tourist attractions of Marrakesh. The first was Bahia Palace. This beautiful former palace was very interesting to walk through, especially for the beautiful tile work. One of the most annoying things about the visit though, and something that I had been encountering throughout my time in Marrakesh, was the incredible amount of people attempting to take pictures. Pictures are fine and great. I take tons of pictures, and I ask people to take pictures of me quite often. But this was a whole other level. Like, I couldn’t walk two feet without walking in the middle of someone’s “model” shoot. Everyone seemed to be in Morocco for the perfect picture instead of actually appreciating what was there to see. I have been all over and this is the first place that this has really been noticeably detrimental to my experience in a city.

Anyways, Bahia Palace was great and did not take too long to visit. From there I headed to El Badi Palace, which was one of my favorite stops of the day. The former palace is massive! There were many interesting things to see inside. There were caves you could walk in, a terrace to look out over the city, and a giant pool in the middle. You could tell it used to be very grand and it was very unique to walk through and see all of the different parts. After finishing there I made my way to my last stop of the day, the Saadian Tombs.

The Saadian Tombs are tombs from the Saadi dynasty that are hundreds of years old, but are still amazingly beautiful. It was not a lengthy visit but it was definitely worthwhile to see all of the colorful tombs. The main room was definitely the highlight. It was so immaculate! After finishing at the tombs I walked back to where I was meeting the shuttle to go back to Dar Ayniwen. The shuttle was right on time and we were back to the Dar Ayniwen in no time!

When I got back I met with Stephane, the manager of Dar Ayniwen. His dad actually built the original house, and over the years he has added on and helped to make it what it is today. The property is truly incredible, and it was so interesting to learn about Stephane and his history (he went to University in the US) and also the history of Dar Ayniwen. It was very cool to learn that most of the items in the house were actually collected by his father when he traveled. Some of the items were so unique, like a Syrian wedding bench, that they probably belong in a museum instead of a hotel. The property is very eco friendly and is home to many animals. My favorite were the birds, which Stephane was inspired to start collecting after visiting a bird sanctuary in Florida. We had a really great conversation and it was very enjoyable to learn about such an incredible hotel.

I decided to eat dinner at Dar Ayniwen after a long day out and about in Marrakesh. I informed the kitchen a bit late so there weren’t too many options, but they did have vegetable kuzkuz available. I had never had it before so I gave it a shot, and actually enjoyed it okay! It wasn’t my favorite dish ever but it wasn’t bad and is not something that I can have everyday at home. After dinner I worked for a bit before going to sleep pretty early. It’s nice to not have a super early flight for once tomorrow so I will be able to get a good night of sleep. Marrakesh was pretty crazy but I’m definitely glad that I came and saw it!

93 countries down, 104 to go.

For more information on Algeria click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Dar Ayniwen click here.

 

Country #92 - Algeria

The Marseille Pit Stop

Before heading to my first stop in Africa, Algeria, I would have to go through Marseille, France. It definitely makes sense that I need to fly through France as Algeria was colonized by the French for 132 years. As a result, French is very common in Algeria and there are many flights to this day to and from France. I had another early morning as my first flight of the day was at 8am and I had to take the bus about an hour from Pergola Hotel to the Malta Airport. I took advantage of my new Priority Pass membership and grabbed breakfast in the really nice Malta Airport lounge.

 

My flight to Marseille was about two hours, and I was greeted with quite a shock upon arrival. I was going through immigration? I’ve never had this happen before, but apparently you can have to go through immigration when going from one Schengen country to another when the country deems it important to their national security. Given the problems France has been having the past few years I guess that is why. It would have been fine if the line hadn’t taken almost two hours. All of my time that I was going to spend walking around Marseille was spent in this line that normally is not a thing, so it wasn’t a great start to the day.

Things got worse when, after taking the free shuttle bus to the nearby train station that goes into Marseille, the lady at the station told me that I would be better off going to the airport and taking the shuttle from there to the city as the next train was so delayed that it was not even going to be there for another hour and a half. So I took the shuttle back to the airport, took a bus into the city, and almost three and a half hours after landing I was finally in the city of Marseille. At this point I would have just stayed at the airport because I didn’t have enough time to see anything but I had another task: I needed to mail a package home.

A few days into this trip I realized that I had over packed. I had everything that I needed but it was increasingly difficult to close my suitcase and it was so heavy that it was becoming problematic. So after lots of research I found that France would be the easiest point along my trip to mail a package home, and also the cheapest and most reliable. It would also help me to avoid any issues of potentially having to pay for an overweight bag during the remainder of my trip. There was a post office (La Poste in France) about five minutes from the main station so I headed that way bags in tow.

The post office employees did not speak great English but we were able to communicate enough to figure out what I was asking for, and without much discussion at all I was given the box that is used to mail to the US. It’s a flat rate box so it didn’t matter how much I put in, it would be about 50 Euro. This was a lot but worth it considering how much I had been struggling with my suitcase the past few days. I filled the box to the brim and still had a full suitcase so it was definitely a worthwhile endeavor into the city. I was at least able to see a tiny bit of Marseille as well which was nice, but I had anticipated having much more time so it was still a bit of a bummer.

I headed back to the station and then back to the airport where I sat in the lounge for about an hour before boarding my flight. I was officially headed to Africa: country one out of fifty-two on the continent! The flight was not too long and I had no issues arriving in the country. I had to apply for a visa ahead of time so that was definitely the biggest barrier with entering Algeria, but it only took about a week to mail off and get it back.

When I arrived I was expecting a car to pick me up as I had communicated with the hotel, Lamaraz Arts Hotel, that I would need an airport transfer. Lamaraz Arts Hotel was not a sponsor of my trip, but after my experiences over the course of this evening I think I should consider them as one! I was picked up at the airport as promised by the driver, but not only the driver: I was met by Karim, who was the Sales Manager for the hotel. When he recieved my message about the transfer he had looked up and found out about my trip. He decided to come with the driver and meet me at the airport! And they even greeted me with flowers!  Karim is a self taught English speaker and I was really impressed with how good it was. We talked during the ride back to the hotel, and he then invited me to eat dinner at the hotel restaurant. It was truly amazing how kind and generous he was without even knowing about my travels until the day before!

We ate dinner on the top floor of Lamaraz which had amazing views out over all of Algiers. Dinner provided quite interesting discussions about travel and the differences between Algerian and American culture. It was a very enjoyable evening and I learned a lot! I was also able to try some traditional Algerian food, which I had not anticipated doing, and it actually was pretty good! I reached a point where I was so tired I could almost no longer keep my eyes open. Given I had woken up around 4am for the past two days this wasn’t too surprising!

I had a great first impression of Algeria and look forward to seeing more tomorrow. Also, special thanks to Karim for surprising me with such great generosity and an amazing welcome to Algeria.

The First African Country

I woke up having had a great night of sleep for the first time in a while to a beautiful view of Algiers, Algeria from my room. I had a nice breakfast where I ran into Karim and we reconfirmed our plans for the day. Not only did I have an amazing welcome yesterday, but he was going to show me around the city for about an hour and a half! Once again, the generosity was amazing. I had really wanted to see Algiers but was a little worried to do it on my own. So when Karim offered to show me around I couldn’t believe it!

After breakfast I packed my things and then headed downstairs to meet Karim. We walked about five minutes to the metro to take into the center of town. The metro looked very new and it turns out that it was. It was apparently finished just last year. The ride to the city center took just about ten minutes and before I knew it I was walking around Algiers. I think my first impression would be just amazed at how beautiful the buildings were and how lively the streets were. It felt like I was in France!

The architecture is distinctly French due to the former French presence, and many of the buildings are currently being renovated and restored to their former glory. The heart of the city was, as a result, very aesthetically pleasing. There were so many people out and about because it was a Saturday. I actually enjoyed this because it was really interesting to see a large city so close to Europe with virtually no tourists. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and I felt very safe throughout the entire time I was walking around. Having Karim walking with me helped, of course, but it felt almost as if I was walking around the streets in Europe.

While in the city we walked by churches, Grande Poste D'Alger post office, and along the port of the Bay of Algiers. It was a very nice tour of the city and I was able to see quite a lot in a very short amount of time. Karim bought me a tiny gift to remember Algeria which I, once again, really appreciated. After our tour and seeing a lot of the city we took the metro back to the hotel. I arrived in time to the head to the airport where I bid Karim goodbye.

Honestly this was not at all what I was expecting of Algeria. I had no idea the hotel would have any inkling of who I was or what I was doing and yet they did. They did and went above and beyond to provide me with an amazing experience in Algeria. I’m so glad that I was able to learn so much about the country, try the traditional food, and most importantly walk around and see Algiers. I can’t thank Karim and Lamaraz Arts Hotel for making this all happen at the very last minute! I had a great experience in Algeria and really hope that the country continues to grow its tourism industry successfully over the coming years as it can really be a great place to visit.

I departed Algeria around 3pm and then found myself with a five hour layover in the Casablanca, Morocco airport. I was stuck in the sad domestic terminal with no wifi and nothing to do so I worked on my blog and watched some Netflix. Eventually the five hours passed and I was on my plane to Marrakesh! I arrived in Marrakesh around 10pm and had a very nice driver who drove me to my hotel for the next two nights, Dar Ayniwen. Dar Ayniwen was about ten minutes outside of the heart of the city which, quite honestly, makes it the perfect place to stay. Not that it needed any help being perfect - I was literally blown away when I checked in and was shown to my room!

I had not one balcony, but two. And the second one was huge, beautiful, and had two large seating areas. The room was amazing as well, and the bathroom was one of the most unique that I have seen with its stunning tile work! I couldn’t believe that I would be staying in such a nice place and was really excited to see it in the morning. So far Africa is going amazingly well, and I am very excited to explore Marrakesh tomorrow.

92 countries down, 105 to go.

For more information on Algeria click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Lamaraz Arts Hotel click here.

To learn more about Dar Ayniwen click here.