Glancing through the haze of the past week, which was spent moving, building IKEA furniture, and generally handling the logistics of life in a new city, I vaguely remember the sienna-colored medina of Marrakech. Even after all this travel, I still have moments where it feels surreal to think, less than two weeks ago, I was walking on a completely different continent.
MAD > RAK
During the last week of June, I made my way (Gustavo in tow) to a conference in Marrakech, Morocco. Much to my surprise, there isn’t a very direct way to get to Marrakech from Philadelphia. Or even most of Europe for that matter.
Our route took us directly from PHL to Madrid on a flight that brought us to Spain early in the morning. With a 10-hour layover, we decided we would dock our luggage at the Madrid airport (it was about 30 euro for three pieces for half a day) so we could make our way into the city.
Churros in Madrid
While in Madrid, I had one central goal: I wanted to go to San Ginés. I’d been once before during another work trip with my colleague/friend, Pam. I remember scooping up every last morsel of chocolate sauce that came with the churros. Understandably, it was my goal to relive that moment.
We hopped on the train from the airport to the Nuevos Ministerios station and then switched to the metro. (At least, that’s what I think we did since I’m still not entirely clear on how we arrived at our destination.) Nevertheless, we made our way through the Puerto del Sol and landed at San Ginés for some churros and chocolate – at 9am.
Before leaving for this trip, I started reading Just Eat It, a book about intuitive eating. It was a goal of mine to start really listening to and developing a sense of my hunger cues both before the trip and while traveling. Despite my frequent travel, I often feel that my diet and nutrition is split between the times I’m home and when I’m away. In light of wanting to move away from macro counting, and needing something that works for me no matter where I am, I feel pretty determined to develop an intuitive approach to eating that’s sustainable for me, both mentally and physically.
So while I normally may have felt some oscillation between guilt and joy for eating a bunch of churros with chocolate at nine in the morning, it was also an exercise in not shaming myself for having fun while traveling. And I was pretty damn pleased.
Deload in Marrakech
After our layover in Madrid, we spent a few days at the Palmeraie Palace resort just outside of Marrakech, where I attended my conference. It was pretty far removed from the rest of the city, so I felt like I didn’t really arrive in Marrakech until much later that week, when we moved to Riad 11 Zitoune in the heart of the medina, just off of the Jemaa el Fna square.
The highlight of the Palmeraie, however, was its gym. I planned a deload week while I was in Marrakech after spending about a month on my new Paragon Performance Training and I felt ready for a bit of a rest. I’ve also learned that my body really needs time for extra rest and recovery after long travels, so I try to focus much more on mobility and low-impact exercise, like walking.
The gym at the Palmeraie let me do just that. I had the opportunity to do a little physical therapy work, yoga, mobility, some light lifting, and walking. Nothing felt over the top, the equipment was great, and it was close enough to my room that I could easily pop in in the morning, without needing to wake up at an insane hour, to get a little movement in for the day.
Exploring the City
Once in the medina itself, that quickly stopped! I can’t imagine any of the new hotels or riads inside of the old city finding space for a gym. It’s such a beautiful maze of houses and homes, balconies and courtyards, rooftop decks and gardens. We did indeed get lost on our first try finding the Riad, but were successfully able to interpret Google’s instructions the second time around. The hardest part was trying not to look lost because we weren’t particularly keen on having anyone take our bags to help us – not to mention the fact that there was a Hotel Zitoune directly across from where we were staying. It was a bit of a riddle.
On the first night, we ate at the highly recommended Nomad. We, unintentionally, booked a table right at sunset and the atmosphere was amazing. The food was delicious, especially the date-saffron caramel cake I had for desert with some mint tea.
The next day, we booked a tour with Adbul from Marrakech Guided Tours who showed us all around the old city. We started around 9am, walking through the area just around our riad. Our first stop was at the Dar Si Said museum, which highlighted both traditional architecture and textiles. We made our way through the Jewish quarter, past the Koutoubia mosque, and down to Dar Cherifa for a beautiful, delicious lunch. Finally, we toured a maze of souks and shops in what felt like the beating heart of the city. I highly, highly recommend taking a tour if it fits in your budget. It’s a maze of a city and it’s so easy to miss so much without having a guide or local introduce you to it.
Walking through the Jardin
On our last day, we visited what was one of my favorite places to see – Le Jardin Majorelle. It’s iconic with its deep blue and bright yellow walls and pottery. It was so much bigger than I expected. It felt like the more we explored, the more there was to explore. (And, best of all, there was a café on site!)
We intended to walk back from Le Jardin Majorelle to our riad but had a bit of a struggle with Google Maps. After exploring the area a little bit – primarily since I was on the hunt for a supermarket – we hopped back in a cab and made our way through Jemaa el Fna to rest from the hot, sunny day.
Because we were staying in the old city, it was difficult for cars to take us directly to our destination. As a result, we spent a lot of time walking. It was really nice to spend so much time on my feet, walking around, and just moving without thinking. I used to love going for runs as a way of exploring a new city. Going for a walk is the same thing and, sometimes, even better.
* * *
While I’m so glad to be home, it was such a memorable week to spend in Morocco. It’s a place I’ve dreamed of for such a long time and never expected to get there so soon. In many ways, it was exactly how I imagined it to be. In others, it was a big surprise. The smells and colors are still vibrant in my mind – even after walking past a Moroccan restaurant in Philadelphia yesterday, I felt transported by the spices.