FULL DISCLOSURE : I have never had any desire to go to Africa. NONE. I was completely ignorant about Africa. I had this strange fear that if I went, I would get stuck or taken and not be able to get home. Terrible I know. So then I meet my husband, and of course the number one place on his bucket list to travel to was Morocco. Go figure. I typically make all of our travel plans, so I avoided Morocco.. until I couldn’t anymore.
As long as I have known my husband, he has ALWAYS been selfless. He never cared to celebrate his birthday. Unlike me. For me, my birthday is a holiday. Seriously. So, for his 35th birthday, I wanted to make it special for him. I told him that I was going to plan a trip to Morocco to celebrate his birthday. He was elated!
One thing I immediately noticed in planning for Morocco, was that the accommodations in Marrakech were very inexpensive. Most of the 4 and 5 star hotels/resorts were less than $80/night. Also, when I went to order the Moroccan Dirhams, I couldn’t. I always order the currency for the country we are traveling to from my bank before we leave. (I have gotten it from the ATM in the country, the airport, and the bank.. The bank always has the best rate). After some research, I found out that it is a closed currency, so it can only be purchased in their country. It also cannot leave the country, so you have to be sure to exchange it back to dollars before you leave.
In Morocco, they have Riads, and also regular hotels. A Riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. They are unique, because from the outside, you cannot tell what is behind the large stucco wall. We wanted to experience both the traditional Riad, as well as a little luxury. So we booked 3 nights at a 5 star resort, and one night at a traditional Riad. Although we loved the experience at both, if we were to do it again, we would have stayed at the resort for 2 days, and the Riad for 2. More on that later.
We planned to go to a couple countries on this trip. We always like to see as much as we can while we are overseas. The original plan was to go to Portugal, Barcelona, Madrid, Morocco, and finish in Paris. However, a couple weeks before our trip, there was a terrorist attack in Barcelona, that caused us to re-think our plans. No matter what route we tried to figure out to get to Morocco, we couldn’t get around going to Barcelona. I was nervous, but there wasn’t anything we could do.
We ended up having one day in Barcelona. We rented a cute Air BNB, and hoped for the best. We arrived at Barcelona in the evening, got settled into our rental, and then ventured out to eat. We were STARVING. We went to the main square of Barcelona, where we found the cutest spot to eat, named Pura Brasa. The tables were made of old foosball tables, the food was delicious, and they had the BEST Sangria! It was the perfect choice, and we made it unharmed.
We flew to Morocco the next day. We pre-arranged car service pick up from the airport. This is another one of my travel musts. After many years of trying to hail a cab/negotiate pricing, I have found it is so much easier to have a driver waiting, and it isn’t very expensive.
First observation of Marrakech – everything is STUNNING. Everything is grand, eye-catching, and extremely clean.. inside the airport that is. I also notice immediately by the many checks we had to go through, and the guards with AK 47s, that security is of extreme importance. After what felt like a million checks, we exchanged our US dollars for the Moroccan Dirham. We exchanged 600USD, and got about 5,550 in Moroccan Dirhams. This was very easy process.
In Marrakech we stayed at the Palm Plaza Marrakech Hotel & Spa. I’m admittedly a bit of a hotel snob. I like clean white sheets, nice décor, amenities, and at least 4 stars. The hotel met my expectations, and looked exactly like the pictures online. So far, so good! We arrived pretty early, so our room wasn’t quite ready. We stored our luggage with the front desk, and found the nearest bar. Hey, we needed a welcome drink!
We walked into one of the hotel bars, and were immediately greeted by a very kind, English speaking bar tender. I emphasized the fact that he spoke English because he was one of the ONLY service people we met on the entire trip who spoke English. (We got a lot of use out of our Google Translate app on this trip!) He asked if this was our first time in Africa. We said yes, and he replied “Welcome Home”. This tickled me, but also made me feel good. We are home! He told us that he actually learned English from watching movies, and CNN.
Once our room was ready, we got situated, then headed out to explore. Our first stop was the square. The hotel offered daily complimentary rides to the square every half – hour, which made it convenient. There are no words to describe the square. It was a bustling area full of ornate doors, entertainers, small shops, aggressive merchants, locals, and tourists. I don’t think I could accurately describe the square to where one would truly know what it is like. It was incredible.
We were really hungry, so we settled on the first place that looked appetizing. They explained to us that on that specific day, as a tradition they eat cous-cous. I actually happen to love cous-cous, and cook it regularly at home, so this worked out. I decided to order their “Oreo shake”.. huge mistake. It was disgusting. This was the first of many lessons about how their “shakes, smoothies, etc., were not anything like what we call a shake or smoothie in the US. The food portion was pretty good, and the food itself was tasty though. After refueling we continued our explorations of the square.
I was cautioned before we left for Morocco that they are very conscious of how people dress, and that women especially, should cover themselves. I tried my best to pack appropriately, not wanting to offend anyone. It was around 90 degrees in Marrakech, so I was literally drenched after lunch from the heat.
As busy and overwhelming as the square was, I couldn’t help but be marveled by the beauty of the large, ornate doors, the shops, the spices, and the fresh fruits in the carts that lined the streets. It was sensory overload, and I loved it. In our exploration, we came across a cute little restaurant that had a top floor balcony. We went there to cool off, and have a “smoothie”. This was the second hard lesson that what we call smoothies here in the US are not the same in Morocco. Sigh.
I made plans at a restaurant to surprise my husband for his birthday. The restaurant had belly dancers etc , and they were going to surprise my husband with a cake after dinner. They were also supposed to give us a special table with a view. We arrived to L’Marrakchi, and gave them my name. They didn’t seem to understand what I was saying, but they seated us. After seating us, I pointed at the window seats over looking the Medina, and asked the server about sitting at those seats because we had reserved them weeks before. She assured me we would be moved in a little. The food there was delicious! During our meal, they had a variety of entertainment in the form of belly dancers, regular dancers. They even had a belly dancer who carried a tray of lit candles on her head. She asked me dance with her, holding the tray of candles on my head. I was so nervous, and just knew I was going to drop the tray, and burn the whole restaurant to the ground. That tray was heavy! I managed to hold the tray on top of my head, and no on suffered any burns. We had a blast!
We were then moved to a table that overlooked the Medina. Looking out into the square at night was really nice! It was much busier than in the daytime. I noticed different performers, locals hanging out, children, and of course the aggressive merchants were still out. This place never sleeps. I tried to ask the server when the cake for my hubby was coming out.. she looked at me with confusion. I showed her the email showing the confirmation for dinner and the cake. ( I had been emailing back and forth with the manager about it). She took my phone over to her manager, and showed him the email. He came over to our table, and showed me the name of the restaurant in the email. It was a different name. Different by one word. He then explained that it was about 20 minutes from where we were. I was devastated! My surprise was ruined. I really wanted to surprise my hubby to make his birthday special. Epic Fail. I explained to Marques what I was trying to do, why I kept whispering with the server, and how I brought us to the wrong restaurant. He assured me it was fine, that he had a great time, and its the thought that counts. Phew.
I was super excited for the next day. We had booked an ATV tour, and Camel Ride through the Palm Desert. We were picked up from our resort early in the am, and headed to the desert. Once we got to where the camels were, we were outfitted in traditional Moroccan robes (which I loved), and headed out on our camels.
My camel was a special camel named Ali. He was unique in that he had one black, and one white eye.
We enjoyed a nice leisurely ride through the desert, then arrived at a traditional Berber home. This was one of the highlights of the trip for us. Inside the home, we went into a room, where the entire floor was covered in traditional Moroccan carpets. We were served hot tea and crepes that the woman of the home made for us. I’m not a tea person, but the tea was actually pretty good. The other people on the excursion with us, were two Asian guys from China who had been on Holiday for 2 weeks, and this was their 3rd or 4th stop. There was also a group of girls from England, that were like a scene out of sex and the city. We were the only Americans.
As we sat around the room, our guide as used all to sing. Yes, sing. We were taken aback from being put on the spot, and being asked to sing. I couldn’t think of a song, and just sat there. The other guests excitedly offered up options to sing like “Beyoncé”, “Elton John”, or “Madonna”. Everyone sang different songs. When it was our turn, we ended up singing a random song that I cannot remember. I mentioned that we were there to celebrate my husbands birthday, and the tour guide started singing happy birthday in Arabic. It was a really cool moment that we wont every forget.
Afterwards, we rode the camels a little while longer to another part in the desert where the ATVs were waiting. We changed out of the garb, and jumped on the ATVs. This is something that we love to do no matter what country we visit. We had a blast riding through the desert! By the end of the tour, we were covered from head to toe in dirt. It was awesome.
The next day was September 10, my husbands actual birthday. We spent the majority of the day lounging by the pool with a few cocktails. It was very relaxing, and we thoroughly enjoyed every moment.
We headed back to the square that evening. The shuttle only runs during the day, so we had to catch a cab. We were told not to pay more than 30 Dirhams to go to the square. The cab driver tried to charge us 50 Dirham, but we were able to talk the driver down to 30 Dirham. In the car, on the way to the square, I looked over at my husband, and said “you know we were arguing over paying the equivalent $3 and $5 UDS right“. We had a good laugh at that.
We had a nice dinner at another restaurant in the square that had a table overlooking the medina. This place was also really good! As with all of our other visits to the square, it was extremely busy. I noticed there were a lot of kids out and about. One even walked up to me and demanded to have my ice cream. I looked at the time, it was almost midnight. Where are your parents? I thought to myself. I didn’t see anyone around or even watching him. I learned later that this is very common for Marrakech.
The next morning we checked out of our resort, and headed to our Riad. We booked a room at Riad Anais. It was extremely complicated to find, and not only that, lots of people on the street would try to help walk you to where you are going, but then would expect payment. Luckily, I read about this in advance, so I knew what to expect and declined all of the “help”. This coupled with the trouble it took us to find the resort had us questioning if we should have just stayed at our resort.
All of those thoughts went out of the window when we arrived at the Riad. The Riad was STUNNING! I had never seen anything like this place before. It was even more incredible than it looked in the photos, and you would never guess that would have been behind those walls. It was 3 levels, the first being the courtyard and kitchen, the second had the rooms, and the 3rd was a rooftop filled with lounge chairs, outside bar area, and a lookout, where you could look out and see what looked like all of Marrakech. This was my favorite part of the Riad.
We were immediately greeted warmly with tea and desserts. Afterwards, we were escorted upstairs to our room. The room was so ornate, and our bed was covered in Rose petals. The doors to enter our room reminded us of Aladdin. We loved it!
We hung out on the roof top for a little, then took a short nap. After our nap, we planned to go back out to the square. The house host and I had emailed back and forth about doing something special for my husbands birthday, and he ended up just having the Rose petals in the room. As we headed out, he whispered to me to be back by sunset. I wasn’t able to ask any further questions, since my husband was next to me, so I just said ok, and we ventured out.
The Riad was in walking distance of the square, on the opposite end of where we had previously gone. We walked through the Souk, stopping at the different markets to smell the spices, and look at the various trinkets, etc. We would have purchased quite a few items, however our bags were stuffed so tightly to the brim, that we literally couldn’t take an extra sock back if we wanted.
When we got back to the Riad, to our surprise, Happy Birthday was playing over the loud speaker! First it played in English, then it played in Arabic! The house host ushered us to the seating area, where we sat down. Then, he came out with a birthday cake! He then asked us to sit still while he ‘gets the guests’. Mind you, we are in Africa, we know no one here, so we had no idea what he was talking about. He then comes back with some of the guests that were staying a the Riad! There was a single traveler from Dusseldorf, Germany, and another couple on holiday from Belgium. They sat with us, sang, ate cake, and shared travel stories. It was without a doubt the best part of the trip. I completely redeemed myself from the fiasco at the restaurant earlier in the trip, and this took zero effort. Funny how life works.
After chatting with the other guests for an hour or so, they all went their different ways, and we headed to the rooftop to relax. It had cooled off a little, so the weather was perfect. It was so romantic to sit under the stars and just lay on the large outdoor couch with my husband. I never wanted to leave. This was our last night in Marrakech, and I couldn’t have planned a better way for it to end. It was spectacular.
The next day, we got up at about 6 am to catch our flight to Paris. The house host was up right along with us. He made sure we had a hot breakfast with fresh orange juice before we took off. He also made sure that we had someone to take us from the Riad to the airport. He was seriously the best!
We arrived to the airport, and before we could even enter the doors of the airport, we had to go through a security check. They do not play about security here. At all. We go through at least 2 more checks, and finally make it to the plane. My husband and I weren’t fortunate enough to get seats next to each other, but we planned on sleeping the entire time anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal.
I dozed off, and then was awakened by the passenger next to me tapping me on my shoulder. He said “Hey, we are going back to Marrakech.” I thought I was dreaming. I woke up confused. Huh? He then explains to me that something is wrong with the weather machine on the plane, and there is supposed to be bad weather in Paris, so we have to turn around. Now, this was a 2 1/2 hour flight to Paris, and we had already been flying for over an hour. All my initial fears about travelling to Africa started to come back. I really am not going to be able to leave here! I turned around to my husband and explained to him what was going on. He was just as puzzled as I was. They were making announcements on the plane, however everything was in Arabic, and French, so we had no clue what was being said. After every announcement, I would ask the passenger next to me what was said.
We get back to Marrakech, where we sat parked on the plane for about 2 hours, before we got the news. Our plane was going to be “delayed” until the next day at 5am. It was about 11am at that time. The panic started to set in. What??? The passenger next to me, who had been translating told me not to worry. He said the airline is going to pay for our hotel stay, as well as lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next day. That was a relief. Then, I immediately started thinking a little bit further.. What about our Paris accommodations that were already booked, and our flight back home? We were supposed to spend a day in Paris, and then fly home the next day. Now, we will miss our flight back home, because our flight was at 8am, and we wouldn’t even be leaving Marrakech until 5am. I decided not to worry about it, but it was never too far from my mind.
They bused us to a hotel in a part of Marrakech that we hadn’t seen before. I awkwardly ask the passenger if he minded if we stuck together, since we have no clue what is going on. He kindly agreed. He and his girlfriend were from Morocco, but lived in Paris. They were on their way back to Paris after a 2 month Holiday in Marrakech. Their names were Anas, and Amina. We check into the hotel together, and I notice they have separate rooms. They explained to me that it is Moroccan law is that if you are not married, you are not allowed to share a hotel room. Interesting. We have a nice lunch together, and then we each go back to our rooms to get a nap. Luckily our rooms were right next to each other.
After our nap we get a knock on our door, its Anas and Amina. They say “Do you wanna see Marrakech?” We both instantly answered with a resounding YES! They told us they wanted to take us to some fun places, and see the real Marrakech. I was so excited, because I love to experience new things, and what better way, than with actual Moroccans. Not to mention, they were the sweetest couple ever, and were around our age.
They end up taking us to casino Marrakech. Walking into the entryway, I was in awe. Everything was beautiful! We go to the back, to a club called Epicurean. Anas tells us it is a hot spot, however it turned out to be a slow night since it was a weekday. We order some drinks, listen to music, and converse. It was such a fun night. I learned so much about Morocco, and got all of my questions answered about different things that I wondered about.
When we got back to our room, we went straight to sleep since we had a 5 am flight the next morning. Sometime in the middle of the night, the flight was delayed, again. This time until 1pm. We didn’t complain, because we could now sleep in. When we finally made it to the airport, we were delayed again another hour or so. I noticed Anas greeting one of the airport associates. It turned out to be his mother. He then explained to us, that the broken weather machine was a lie, and that in reality they had suspicious passengers on board the pane who falsified their travel docs. They turned the plane around, did a check of the plane, and still didn’t feel safe, so they brought in a whole new plane from Paris, just to be sure. That was the true reason for the delay. He learned this information from his mother. Although that was tough information to process, we were grateful that we got another (all expenses paid)night in Marrakech got to meet Anas and Amina, and also, most importantly, we were safe.
We, FINALLY make it to Paris late that afternoon, and I was a nervous wreck. We had no where to stay, and there weren’t any more flights back to America that day. It was an emotional 24 hours. I wanted to ask Anas and Amina if we could stay with them, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Before I could get on Wi-Fi to start looking for a hotel, Anas tells us it would be his pleasure if we would stay with them. Phew! We all jump in an Uber, and head to their place. They tell us that they love this burger place, and would love to take us there. We happily agreed to go.
The place was called Schwartz’s Deli, and it was PACKED! The burgers were HUGE, and delicious. It was a nice little spot, and we were grateful they took us there. After dinner, we walked to the Eiffel tower. They lived walking distance to both to the restaurant, and the Tower. It was a really nice evening.
We then headed back to their apartment. It meant so much to us that they would open their home to us. They made it very comfortable for us. I did wake up once in the middle of the night like wait a minute Kristeena, you are sleeping in pretty much a strangers home in Paris. I had a slight freak out moment, but then I remembered God has me, so I calmed myself down, and went back to sleep.
In the morning, Amina gave us very detailed directions to get to the airport. We were so thankful. The directions were very precise, and we were able to get there with no hiccups. What a whirlwind. We were so thankful once we made it back to American soil, but also thankful for our experience. It was one we surely wont ever forget, and we made some friends! We are currently trying to get Anas & Amina to America, so we can return the favor & show them around. We rarely have a desire to go back to a country once we have visited. We enjoyed Morocco so much that we are planning a trip to go back, but this time with a group!
CHECK OUT A VLOG OF OUR TRIP HERE