MarocMama

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The Day I Ate Snails in Marrakech

the day i ate snails in marrakech

 

I love to eat, but the things I like to eat venture on the more “tame” side. I’ve been challenging my tastebuds and my comfort zone a lot this year. There was partridge pate in Spain, smoked reindeer in Finland, and even sheep head here in Morocco. All of which I liked. I’m big on having my kids try at least one bite of new foods so with that in mind I have to set a good example and practice what I preach.

MarocBaba and I were out researching some new locations for our “freaky food tour” of Marrakech and the need arose to evaluate snail selling stands. He likes snails, so he was going to be the final judge. I was along to photograph and keep notes. But then he talked me into trying them. I said no but gave in, because why not? It went like this.

snail removal

 

There’s two sizes of bowls offered, we had the large one (though small would have sufficed). Toothpicks are the extraction tool of choice. They pull out pretty easy but are springy. I knew texture was going to be an issue.
Close up Snail

 

This one is a little better, you can see how it comes out of the shell. The good news was the vendor told me how they’re cleaned. Each one individually and they’re all cooked while still alive. Freshness is a big factor when it comes to street food. As a rule I always talk to the vendor before eating to get the story behind the food, where it comes from and how it’s prepared. The broth is highly sought after as it’s believed to have curative properties. There’s a special “snail” blend that can be purchased from spice vendors.

 

Ready to Eat the Snail

 

There was a time I would have really contemplated putting it in my mouth but I’d already committed. It doesn’t smell bad, so I took a big breath and popped it in my mouth…..

 

not a snail fan

 

Two bites was all I could take before I spit it out. Not a snail fan. It’s really the texture that’s just way too chewy for me. There was another couple across from us and the husband was not having any of the snail-ness either. I think it’s one of those love it, or hate it things.  Been there, done that, not again!

 

What’s the strangest food you’ve eaten and what did you think?

 

Want to try some other freaky (or not so freaky) food in Marrakech?  Sign up for our Marrakech Food Tour when you’re in town! 

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Handling Medical Emergencies and Healthcare in Morocco

What’s your worst travel fear? For most people it’s getting sick or having a medical emergency far from home. But, when you choose to make your home in a foreign country understanding and using the medical care system can be even more intimidating and frightening. In October of last year I had a medical situation that had me returning to the United States for surgery. We had only been in Morocco for a month when I started getting sick. After arguing about going to the doctor for weeks, MarocBaba finally took me in – and we discovered I had a lot of small gallstones. Because of my previous gastro-surgery and because we still had insurance coverage in the US, I went back to have surgery.

Illness in Morocco

Just a few weeks ago our youngest son was ill for a week and not getting any better. After taking him to the doctor we learned he needed to have his appendix removed. We were left wondering, should we do the surgery here? Should we buy tickets for the next day or two and one of us fly back to the US with him to have it done? What should we do? Ultimately we chose to have the surgery in Morocco. I want to preface the remaining portions of this by saying there are many very skilled, qualified doctors in Morocco. Many have trained in Europe and the United States and there is access to equipment, procedures, and medications that are the same or comparable to what you would find in those countries. But it comes at a price and there can be many hurdles.

I can’t compare what medical service is like in Europe as I’ve never experienced it so my observations are based on my experiences in Marrakech, Morocco and the United States.

Morocco has a two-tiered medical system. There is universal public healthcare as well as a private healthcare system. The public healthcare system is dismal, at best. It may be better than no healthcare but should really not be considered if at all possible. The private system is a pay system. There are some health insurance plans in the country to help with costs. By western standards care is very affordable. An office visit can cost between $10-15, medications a few dollars, and an operation $500+.

Routine Medical Exams

If you need a check up, are ill, or have a specific concern there are general practice physicians and specialists in any area available. Some doctors only take appointments by appointment, while others take walk ins.  Either way the general procedure for appointments is “do you want a morning appointment or afternoon?” No times. If you have a morning appointment you show up when the office opens (or when you want in the morning) and are taken on a first come, first serve basis. Afternoon appointments work the same way but after lunch hour.

If you need an x-ray or blood work you will leave the office and go to a special location that does this. The doctor will give you the information on where to go. You’ll need to have the work up done, wait for the results (a few hours or maybe the next day) and then bring it back to the doctor to be read. For any prescriptions you’ll be written the order on a paper and can bring it to any pharmacy to be filled.

Pharmacies

Pharmacies are easy to identify in Morocco, they are marked with a green crescent or plus sign. One difference in Morocco is that you can’t buy things like Ibuprofen over the counter, you’ll need to ask for it from the pharmacist. Need some antibiotics? Just go ask! There are lots of medications that a pharmacist can dispense without a prescription so if you know what to ask for you likely will be able to get it without a doctor visit – unless it’s a controlled medication or narcotic drug.

Hospitals

Hospital services and care will vary depending on the hospital. In Morocco they’re known as cliniques. If you need to go in for a procedure or operation there were several things I found very different.

  • First, you need to supply almost all of your own things like; a drinking cup, bottled water, towels, kleenex, sheets (yes they have sheets but apparently bringing your own blankets is needed), and pillows. I’m not sure how much this is for comfort vs. required.
  • Unless you request it, pay extra, and make a big fuss you won’t get a single room, even if you’re with a child. If you’re alone this might not even be an option. When I was considering my surgery I was told my husband would not be permitted to stay overnight with me. A scary prospect when you’re sick, can barely speak the language, and drugged up.
  • You should also be prepared for very different cultural practices in care. For example, you won’t get ice chips -ever. After our sons surgery he wasn’t permitted to drink anything, not even a swab of water in his mouth for almost 16 hours. I found this very strange and can’t say I followed the recommendations.
  • In the US after surgery the nurses and doctor would have you up and walking as soon as possible, here they were more than happy to prolong movement as long as possible. I had to push and push to get help to get our son up and moving around.
  • If you need medications that aren’t given through the IV someone will need to go to the pharmacy to get them for you and bring them to the room.
  • You’re kind of on your own. I found nurses are much less about helping patients, or caring for patients than preforming routine job functions. They’re there to serve some basic purposes but aren’t in the field to care for or comfort patients. Non IV medications were not administered by nurses – we had to give them to him.
  • On the plus side nurses don’t bother you every 2 hours to take your vitals. A bit more restful night of sleep.
  • Recovery time is very pronounced. Our son stayed home from school for two weeks after his appendix surgery. Two weeks!
  • Follow-up care is often included in the hospital bill. We went back to the hospital twice to have his wound cleaned, bandage changed, and doctor to check it. We then had an office visit to have his stitches removed. These were included in the  surgery price. Make sure to ask about this when you pay.
  • Speaking of money. The hospital bill is due at the time of discharge. All of it. There may be some type of payment arrangement system but I’m unaware of  it. Expect to pay cash on the spot.

I have to touch on one other point because it’s something I’ve carried with me after my son’s surgery. If you’re somewhere that your in-laws also live they’re going to be in your business. This is a very big cultural difference. My son had surgery later in the evening after a full day of doctors visits and running around. We were stressed out, scared, and worried. The very last thing I wanted was a roomful of people when he came out of surgery. Even though I begged and begged that they stay home, guess what happened? A roomful of people. I’ve learned this is their way of showing they care. But, I felt incredibly disrespected as a person and a parent. My sister in law went with us to the doctors appointments and pre-operative discussions with the doctors. To me, this was frustrating because the doctor and attendants did not include me in any conversations, instead directed the conversation to my husband and sister in law completely excluding me.

I’m sharing this because cultural differences are very real, and when your child is sick (or you’re sick) the last thing you want is surprises. It often feels like as the outsider you’re expected to shoulder the differences and “suck it up” and not the other way. I have no resolution for this experience and it still makes me upset. I don’t feel like I should be expected to just accept things because I’m an outsider, especially when it concerns my child.

While our experience was very different from what I was used to I felt that the doctor was competent and don’t regret having done the surgery here. It would have cost us a small fortune to go back to the United States to have the same procedure done. I know next time I will be more prepared and know what to ask and what to expect.

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What to Eat  and What to Avoid in Marrakech

Living in a city that gets more than double the number of tourists as residents yearly, there’s a big industry that caters to tourists. It makes sense. Whenever we’re out we see hundreds of them walking, eating, and enjoying the city. But, sometimes – ok lots of times – we cringe when we see what they’re buying and eating. This post isn’t meant to say the people here who sell somewhat sketchy edibles are bad people, no they’re not. Nor, is it to scare tourists visiting – don’t be. But after saying too many times in my head “oh, you really don’t want to eat that,” I knew we had to do something!

People walk away from Morocco and think one of two things about the food. If they’re like my dad they say, “no way, I never want to see another tajine in my life.” If they’re like my mom they say, “when’s the next meal ready?” Besides palates what makes the difference? My dad came here ten years ago and we took a pre-arranged tour. We ate chicken and potato tajine almost daily for 10 days – and it wasn’t even that good. My mom? She was just here and we ate meals at home and in some of our favorite restaurants for the entire stay. Needless to say they both have very different opinions of the food in Morocco based on the circumstances surrounding their visit.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. Where and what should you avoid eating?

  • Do not buy cookies from carts in Djem al Fna. They might look good but the quality isn’t the same the ingredients, well who knows. Instead stick to patisseries. Patisserie Prince just off the square has really good cookies and pastries plus a nice interior sitting area to enjoy a treat without being hassled.
  • Likewise most of restaurants in the immediate square area are not that good. They’re not dangerous to eat but they don’t have the same care and attention paid. Opt for a pizza or other non-traditional Moroccan food or risk being disappointed with your meal.
  • Food stalls in Djem al Fna. Eat at your own risk. Almost every single article I read about food in Marrakech touts the open air food stalls in the square. But, there are only a few that you’ll see Moroccans eating at. Look for the ones that have many Moroccan families eating. If all you see is tourists, keep your distance. We’ve lived here 7 months, I’ve been visiting for almost 10 years and MarocBaba has never taken me to eat here because he doesn’t trust them.
  • Street food vendors selling fried fish. Marrakech is land locked so it takes some effort to get seafood here. Fried fish, french fries, and other fried treats are sold in street vendor stalls. I would encourage you to avoid all fried fish that you didn’t see how it started (freshness). Any friend foods you’re buying make sure to check the oil first. Just a peek is all you need and it’s usually in plain view. If it looks dark colored or that it’s been in use for awhile- keep walking.
  • Ground beef can be iffy. Make sure any that you eat is cooked well – no rare or medium rare meat here is advised.
  • Just because it’s expensive or fancy doesn’t make it good. There’s some really amazing high class food here, and there’s some really pretentious places that have mediocre food. Don’t take a high price as equating high quality.

If you’re lucky, then you are coming to visit friends who will hook you up with some amazing eats. If you’re not, I’m going to share where we like to eat in hopes that you’ll enjoy it too. Be sure to read all the way down for a special announcement!

Breakfast

Moroccans are not known for their breakfast food. It’s not something that we ever go out to have because it’s more or less the same everywhere. Bread or pastries, butter, olive oil, jam and maybe some hot tea. You can find breakfast sold in small patisseries on every street corner. I wrote this post on traditional breakfast foods, but my best advice – don’t waste a lot of money on breakfast, opt for something simple from the patisserie.

Lunch and Dinner

This is the biggest meal of the day. Anytime between roughly 12 and 2pm people take lunch. Dinner is served later, much later. It could be anywhere from 7pm – 11pm. There’s usually a “coffee s break” (goute) in between.  So, where do we go?

La Creperie de Marrakech is a bit off the beaten path. You can get crepes almost anywhere in Marrakech – the sweet kind that is. What I like the best here is there savory crepes made with a special (gluten free!) flour from France. The crepes are in the style of the region of Brittany, France. If you’re just looking for a sweet crepe don’t make the extra effort to find it but if you’re after savory crepes – go!

La Creperie De Marrakech – Rue du Capitaine Arrigui, Gueleiz

We agree that some of the best food in the city is well hidden. It can be hard to find especially if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. Last month we were invited to dinner at Ksar Essaoussan by some friends. The restaurant is so well hidden they have a man in a red cloak waiting at the nearest big street to help you find your way. The restaurant is in a renovated riad that serves only as a restaurant – no on-site accommodations. Reservations should be made, but what you’ll find is a really great (dinner) meal of Moroccan food for a very reasonable price. Their small menu, which is more than enough, comes in around $35 per person for all courses and drinks.

Ksar Essaoussan, 3 rue Essaoussan, Medina

I don’t think I’m ever going to enjoy American ice cream again. Oliveri is an old-fashioned French style ice cream shop. They have  a menu and serve food also but just go for the ice cream. Order the coupe maison to get their house flavors, plus a plate of meringues. The best part? Loads of whipped cream (chantilly) on top!

Oliveri, 9 Boulevard el Mansour Eddahbi, Gueleiz
 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. One of the best lunches to be had in the city is at the Amal Center. The quality is always reliable, and the cause couldn’t be better. Come for couscous on Friday but come early or make reservations because it’s increasingly popular not only with tourists but locals too. Be sure to linger over a pot of tea and cookies.

Amal Center rue Allal ben Ahmed, Gueleiz

 

Cafe Clock Marrakech

 

One of the newest restaurants in Marrakech quickly earned a spot near the top of our list of favorite eats. Cafe Clock, of Fez fame, has opened a new restaurant in Marrakech. The location is in the Kasbah – MarocBaba’s “home neighborhood” and we enjoy stopping in for the food as much as the memories. This restaurant is as much a cultural center as it is about the food. Thursday evenings play host to amateur storytellers who share the stories of Marrakech’s famed Djem al Fna storytellers BUT in English. Concerts, art displays, yoga classes, cooking classes – you name it and it’s probably happening here. I had to drag MarocBaba here one night and he was adamant the food would be bad. We ordered the ‘Kech Platter – loads of salads served with bread and msemmen. It was so good and he recanted, insisting the owner must have hired a woman from the kasbah to cook. When we went downstairs we met the young, and talented male chef. Surprise! We’ve been back twice since then and the restaurant has only been open a little over two weeks! M sucked down the chocolate milkshake, and we had grilled chicken with makouda another evening. No complaints here! They’re famous for their camel burger (yes real camel meat) but the menu really does offer something for everyone. 

Cafe Clock, Derb Chatouka, Kasbah

Marrakech Food Tour Header

We have some news of our own to share. MarocBaba and I are now offering walking food tours of even more great places! We have two options right now; Traditional Foods or Freaky Foods. Our goal is to provide visitors with the opportunity to taste the real food of Marrakech, the kind that you would experience in someone’s home and not just the tourist version of Moroccan food. We have a daily tour available and it’s conducted in English. You can find out more and book your tour by visiting our website Marrakech Food Tours.

So, are you hungry yet? 

Hope to see you in Marrakech soon!

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“These streets weren’t made for cars,” my son said as we wound our car through the narrow streets of the medina.

“It’s ok, dad has this, remember he grew up here? It might be a maze to us, but it all makes sense to him,” I replied silently hoping I was right on this one.

One of the biggest challenge visitors (and locals) face in Marrakech is that the streets are largely unmarked (though they are marking them more and more), and GPS systems are most of the time wrong. I’ll attribute the second problem to the first. No one uses street names, they use locations and landmarks. When you want to go somewhere you’ve never been there’s an unspoken assumption the first person you ask will get you to a certain point, where you’ll need to ask someone else how to get to the next point. In my western mind it sounds convoluted but it makes sense here and it works.

Riad Star Marrakech

So, as we went to find our way to Riad Star we left plenty of time. Like with all things in Marrakech – getting there is half the fun. Truthfully it wasn’t too difficult to find once we ditched the car. Some riads are obviously marked while others are more demure and may have a name placard on the door or simply a small design notating that this is the place. For Riad Star it’s a star for the house number. Riads are refurbished homes that have been made into something akin to a bed and breakfast. They are very popular in Morocco and with dozens (maybe even hundreds) to choose from in Marrakech alone, it can be overwhelming. Whatever you end up choosing, staying in a riad, at least for one night is an amazing experience.

Tea at Riad Star

As soon as we walked into Riad Star (I took my sidekick M along with me), we were greeted by the on staff concierge/manager/jack of all trades and offered tea and cookies. When Mike, who owns Riad Star, began to talk about the riad, I could tell I was in for a great story. Mike and Lucie didn’t realize when they purchased the property that it had at one time been home to American performer Josephine Baker. The Jazz age star is rumored to have been the lover of Thami al Glaoui the notorious pasha of Marrakech. I’ll admit I’ve got a huge history/nerd crush on the Glaouai saga and this chapter added to my intrigue. As sometimes happens with lovers, Thami and Josephine conceived a child and supposedly Josephine had a miscarriage of the child that led to the need for a full hysterectomy. She was put up in this home by the pasha himself to convalesce. Very few Moroccan homes have exterior windows to the street, especially not in this area. But, the room that the owners believe is Josephine’s room does. It’s been said that Thami paid neighborhood children to read Qu’ran outside her window as she recovered.

The small riad has seven rooms, each one playing on traditional Moroccan architectural and design features while incorporating modern day conveniences. M and I loved the sitting/eating room with a built in fireplace and a rack of costumes. We later learned that many were purchased at a museum sale in Paris and were actually worn by Josephine herself! Mike told me sometimes guests will have dress-up parties or tea times and frankly I couldn’t imagine a more fun and lovely setting!

Dress like Josephine

As we wound our way through the rooms, we hit the rooftop terrace. Marrakech has some of the best roofs in the world, and this one is no different. Even though it was well past sunset it was no stretch for me to imagine spending a few hours in the sun and lounging. A small, private hammam is available on the roof. If you’re going to stay, be sure to include a hammam visit with your booking – it will be worth it.

This is only part of the story of the riad. To find out the rest and experience it yourself, you’ll need to come visit. I hope you do. You won’t regret it.

Riad Star, Marrakech Medina, Photo by Alan Keohane

Want to know more about Josephine? 

A biography of her life (some seriously amazing things)

Read about my friend Tracey who is taking one lucky traveler with her to visit this fall

The book Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker – it’s for younger readers but has some wonderful illustrations and tells the story of her rather illustrious life!

Ready to Book Your Stay?

Ready for one more great fact? The staff at Riad Star speak fluent English. I know this may not sound like a big deal but trust me on this one. It’s a big plus, especially if you don’t speak French or Arabic. It will be much easier to make requests and get advice for things to see and places to eat. I specifically asked Mike if the riad was family friendly, because many places are not. But they totally are. There are a few rooms that would work with children.

Rooms can be reserved through their website online where you’ll find the best available rate. Prices vary depending on season and room choice. 

 

riad star doll

Oh, and one other important note. Mike and Lucie have had developed two really cool apps that any visitor to Marrakech can dowload and use (you can use it if you’re not in Marrakech too!) Hip Marrakech and MarrakechRiad are available for download in the iTunes app store and work on iPod and iPads. Hip Marrakech showcases different riads at multiple price points, and has an updated availability search. It also has a Rewards tab. Cafes, bars, restuarants, boutiques, and shops have partnered with the app to provide users a discount on services. Simply show your device to get the discount! The maps tab gives a map of the city and pin points places to stay, things to do, where to shop, and where to eat. This function works without an internet connection. Marrakech Riad is designed for guests staying at one of the four properties owned by Mike and Lucie but others can benefit as well. The map function also exists in this app.

 See you in Marrakech soon?

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Our Life in Marrakech: December Update

It’s been almost four months since we moved to Marrakech, and I haven’t done an update post on day-to-day life since October! Lots has been happening since then.  I think that we’ve finally settled down into a normal life, a new-normal life.  I’m happy to report that my surgery was very successful and I am feeling so much better.  It’s amazing how quickly one forgets how sick they were! My boys were very happy to have mom home (I got back mid-November) and were probably more happy to discover the goodies I returned with. While in the US I celebrated my 29th birthday and after I returned to Morocco there was cake and a few gifts waiting for me as well. Happy birthday sung in 4 languages is quite the send off to a new year to be sure!

MarocMama Birthday

As I’ve shared before I work from home so I was able to keep going, albeit at a slower pace, while away. Coming back has allowed for more stability and planning which is important for me.

School

We’ve had quite a few milestones surrounding the boys and school. The biggest one being, they don’t hate it anymore! We knew it would be a struggle for them in the beginning, because they didn’t understand what was going on.  A few weeks ago they took school exams and while they struggled a bit, they both received a 6 out of 10 overall score in all subjects – this was after only 10 weeks in school. We are very proud of them!  M has always enjoyed school and even when he didn’t really know what was happening here he made a very big effort and enjoyed the challenge.  K is the opposite.  He hated it, and let us know everyday he hated it.  Until two weeks ago.  Something happened, a flip switched, or a miracle – because he came home one day and said, “Mom I had a great day at school! It was so fun!” My jaw dropped. Both boys will tell you they prefer French to Arabic, though they speak Arabic more easily and conversationally than French. We’re excited to see how much more they learn and acquire in the coming months.

Learning Darija

This leaves me.  I started taking Darija (Moroccan Arabic) classes last week.  I go twice a week for 90 minutes and am so happy to finally be doing this! I know enough to hobble along if I have to but I really need to learn enough to hold up a conversation, ask questions, and be ok alone -such as when taking a taxi, or trying to purchase something. The longer I’m here the more I learn just through listening, but formal classes are helping me understand much better. We’ll have 4 more classes, and then take a break over Christmas and New Years, and begin again in January.  I’ve considered doing some small lessons here (or somewhere online) worksheets and such that I’m making up for myself to practice, but am unsure if this is something others are interested in? Let me know!

Eating

Now that I’m not sick everyday I’ve been exploring more food options. Of course we mostly eat traditional Moroccan foods in the house, unless I make something different. But there’s more out in the city waiting to be explored! I’ll be honest, I’m very adventurous, I want to try new places and new things. I’m always looking. MarocBaba is not. He really doesn’t like to eat Moroccan food out of the house, and thinks anything that’s not Moroccan is either a) over priced or b) not good.  I’m breaking him of this way of thinking but, it’s not easy.

Henna Cafe Marrakech

One of the places that we’ve tried is the Henna Cafe.  It’s in the medina of Marrakech, just off Bab Doukala near Dar el Bacha. It’s a little tough to find but if you need help, the locals nearby can help – the best people to ask are “guardians” the boys/men who watch motorcycles and cars in parking areas.  They usually know all the nearby shops and restaurants. This is a restaurant, henna shop, and learning lounge. The terrace offers a great and different menu – that included falafel (that were very good!) They also have a large selection of local teas, including herbal blends, that you aren’t likely to find elsewhere. If you want to get a henna tattoo on your visit to Marrakech, go here. The prices are fair, the henna organic and safe, and prices are set so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. Do not, I repeat do not, get henna done in Djem al Fna. Henna Cafe 93 Arset Aouzal, Medina  Marrakech

Snack Pick Marrakech

Unless you walk around with your eyes closed, you’ll see a “snack” shop at every turn.  Most of these places offer cheap meals like 20-40 dirham pizzas, burgers, and fries. But, they also have kutban, or brochettes. My favorite thing to get is grilled spiced turkey breast with salad and fries.  It looks like a hot mess, but it’s really good and filling. It’s also really affordable. That plate above costs less than $3. 

Gelato

I’ve mentioned my kids are polar opposites yes? M spends every second outside playing with other kids while K would rather cuddle up in bed and spend time alone. But, we can always lure him out if it means alone time with mom and dad. A friend had told me about Panna Gusto, a gelato shop, and I’d been waiting for the opportunity to try it. We found it quite easily and were won over by it’s cleanliness and fun seating. Their products are locally sourced, seasonal, and organic whenever possible. They’re also ridiculously delicious. Yes it’s a little more expensive than some other gelato/ice cream shops in the city but we will be going back for sure. K ordered chocolate, I had mandarin, and MarocBaba pistachio, but we all stole spoons from each other.  Panna Gusto Italiano Avenue 4éme D.M.M. angle Rue due Capitaine Arrigui  Gueleiz, Marrakech

Odds and Ends

Christmas in Marrakech

 

MarocBaba and I were both a bit sad knowing that on our move here we would miss out on Christmas.  We both really love the lights and decorations, plus it’s always been a big holiday for my family. Being far away is never fun. We honestly didn’t think we’d find anything here that would be close.  We packed our kids stockings, and my mom sent chocolate calendars back (her tradition with us, and now the kids). A month ago we went to Carrefour (a grocery market) and saw an entire Christmas section with chocolate santas, trees, lights, tinsels, you name it! When we went back this week we found this! A giant (fake) Christmas tree, palm trees wrapped in lights, “Papa Noel” workshop, giant hanging ornaments etc. We could have been at any US mall! I almost started crying just having a little bit of something familiar here.

Lastly….

Finland

 

I shared this on my Facebook page this week but here’s the official announcement.  MarocBaba and I will be attending the Nordic Blogger’s Experience next month in Provoo and Helsinki, Finland. We are beyond excited! This trip promises to offer some really amazing experiences, and here we thought we would spend this winter without snow!  We’ll come back with some amazing experiences to share, and hopefully new friends and opportunities in the future.

So that’s the state of things! I’m sure I left some things off but I’ll come back to them.  If you’ve got questions, leave them in the comments. I’ll either answer them directly or add them to an upcoming post.  Ohh and MarocBaba and I are going to be filming a video soon – all of the questions you’ve wanted to ask him.  So leave those in the comments too and I’ll be sure to get them answered.

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Show Me Your Neighborhood: Marrakech, Morocco

I’ve always been fascinated by what cities look like around the world. So, when Annabelle of The Piri Piri Lexicon shared her vision for a world neighborhood bloghop I was super happy to share ours. There are so many really cool places and I’ve added the links to the bottom.  So, after you tour our Moroccan neighborhood you should visit a few others!

map_morocco

The “rules” for this blog hop are pretty simple.  Each person shares at least 6 pictures of different, specified areas and than can share up to six more. If you follow me on Instagram (and you should!)  you’ll know I’m often taking pictures of the world around us but I also liked taking specific images to use for this post.

A playground / play area

There are very few playgrounds in Marrakech and none near where we live.  Most kids play soccer, other  ball games or made up games.  We’ve also seen kids make really interesting toys, like a foosball table out of trash boxes and other thrown away items.

A  local mode of transport



This cart was delivering sheeps at Eid.  Marrakech is well known for motorscooters.  Almost everyone has them. Marrakech is almost completely flat and year round temperatures are comfortable enough to use this mode of transport all the time. There are also hundreds and hundreds of small and large taxis that are quite affordable to get from place to place.

A typical house/building

From the outside most Marrakechi homes are tall,  stucco and a redish color.  9 times out of 10 you wouldn’t never imagine what the inside looks like from the outside.  This picture is of my living room. Inside of homes, there are a lot of bright colors and patterns used. Traditionally homes in Marrakech have walls covered in tiles known as zelige.  They also have very few exterior windows but can have an open air interior courtyard.

A street nearby

This is a street in the more commercial area of Marrakech. You can see all the taxis I was mentioning. Roads here are very crowded with cars, motorcycles, donkey carts, and pedestrians. Lines for traffic I’ve gauged to be guidelines. The first few times you drive here my guess is you will walk away with white knuckles.

A school, nursery or other education facility

The outside of our children's Moroccan private school.

There are public and private schools in Marrakech.  Primary schools are easily distinguishable because of the bright colors they are painted. I have written a few posts about what education is like in Morocco and how to keep kids learning English in a non-English speaking country.

A market, supermarket or other shopping outlet

Traditional shopping in Morocco is done at outdoor markets and in shops.  There are carts for produce, shops that sell meat, bakeries for bread, spice shops, etc. More and more people are shopping in what we think of as a grocery store, but I think the shops offer better prices and better quality. Here, whole foods like fruit, vegetables, eggs, meats etc are cheaper than buying processed foods – the way it should be!

Entertainment

An almost daily ritual whether at home or out is “coffee/tea time”.  Everyday small snacks and coffee and tea are served around 5pm (between lunch and dinner). One of our favorite things to do is to go out and enjoy a cup of coffee and conversation.

Religion

Morocco is 98% Muslim and this is one of the most famous mosques in Marrakech (probably the whole country).  It was built in 1184 and has been continually in use since that time. If you’ve ever seen the Morocco pavillion at Epcot it was built as a model of this-the Khotubia Mosque.

Djem al Fna

This is the Times Square of Marrakech. Every afternoon vendors come to set up their food and sales stalls.  By nightfall, thousands of people take to the square to eat, watch street performers, and go for a stroll. It’s  amazing to watch the square transform.

Nature

In a city of nearly 1 million people there is a lot of concrete, dirt, and pollution. Sometimes on clear days, we can see the Atlas Mountains out the window.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a little tour of our new hometown!

Show me your neighbourhood around the world

Want to see more?
Our neighbourhoods:
Longny-au-Perche, France: THE PIRI-PIRI LEXICON
Zoetermeer, The Netherlands: EXPAT LIFE WITH A DOUBLE BUGGY
Las Arenas, Spain: LAS ARENAS LIVING
Curitiba, Brazil: HEAD OF THE HEARD
San Francisco, USA: KIDS YOGA STORIES
Karlsruhe, Germany: CONFUZZLEDOM
Nagoya, Japan: CRANES AND CLOVERS
Djibouti: DJIBOUTI JONES
Kansas City, USA: FOR THE LOVE OF SPANISH
Delft, The Netherlands: THE EUROPEAN MAMA
Sacramento, USA: ALL DONE MONKEY
Florida, Puerto Rico: DISCOVERING THE WORLD THROUGH MY SON’S EYES
Bordeaux, France: AMERICAN MUM IN BORDEAUX
Rural Zambia: MUD HUT MAMA

See the other neighborhoods that will be shared after mine;

  • Penang, Malaysia
  • Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Merida, Mexico
  • Calgary, Canada
  • Astana, Kazakhstan
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Brussels, Belgium
  • Pansiot, France
  • Moscow, Russia
  • Zhuhai, China
  • Paris, Frence
  • Val Verde, California
  • Bristol, UK
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Munich, Germany
  • Singapore

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Visiting the Ourika Valley, Morocco with Kids

Sometimes the crush and bustle of Marrakech gets too overwhelming and we need to get out of the city. Most people that come to visit don’t know there are small towns and beautiful scenery only a short car ride away. Essaouaira is our favorite escape for the weekend but for a day trip, or even a partial day we like to head to the Ourika Valley.

Visiting Ourika with Kids

MarocBaba and I drove to Ourika on a whim shortly after we arrived in Morocco. He hadn’t been there in years, and had never driven there but once in the area he knew where to go. I had never been. At most to get to the very end of the valley, Seti Fatima (the road literally goes no further) is an hour to an hour and a half depending on traffic and road conditions. Many people also travel this route to visit Oukaimeden is best known as a ski resort in winter (yes skiing in North Africa!).  From Marrakech, the route is direct to the Atlas Mountains with a two-laned road taking you through the mountain passes.

We so enjoyed our visit that we couldn’t wait to go back with our kids. Having spent many years in the Midwest United States we have really missed seeing green trees, water (lakes, rivers etc), and wide open spaces. Ourika has all of these and more. When we took off driving towards the mountains the kids could hardly believe we were really going to take a road through them. The Atlas are huge!  Once we started driving they were really in awe of the landscapes and enormity around them. Coming from Marrakech, you will first arrive in the town of Ourika proper – which sadly – there isn’t much to see.  Continue on the road towards Seti Fatima.  You will begin to see road side stalls selling all kinds of things.  We got an excellent deal on some rugs when we stopped at one! Once in Seti Fatima park and walk.

River Bridge in Seti Fatima

There are bridges that look quite wobbly but are by in large quite well built crossing the river that runs through the valley.  When we went it was September and the water levels were pretty low.  But, this same river, that is fed by mountain run off, also caused a devastating flood in 1995 that killed nearly 100 people. Crossing the river towards the mountains there are lots of restaurants and more famously the hiking paths that lead to the seven waterfalls of Ourika.

Mountain Path Ourika

We took the kids part of the way to the first waterfall. This is a path that is on the side of a mountain.  There are no railings so please keep this in mind.  If my kids were younger, I most likely would not have climbed this with them, however they did great! We saw several families with very little children (under 3 years old) climbing to the waterfall but this just seemed a little too dangerous for me. If you decide to go, make sure to wear very good foot wear and consider a talk with your kids before hiking.  There are no real safety backups on the climb. Throughout the city you will find guides that offer to take you up the mountain. If you decide to do this, negotiate a rate with them BEFORE you start climbing so that there’s no surprise at the end.

Walking in River Stream

After climbing, we went back down to the bottom and the river so that the kids could play in the water. The water was very cold but they had fun playing and walking around in the water.  I suggest bringing a change of clothes just in case.  If you do walk to the first waterfall (it’s not advised that young children walk beyond the first waterfall), many kids have swim suits and swim in the pool of water at the bottom of the falls. If you think you might do this, be prepared with a towel and dry items.

Ourika Tajine

The real reason I keep going back to Ourika?  The tajine.  Seriously, to me it’s worth driving an hour just to eat the food.  This is a beef tajine with carrots, potatoes, olives and spices. It’s cooked over coals and is simply delicious. It is served with fresh Berber bread and is simply to die for.  It’s worth noting that the people of Ourika are Berber and you’re more likely to hear Tashelheit (a Berber language) spoken than Arabic or French. But as one of the shopkeepers told K, “I’m Berber we know every language of the world.” You’ll find this to be mostly true.

Eating a Berry

Many of the agricultural products that arrive in Marrakech come from the Ourika valley.  When we went these berries were just coming into season. They look like giant raspberries and are sold in small woven reed cones for a few dirham. We weren’t particularly fond of them but it was something new to try. It was when we were buying apples, peaches, and quince that we discovered some of the older inhabitants of this valley ONLY speak Tashelheit, they don’t know how to speak Arabic. This was amazing to both of us, as we were less than 50 miles outside of Marrakech, one of Morocco’s biggest cities and this small region was by in large still isolated.  It really made us wonder about more rural communities.

If you’re visiting Marrakech and are looking for a nice escape from the heat and crush of the city you can’t go wrong with Ourika. Take your time and enjoy a different side of Morocco and I promise you’ll walk away with a completely new and different experience.

From Marrakech there are many tour companies that run day excursions to Ourika. If staying in a riad or hotel, ask the concierge who they might recommend to go with. If you’re more of a “do it yourself” traveler, rental cars are easy to come by and the drive is quite simple with plenty of signage. There are also buses and grand taxis that run several times daily to the valley. 

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This Week In Marrakech : What I’ve Been Doing

Maybe you noticed my posts were light this week.  It’s been all kinds of crazy. So crazy I haven’t taken a single picture with my camera – only Instagram!

The week started with a trip to Casablanca to pick up our boxes from the US that had finally arrived – several weeks late.  (If you didn’t catch it, I shared a post with my 8 Tips for Making an Interntional Move with Kids on ChicagoNow a few weeks ago). We took the very early train from Marrakech to Casablanca at 4:30 am.  It should have arrived shortly after 8am, perfect to make our 9:30am appointment.  Except the train didn’t pull in until 9:45am.  It was a great start to the day.

The way it works here is that most shipments coming in you have to pay an import tax. We went to the American consulate in Casablanca before picking up our shipment and got a document that verified we changed our residency to Morocco. Now, I’m not sure if this paper alone is what allowed us to avoid import taxes, or if my husband’s citizenship + this paper allowed it but either way this paper ($50) unlocked some key to get our things here without having to pay import taxes. But we still had to pay fees to the handling company in Morocco and pay someone to bring our large boxes to Marrakech.

On the bright side, I got to meet up with a wonderful lady from an English Speakers in Morocco group I’m a part of on Facebook and she took us to a convent in Casablanca of Mexican nuns that make real Mexican food.  This sounds unimpressive if you’re reading from North America where tacos are a dime a dozen but here, it’s impossible to find Mexican food.  We grabbed tortillas, flautas, and tortilla chips and can’t wait for the next time we’re back to buy more!

 

If the Mexican food wasn’t enough, she also took us to a cupcake shop in the Casablanca Twin Center. I think this picture speaks for itself. So so good!

Eid is just around the corner (inshAllah) we’ll be celebrating next Wednesday.  The shepherds and sheep are making their way into the city and it’s become commonplace to see sheep taking rides home in all sorts of ways.  In the back of trucks, on motorcycles, even on top of vehicles.  I’ve yet to see someone walking their sheep home on a lead, though that’s what I would do!  Yesterday we saw people had started to sell small bundles of bedding greens for the sheep. Our roof and upstairs rooftop room were cleaned out last week to get ready for their (brief) animal inhabitants.

 

Thursday I had a “girls” date with Mandy of Why Morocco.  She’s a Canadian expat here in the city and is much more well versed in what’s what than I am yet. I finally was able to get a pedicure, and enjoy an easy conversation!  It’s pretty stressful trying to speak and understand a foreign (or two foreign) languages at all times.  Very nice to relax and have a fluid conversation.  We went to lunch at 16 Cafe on the Marrakech Plaza.  It was a really welcome reprieve from the often limited choices.  I had this really delicious salad of greens, endive, raisins, walnuts, and fried chevre on toast points with a honey dressing .  Believe it or not – this is the small size!

 

Friday I was able to meet up with the Journey Beyond Travel team to have some in person conversations and eat some great food.  We went out for dinner to Bistro Thai, a great Thai restaurant in Gueliz.  Honestly, I was skeptical – Thai food in Marrakech?  It was absolutely wonderful! I am planning to take some friends there next week again. We’ve been told they have live music (jazz) some evenings and it really fills up.  So if you’re visiting, give them a call for reservations but I promise you a great environment. delicious food, and reasonable prices.


Finally, I’ve been sick for several weeks now, which is one of the reasons there have been fewer updates.  At first I thought it was just the water or something I ate and fought through waiting to feel better. But I didn’t feel better, not even a little bit. MarocBaba finally convinced me to go to the doctor, and I felt awful enough to give in and go. I had lost almost 20 pounds since we moved here and the doctor told me my gallbladder was full of small gallstones. That was why I was so sick. There are some very good doctors and clinics here and we both spent a lot of time talking and considering what we should do.  Having had a gastric sleeve just a little more than a year ago and knowing there aren’t a lot of surgeons here who are well versed in the procedure we hesitated to have just any surgeon perform this fairly routine procedure. We also realized it would cost about the same to have it done here, as it would for me to fly back to the US and have it done. Ultimately, we decided I would return to the US for the operation.

So in about 10 days I’ll fly back to the US and spend 3 weeks having the surgery and recovering. I probably won’t be cooking up a storm but have plenty of things I’ve yet to share with you! My kids have already started to make a list of the things they wish they would have brought with when we first came. As for me, I’ll just take a bowl of my mom’s chicken soup.

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