In one month I’ll be in Spain, and during my stay flying south to Morocco for a few days. Or perhaps longer thanks to the low fares of discount European airlines.
I’ve found myself doing less and less research before going to a new place. During some fall cleaning I came across a 2001 binder that I created for a trip to Germany. I print and organized, hole punched and all, 30 pages of restaurants, places, bars and sights to see. I can’t ever imagine doing that now. I certainly know the city overview and don’t land somewhere blind, however thanks to the internet I can easily find places and events upon arrival and get local opinions and advice – rather than dragging guidebooks and overly planned rigid schedules. Plus WiFi equipped phones let you download maps and guides beforehand or on the go, eliminating bulky fold up maps.
Another reason I shy away from schedules and itineraries: When I travel I tend to stay in one place longer than most. It’s the only way to really get to know the city and its neighborhoods. Hopping around Europe spending two days here and two and a half days there really only gives you a chance to see the main sights and not the true experience of living there, even if just temporarily. Of course some could say the same about myself only have two weeks at a time. When I spent two weeks at the Joordan neighborhood of Amsterdam I even got a card to the video rental store. I’ll do some day trips and side trips but I find it’s far more relaxed to return “home” to a place instead hopping to four different cities a trip. If you miss out on a big sight, or find a fun weekend event to attend, or just meet some new locals or friends to have dinner with – then you aren’t running off leaving a place behind as you’re just getting into it. And it’s less stuff to lug around if you keep an apartment in one place for your entire stay.
So Madrid it is, and my side trip this time is to Morocco. I’ve never been to any part of Africa, and airfares from Madrid are quite affordable. I started reading up on which city to visit: Tangiers, Casablanca or Marrakesh. Tangiers is painted as a transient port city with day trippers constantly coming and going from the Gibralter ferries. Casablanca is said to be big, busy and sprawling. I had read good things about Marrakesh, and what cinched it was the advice of some locals. Locals who just happen to be representing their home country in Florida.
This summer I was visiting Epcot Center’s World Showcase, where a select number of countries and their Disney approved foods and merchandise are each crammed into a space the size of a Best Buy in a semi circle around a huge lake. The United States is at the center, with its colossal colonial mansion lording over all.
Knowning Morocco might be an option I spent time in Epcot’s fake Morocco. The restaurants and gift shops employ people native to that country. It’s a very good idea since they can work overseas for a season, they already have the accents, and can correct the misconceptions visitors on any misconceptions about their country. (Such as Italy not having mimes on every corner.)
When I met real Moroccans working in fake Morocco I discretely glanced around to make sure that a good number of other tourists were in earshot, and in a not too smug tone informed them that THIS American would in fact be visiting REAL Morocco come this fall, and sought advice on where to go. My three new Moroccan friends unanimously suggested Marrakesh. So Marrakesh it is!
Research item two: The New York Times had a four part “Guide to Marrakesh” last month. While some of the places are a bit fancy and over the top for me, it was a good summary nonetheless.
Speaking of over the top: Research item three: I recently watched Sex and the City 2. (I accidentally ordered it on Netflix – honest.) The fab four heads to Abu Dhabi in an all out appalling celebration of every middle east stereotype imaginable. Spoiler alert: Samantha the sexpot has to sneak out of the country in traditional Muslim garb. Now, since the United Arab Emirates wanted no part of this nonsense they actually filmed in Marrakesh. The movie contains scenes set over the city including the modern but retro looking airport, the Medina (market), and scenes out in the desert.
Better than all of these? Turns out my coworker has an old friend living and teaching in Marrakesh, so I’m quite enthused about her invitation to dinner and drinks.
There you go: Travel planning at its finest. Updates from real Morocco sometime this fall.