Made it to Marrakech!

I have always had a strong desire to go to Morocco. After missing the chance the first time I lived in Spain, I told myself I could not leave again without visiting. With only a few weekends in Europe remainly, I grabbed a couple of tickets to Marrakech and me and Gabe were off last Friday afternoon.

Welcome to Marrakech!

Thankfully I have a couple of friends who just went and  gave me great tips regarding where to stay and what to do. One recommended theRiad Maison Belbaraka for lodging. Riads are old houses that have since been converted into places to stay, undoubtedly beating out any hostel or hotel. Ours conveniently provided transportation to and from the airport, a gorgeous room and an amazing dinner on their terrace the first night.

And I have to mention the breakfast every morning. Freshly baked breads, chocolate cake, cheese, fig and strawberry jam, honey and freshly squeezed orange juice to our hearts content.They also helped us arrange our excursion for Saturday. We headed to the High Atlas Mountains to see waterfalls, safely in the hands of a friendly Berber guide. We left in the morning and made many stops along the way including a Berber house where we were treated to bubbling mint tea, a very common drink here that is delicious and refreshing despite the fact it is boiling hot outside.Then, we pulled off onto the side of the road for a camel ride.Walked back and forth across a rather scary bridge (still not sure why).And eventually arrived in Siti Fatima, a Berber village at the foot of the mountain. We were passed off to a younger guide who led us into the mountains towards the waterfalls. Along the way we saw many restaurants and spaces for people to hangout mid-hike.

Then we made it to one of the many waterfalls that was gorgeous.I must say that this was no easy, trail-blazed hike. Instead, we were scaling rocks and sliding down dusty hills. Word to the wise: Don’t wear Toms. Although I do think I was managing a bit better than those I saw in flip-flops.

Afterwards, we relaxed at a restaurant by the river where we had some traditional Moroccan food. On the way back to Marrakech, we had our driver drop us off at the Majorelle Gardens. It was not big but definitely pretty with more kinds of cactus than I have ever seen before.

We rested up a bit before heading back to the Djemaa El-Fna, the big plaza which comes alive at night with food stalls and plenty of people swearing that theirs is the absolute best. Well, we actually did find a pretty good one (which we picked based on all the locals eating at it) and walked away full on only 8 Euros for the both of us.

We also managed to do some haggling in the souks. I walked away with a pair of brown flats and a small purse which I talked down to half the price! If I did not have to worry about luggage space, I think I would have bought a lot more. From the lamps to bags to tagines, the amount of things for sale (and cheap) is absolutely mind-blowing. Regardless, I’m happy to say I made it out with a little bit!

Once we got back to our riad, we relaxed with a wine made in Morocco. But not just any wine- gray wine.

Although Muslims do not drink, I read that they have a rather good wine industry going on. This bottle definitely a unique flavor with a bit of citrusy tang to it. I would happily drink it again.

Sunday we woke up with not much planned but since we did not explore all of Marrakech yet, we took to the streets and checked out the Saadian tombs, spice market, El Bahia Palace and got a closer look at the Koutoubia mosque.

That night we headed to Cafe Arabe, a restaurant that kept seeming to pop up in every article I read about Marrakech. It is a three-story space with, again, a beautiful terrace, and also one of the few restaurants that serves alcohol, making it very popular with tourists. We found ourselves amongst many but that did not bother me. The food was pretty good and cheap considering all that we ate and the setting was perfect.

We had Monday morning and early afternoon to relax before flying back to Madrid. Overwhelmed with the crazy city by this point (and all out of Dirhams), we had some tea and pastries at our hostel and a quick walk around.

Overall, I am very happy I finally made it to Morocco and was even more thankful to have a French-speaking travel companion. While most locals are used to tourists and can speak almost every language, French is their second language (after Arab), so the fact that Gabe could fully communicate with just about everyone made it a lot easier. Lots of people said it would be dangerous, but I never felt threatened (especially when you see so many other tourists walking around). People sure are pushy when it comes to trying to get you to check out their souk and buy something, but once you learn to embrace (or just ignore) that, it is not bad. From the prayers five times a day that are heard all around the city (it’s broadcasted over huge speakers from the main mosque) to snake charmers and thousands of motorcycles buzzing around the streets, it is definitely unlike any place I have ever been but enlightening, nevertheless.

Plus, now I can say I have stepped foot in Africa!

Barcelona: Round Two

The last time I went to Barcelona I left a bit disenchanted. I did not feel any sort of spark or special connection with the city like a lot of my friends who constantly sing its praises. Regardless, when my boyfriend wanted to treat me to a celebratory hot air balloon ride there, I could not say no and we packed our bags and were off on Friday.

We got in early afternoon and I could not help but make our first stop La Boqueria, my absolute favorite market that I knew I needed to show him. We grabbed fresh juices while perusing all the stalls before settling down at a bar in the midst of it all for some arroz negro and the first patatas bravas of many this trip.Afterwards, it was prime beach weather so we took a stroll down to the water to check out the beach. It was packed but still a relaxing stop for some sun and sand.On our way back to our hostel, we wandered through Parc de la Ciutadella. It was a lot less touristy than Park Guell and had some interesting statues scattered throughout. I have never heard a lot about it but would happily return for a relaxing afternoon.  That night, we spent more time by the water at restaurant Bestial where I had a delicious seared tuna. We cashed in early because we had to be up at 5:30 in the morning on Saturday for our hot air balloon ride. We were picked up in the city center and driven about an hour to the town of Vic where our balloon was going to take off. Once everything was set up, we floated away with four other people plus our conductor for an hour.It was definitely scary at first but after the conductor told his about his years of experience, I could relax a bit. At the end, they treated us to champagne and grilled cheese sandwiches that they prepared using the fire from the hot air balloon. It was a bit of a surreal morning as I have wanted to go on a hot air balloon for the longest time. Now, I just want to fly around in one all over the world!

We got back to the city around 11 already feeling like we had done a lot that day. Even so, Gabe indulged my desire to go see the artwork of one of my favorite artists, Joan Miró, at his museum on the hill of Montjuic. After a delicious lunch of montaditos at Quimet & Quimet, we were in need of a rest before meeting his sister and her boyfriend for dinner at La Paradeta.

I knew I wanted seafood this weekend and this was the prime spot. After waiting in line for almost an hour, we made our way to the front where there is a huge selection of fresh fish (the lobster was still moving). You pick what you want and how you want it, sit down, and wait for it to be prepared. Thankfully, I was with a local who had been there before so left him to order and it was perfect. We had fresh oysters, shrimp, grilled octopus, razor clams, mussels in amazing tomato sauce, and grilled lobster. You can imagine I was in heaven.The next morning we made our way to La Sagrada Familia to ensure they were making some progress on building it (they are), and then had a delicious lunch at Cervecería Catalana. We wandered around the city a little bit more before beginning our journey back to Madrid late that afternoon.

The takeaway? I certainly enjoyed my time in Barcelona more than before and I think the warm weather had something to do with it. I still do not think I would ever live there but for vacations (and hot air balloon rides), it fits the bill. This trip marked the beginning of the end of my time here in Spain. Thankfully, these next few weeks are sure to be filled with fun.