Morocco in 10 Days

Obligatory cliché desert photo.
We spent 10 days in Morocco over Easter holiday, which is peak travel time throughout Europe and about the time in the year when a real vacation from work becomes necessary.  Armed with relatively little knowledge of Morocco, we arrived with few expectations beyond eat some good tagine (check) and ride a camel (check).  After this we learned that one can indeed become tired of tagine, and camels are not very comfortable, especially at 5am.
Too early for camels.
The 10 days was spread across Marrakech, Ouarzazate and Merzouga (aka the Saraha).  Traveling around Morocco is rather time consuming and therefore we skipped other major cities like Fez.  Though looking back, I have zero regrets and loved the 5 days spent outside of busy Marrakech.

Like many cities, Marrakech is divided into old historical and new modern areas.  We mainly stayed in the old area, otherwise known as the Medina.  We ventured out to the new European area one night to find non-Moroccan food, and somehow ended up eating Lebanese Food.
Nearly dusk in the Djemaa El-Fna.
We went to Djemaa El-Fna (big sqare) twice for dinner, the first and last night of the trip.  First night was a complete tourist trap, but as always, these mistakes happen at the beginning of trips.
The 70 dhs mixed grill.
We redeemed ourselves the last night by visiting the correct stalls to have escargot, harira soup, potato sandwich, lamb and aubergine.
Loved this earthy tomato soup with orzo, chickpeas, and herbs.
Lots of lamb slow cooked in the tangia vessel.
We visited both the Bahia and Badi Palaces, which were extremely different from each other.  The Badi Palace is now in ruins while the Bahia Palace is a beautiful and ornate standing palace. We also visited the Majorelle Gardens, which would have been extremely peaceful if it wasn't packed with tourists.
Ruins in the Badi Palace
One night we went to a nicer dinner at Le Comptoir Darna to experience the other side of the spectrum.    The setting was chic and trendy, which almost always leads to poor food pictures.  It's clear that we got way too much food... 2 appetizers and 3 entrees. The lamb tagine and cous cous were indeed very succulent and arguably better than many other places we tried.  A second seafood tagine didn't really live up to expectations.  But I guess expectations of most patrons were mostly set on the belly dancers downstairs.

One of the best finds food finds in Marrakech is this small restaurant near our second riad, I don't even know the name.  The grills such as lamb and kefta were juicy and came with salad and french fries.  The tagine and cous cous were both enormous, and I especially loved the fluffy (strangely cheesy) cous cous... so much I ordered it twice. 
Acceptable amount of food for the last meal? Yes. 
Speaking of riads, I wish I lived in one permanently.  We stayed in two riads (Dar Tamlil and Dar Zemrane), both equally beautiful and tranquil.  It's amazing how peaceful they are in the middle of the hectic medina.
From the roof terrace of Riad Dar Tamlil.
We spent alot of time wandering around the medina and stopping for teas and coffees.  The souks were cute, though I've never been much of a shopper while traveling.  The streets are vibrant with sellers of everything you could possibly imagine.  And as always in Muslim countries, there are lots and lots of cats.
Future album entitled "Matt with cats" coming.
Outside of Marrakech, we joined a 3 day tour into the Sahara through Merzouga.  At this point, we learned that we do not enjoy group tours.  But all in all, this was a worthwhile trip as 100 euro per person bought us 3 days/2 nights worth of transportation, desert treks, accommodation (which may or may not have all come with toilets), mediocre food, and some sights along the way.

One of the stops was Ait Benhaddou, which is an an old and very well preserved kasbah (village).  The kasbah is surprisingly large and we climbed to the top, where we were met with sweeping views of the area with the snow-capped Atlas Mountains in the background.

We also briefly visited the massive Dades and Todra gorges for some light hiking.  Both were massive
and beautiful.

We spent a night in the Sahara desert near Merzouga, it was an hour camel ride into the camp and an hour back.  After the first 30 mins on the camel, I was grateful that we did not follow through with our original plan, which was a 6 hour camel ride.  I learned alot about deserts from this trip, primarily that walking around in them is a damn good workout.

Camping in the desert is fun for many reasons.  It's an excuse to eat junk food because the cooked stuff is mediocre at best.  After sampling, I discovered that Moroccan kebab flavored chips don't meet expectations.  A childhood favorite was brought back (sour cream and onion).  Peeing in the sand is expected, however unpleasant it may be.  After the sun made its descent behind the dunes, we were all reminded of how many stars are in the sky.

After camping, we spent a few days hanging out in Ouarzazate, a small town just outside Marrakech.  When I say just outside, I mean there is a giant mountain in between so it's still a 4 hour nauseating but beautiful ride.  Ouarzazate was a welcoming break from both the overpriced sahara tourist route as well as overwhelming Marrakech.  The town is small and foreign visitors are either stopping for one night to cut the trip to the desert, or filming a movie in one of the several studios.  Several of our favorite meals were eaten at local places in Ouarzazate.
The first restaurant we went to for lunch was full of locals and had large grills outside.  This is generally a good sign.  We ordered grilled sausage, chicken, and liver.  Also served with sides of beans and lentils.  This was a great change from the stuff we had been eating.

A second place (that was literally right next door), served a variety of pizzas and grills.  The pizza was far from great but you have to take what you can get.  The fried whole fish and calamari on the other hand was fantastic.
There's very little to do in Ouarzazate besides relax, people watch, and maybe walk an hour to the movie studio (which we accidentally did).
Not real.
We could have seen more in the 10 days but I was grateful that we had a chance to enjoy and relax everywhere too.  Arguably the best part of this trip was the Sahara, just the chance to lie under the stars was worth the travel there.  At the end I did feel ready to return, but could certainly see myself back in Morocco again someday. 

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