Marrakech • Casablanca • Rabat • Meknes
The journey from the Midlands to Gatwick, was quite straightforward and having checked in online, I made my way to the Bag Drop which had been advertised as ‘far quicker’, where I printed my boarding pass and put the luggage label onto my case; I then joined a queue to drop off my bag. Proceeding through passport control, I was pleased that the stringent safety and security precautions were still being upheld
On board – passing Michael MacIntyre and his family – my seat was by the window, so I settled down to enjoy the flight; a benefit of BA, is that first nibbles and a drink then a light snack meal was served. An uneventful flight saw us arrive on time and my first blast of the very dry heat as I stepped down onto the tarmac! A representative greeted us in the arrival area – two others had travelled out on the same plane – and a minibus took us to our hotel 15 minutes away. Here I met Graham or Asis (he used both names) who was to provide an amazing commentary as we travelled and looked after us all. Mint tea and macaroons were provided, a token of welcome, and an explanation of the group – 17 Brits would be arriving in Marrakech – and our daily itinerary which began “an alarm call at 7, cases outside at 7:30, coach leaves at 8:15” (there was a slight time variation each day, but that was mainly how every day began!) Graham who had lived in Marrakesh for several years directed us to various eateries close to the hotel plus the shopping mall which housed a Carrefour in the basement, all of which were close to the magnificent hotel.
The rooms on three sides looked over the swimming pool surrounded by recliners – not a reservation towel in sight! On the fourth side, the rooms looked out to the High Atlas Mountains with their first sprinkling of snow. All the rooms were well appointed with furnished balconies; the linen was spotless and there were plenty of good-sized towels. My one disappointment, no tea making facilities – I made a mental note never to travel without my travel kettle again! The wide tiled corridors were scattered with Moroccan rugs in so many patterns; the communal areas were cool and light with many low seating areas and tables; areas were separated by long voile curtains which gave the impression of being inside a huge tent reminiscent of those seen in films about Sheiks years ago. There was a feeling of relaxed luxury and after a light supper, I succumbed and relaxed, enjoying the luxury and peace.
My case disappeared at the appointed time, and I enjoyed a buffet breakfast with a wide variety of croissant, fruits, freshly made omelettes, boiled eggs, cheeses and drinks – juice, Liptons tea, coffee or chocolate.
Our coach awaited, and we travelled to Casablanca; Graham had learned several names and gave us a commentary as we moved. Once on the motorway, we learned that there would be 17 non Brits at our Ibis Hotel in Casablanca waiting to join us. Our first comfort stop was at a motorway service station – thrones not squats (an essential piece of information as my ageing knees would not cope with a squat even though Graham demonstrated the correct way to perform this manoeuvre). The cashier failed to understand the different variety of drinks we ordered, so everyone ended up with espresso not the frothy drink of my teenage years but the small cup of thick, strong, black coffee, which had to be changed much to the annoyance of the waiter!
Onward to Casablanca where we met our first local guide; a very knowledgeable, devout Muslim who spoke perfect English, along with 7 other languages; she took those who had opted for the tour of the Grand Mosque Hassan II, the largest in Morocco and the 7th largest in the world, built on pillars over the sea, and described its beauty, its structure and its importance to Muslims.
Murano glass chandeliers and white marble from Italy, carved panels in three combined woods, multi patterned mosaic on the floor and walls with heavily decorated ceilings and the ablution areas where a strict routine of washing was observed before prayer.
A short ride took us to the public beach area where we sampled fresh doughnuts filled with Apricot jam, a local delicacy; a short tour around the royal palace walls and then a walking tour through narrow streets with a mix of homes and shops plus the community baker who cooked bread prepared by the families without ovens.
Dinner at the hotel then off to bed with “alarm, cases out, on coach” firmly fixed in my mind.
The whole group gathered – some late, which did not please Graham or the rest of us! – and we left passing Rick’s café replicated by an enterprising American lady – and on to Rabat. Graham gave us so much information, punctuated with amusing anecdotes, that the journey passed pleasantly. We entered the ground of the heavily guarded Royal Palace grounds which were enclosed by a twelfth century wall, and reached the car park concealed behind the workers’ mosque – thrones were available in the ablution area – so as not to spoil the King’s view; very little could be seen of the palace, but we could see the homes provided for his servants where they lived with their families bringing up their children to follow in their steps.
Across the road stood the Hassan’s Tower, the Roman ruins and the Chellah Gardens. Dancers and souvenir sellers appeared as if by magic.
On to view the Kasbah of Ouidais a veritable maze of 8,500 streets, then on the coach to Meknes.
In Meknes we viewed the 16 miles of protective walls, visited the Moulay Ismail Mosque and the on to the Granaries and royal stables; these were huge buildings where in the past 2,500 horses were kept for the King’s army – they were open, and the horses roamed freely, so servants were kept busy cleaning up all day; the buildings were so well-designed that wherever you stood, the columns stood symmetrically forming a pattern. This visit was only marred by the rain, but how could we win when all of Morocco was praying for rain against 34 tourists who were not?