There are many travel threads regarding where to stay in Marrakech. Some swear by staying in the medina, near the souks in a typical riad type hotel Others want to stay in a luxury chain hotel. I wanted a bit of both. An authentic experience of a Moroccan riad with some of the familiar trappings and consistency of a brand hotel (if this was possible). After plugging in all of the variables, I chose Le Meridien N’Fis. It is part of the Starwood brand of hotels (St. Regis, W, Luxury Collection, Sheraton). It is close to the action of the medina and souks (5 minute cab ride, 20 minute walk) but not right in the action. Its grounds are beautiful-designed like a riad in that its buildings surround a central garden (which was voted one of the most beautiful of all gardens in Morocco, Spain and Portugal). And it gives good recognition and perks to Starwood frequent guests. This was a great choice. After spending one day navegating the labyrinthine medina and souks, I am very glad that I did not stay there-the heat, crowds, sights (sheep’s head anyone?), smells and general activity were dizzying. But with Le Meridien N’Fis, I could experience this and quickly be back at my hotel for a dip in the pool, a snack or to relax in my room, before setting out to explore again. The hotel rooms are not as modern as the newer hotels, but this means the rooms are much larger. The pool area is beautiful with a poolside restaurant and bar serving grilled meats and vegetables as well as salads and sandwiches. There is also a Moroccan restaurant open for dinner only and a breakfast restaurant overlooking the beautiful gardens. A spa gives massages and facials using typical Moroccan products like argan oil (great for the hair and skin and also used as a medicine). And directly across the street is a shopping mall with a large Carrefour supermarket (at times a life saver) and other cafes, restaurants and shops. An added bonus-Le Meridien N’Fis is only 10 minutes from the airport, great both after a exhausted arrival and before a frantic, hurried departure. Finally, as in all parts of the world (and more so in the Arabic speaking world), security at the hotel is top notch, both for people and vehicles entering the grounds. This is mostly for piece of mind as Morocco is a very safe country.
Morocco is a great country. Marrakech is a great city. Le Meridien is a great hotel to allow you to acclimate youself to them at your own pace.
Totally exhausted after flights from Qatar-Dubai-Istanbul-Lisbon, I had about a 15 hour layover until my morning flight to Marrakech. I decided to book a stay in the Radisson Blu Hotel. This hotel is considered an “airport hotel”(one of two) but is about a 5 minute drive from the airport. Nothing glamorous or exotic, but a solid hotel, very close to the airport, where one can crash for the night -even more so since I booked a free stay with my “free night certificate” from the Carlson Rewards credit card (Carlson is the company which owns the RadissonBlu and Radisson hotel brands (at least that was true until a Chinese company bought them last week!) Incredibly, the hotel had one of the best breakfast spreads I have experienced on my trip but unfortunately, I was in a hurry to catch my next flight, so only suco de laranja, cafe com leite and pao (orange juice, coffee with milk and bread) for me!
I had always wanted to add Africa to my list of continents visited and have always been intrigued by Morocco, so why not check two items off the list? I chose Marrakech since it also had more of that French flair. Many of the French remained in Marrakech after Morocco declared its independence from France and many more visit each year. Which means not only a great place to practice Arabic but also brush up on French! Since many groups had staked a claim to this area over the years (Romans, Berbers, Moors, Portuguese, Spanish and French) Morocco is an incredible melange and this shows in the culture, language, food and people. Even more interesting, unless you converse in MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) you will never understand the local Moroccan Arabic dialect (which is called Darija) since it is a mixture of Arabic, Berber (the original inhabitants of Morocco), French and Spanish.
The flight from Lisbon to Marrakech is a short 2 hour flight. Surprisingly, the flight was operated by an ATR 100 propeller flight plane (not many of these flying New York to Miami!)
The flight however was very smooth and soon we were landing in Marrakech.
Ahlan wa Sahlan! Welcome to Marrakech. I think I will grab a “Moroccan Whiskey” (the ubiquitous and delicious spearmint tea!)
I arrived at the airport in Dubai about two hours before my flight, but the immigration lines were so long, I barely had time to visit the new Qatar Airways Premium Lounge. I went to the lounge, had some cheese and crackers and a drink and it was time to board. I arrived in Doha, Qatar an hour later and had to quickly catch my connecting flight to Istanbul. About 4 hours later, I arrived at the airport on the Asian side of Istanbul, and had to catch a cab to Ataturk International Airport on the European side of Istanbul. Since it was 4am, the ride took about half an hour-if it were during a weekday rush hour, it would have easily been 2 hours! I arrived at Ataturk Airport in Istsnbul at 5am and with my next flight leaving at 11 am, I had plenty of time to enjoy the Turkish Airlines Flagship CIP Lounge, the “Lounge of all Lounges.” And while I previously visited and wrote about the Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge being one of the nicest and most exclusive airport lounges anywhere, the Turkish Airlines Flagship CIP Lounge is much more enjoyable. Why? Because it checks all the boxes. Good and varied food offerings. Check. Quality drinks. Check. Relaxation rooms with beds, showers and televisions. Check. Electronic massage beds. Check. Newspapers, free wifi, computer workstations, a Concierge, a television room. Check. But it has much more. There are masseuses walking around the lounge offering free in chair back and neck massages (definitely needed after many tough flights and by the way, Qatar Airways charges for these at the spa inside their first class lounge.) There is a golf range, a movie room with a popcorn machine, a children’s playroom, a simulated Nascar track, Xbox games, a library, a pool table, a self-playing piano. And the food offerings are ample, varied and delicious. There is an olive bar, a salad bar, a fresh juice bar, a soft drink, water, and bottled juice section, a coffee bar, a section making fresh simit (Turkish bagels), a grilled panini section, a deli sandwich section, a soup section, fresh fruits and a delicious dessert section. I could very easily spend a couple of days here. No wonder Turkish Airlines is consistently voted one of Europe’s (and the World’s) best airlines!
Leaving Dubai and the Burj al Arab is like leaving family or a close friend-sad for leaving, yet confident and happy to return in the near future. And besides, the Gringo with the Lingo has more travelling to do (much more!) I said my goodbyes and jumped into the hotel’s Rolls Royce Phantom and was on my way to the airport for a marathon Dubai-Qatar-Istanbul-Lisbon-Marrakech set of flights. I took one more look out the window of my suite to see the construction going on at the new North Deck, which will be a complex with 2 new pools, a Latin themed restaurant and several poolside cabanas. On the way to the airport I marveled at all of the new construction going on in Dubai-constantly and with each new building larger and better designed than the next. Enjoy the pictures!
Being at the Burj al Arab is great-the hotel is so luxurious, relaxing and comfortable that you don’t feel like leaving. Even when you must eat, the Burj makes it easy because it has 3 great restaurants, Bab al Yam, Junsui and Al Iwan. They all serve both ala carte and buffet. Bab al Yam is the poolside mediterranean style cafe which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is a great salad bar and appetizer section, many vegetable,meat and seafood selections and a grill where the chef will grill you chicken, beef, vegetables, fish or shrimp. A great dessert selection with the perfect assortment of sorbets to clean your palate.
Al Iwan is the Middle Eastern restaurant. With delicious mezze, pita, hummus, olives and stuffed grape leaves as starters, you definitely need discipline to leave some space for the roasted whole lamb over saffron rice and the Moroccan styled chicken and shrimp cooked in a tagine clay pot. There are also numerous and delicious selections for the vegetarians, with curries and steamed, seasoned eggplant. Dessert is a dizzying array of fresh dates, cookies, baklava, turkish delights and mint and green teas.
Junsui is the Burj’s “pan Asian” restaurant. Pretty much, you name the Asian food and they have it or will make it. Japanese tempura, Chinese roast duck, Korean barbecue, Indonesian fried rice. This is one of my favorite restaurants due to the sheer variety of foods and flavors. My favorite meal-crispy Japanese fried chicken cracklings for starters, with the Sweet and sour lobster (incredible mix of fruity flavors and spice seasoning). And usually while many Asian restaurants are a let down in the dessert department, Junsui has its delicious tempura ice cream (think of a fried zeppole with vanilla ice cream inside) as well as an assortment of fresh fruit and tropical sorbets and ice cream and the ubiquitous Burj chocolate fountain for dipping!
All of this great food makes it all the more difficult to ever leave the Burj al Arab hotel. But what about not leaving your room? The Burj has that covered too as their afternoon amenities as well as room service dining are top notch!
After 11 days in Turkey (and still suffering from a cold and jet lagged), I finally arrived in Dubai. I was happy because I would be returning to the Burj al Arab (aka my “second home”), the world’s only “7 star hotel”. And the surprises started from the moment my plane landed. As I passed through immigration and customs, I saw someone with a sign with my name on it. I stopped and was led outside to a beautiful, white, Rolls Royce Phantom. The manager had sent it to pick me up.
As if this were not enough, when I arrived at the Burj, I was given the second surprise-an upgrade to a duplex two bedroom, three bathroom suite. Mind you that every room in the Burj is beautiful as the standard room is a duplex one bedroom, two bathroom suite, but my room had an additional living room and a kitchen besides the extra bedroom and bathroom.
Honestly, these pictures do not even do the hotel justice-you must see it to believe it. But I guarantee you one thing-after staying at the Burj al Arab in Dubai once, no hotel will ever be good enough afterward. It is without a doubt, “the world’s best hotel”!
I have always wanted to fly Qatar Airways Boeing “Dreamliner” 787. The cabin design is sleek, the cabin air is better circulated, the lighting is more helpful in fighting jet lag by naturally resetting your body clock and the seats are lie flat, comfortable and state of the art.
Despite this being a less than one hour flight, there was a complete meal service (something United, American and Delta can learn from!)
The flight was great-the aircraft engine was not noisy at all and it seemed as if we were not even flying. The meal was excellent and so was the cabin crew. I hope to fly the Qatar Airways 787 again on a longer flight as well as their Airbus A380 and A350.
At about 4:30am I got a taxi from my hotel to Bodrum Airport. The ride was about 40 minutes (imagine it during rush hour!) My flight to Istanbul took off at about 7:45am. I arrived in Istanbul in about an hour (8:40am). I checked the availability of flights to Qatar. My flight was leaving at 5:30 pm but there was another flight leaving at 2:00pm. I tried to get on the earlier flight since there was availability but they wanted to charge me a price differential of about $750 (mind you I already had a business class ticket) which I would not pay. But perhaps the worst part is that Qatar Airways will not check you in until 3 hours before the flight (in my case, 2:30pm) which means no access to the business class lounge (which is airside and where I wouldn’t mind killing a couple of hours) and so I had to wait in the general departures hall before security. It was a long wait. Finally, they opened the gate, I checked in and went to the lounge. The flight took off at about 5:45pm and we landed in Doha, Qatar at about 10pm. The best part was yet to come, however!
Since Qatar Airways classifies its business class flights within the Middle East as “first class” (mostly for the benefit of the locals, who frequently take these flights between the Gulf countries), I was given access to the new exclusive Al Safwa First Class Lounge at Doha Airport Qatar. This is probably the holy grail of airport lounges. Its design is modern and its scale and size will leave you speechless. It actually looks like a terminal! I wouldn’t mind spending a few days in this lounge! It has a sushi bar and a deli. It has an elegant ala carte restaurant with a bar serving any beer, wine, cocktail or champagne imaginable. It has a game and play room for kids and a room for their nannies. It has a spa and doctor’s office. And who needs an airport hotel when you can sleep in a 2 bed quiet room, complete with a shower.
All in all it was a great experience! And even though I only spent about 2 hours in the lounge, I knew in 2 weeks I would be able to visit it again on my flight from Dubai back to Qatar. And I was also looking forward to my flight from Qatar to Dubai in a very special aircraft!
Bodrum, Turkey is only about 20 miles from Kos, Greece. There are frequent ferries running both ways. The trip is about 45 minutes. It is fascinating to be able to quickly go from one country to another and hear a different language, use different currency, see different customs and eat different food. Kos is one of the Dodecanese islands, the largest of which is Rhodes. Dodecanese comes from the Greek meaning 12 islands, even though there are 15 of them. The port of Kos is small but lively, with many beahfront cafes, bars and restaurants and gets really busy in the summer with tourists from England and Germany. There are beautiful beaches. Some of the sites to see are the ancient Greek burial grounds, the Castle of the Knights of St. John (built by the crusaders) and the tree under which Hippocrates taught his students medicine. I walked around the port a bit, went into a small, cozy restaurant and had a delicious Greek souvlaki. After lunch, I strolled back to the port and had a frappe (iced coffee drink) at a place called G-Cafe. I then walked around the town, took pictures of the castle and other sites, and then took the ferry back to Bodrum, Turkey. Entering the port of Bodrum, perfectly straight rows of gulets (traditional, Turkish wooden sailing boats) lined the harbor. Guarding the harbor was the Castle of St. Peter, another impressive feat of building by the Knights of St. John. And don’t miss the tomb of Mausolus, a Persian ruler. It is near the port of Bodrum and it from where we get the term “mausoleum”.
“I came to a fork in the road and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” (A Road Not Taken by Robert Frost)
One afternoon, I decided to walk around Bodrum. If I walked right, I would walk into the center of town. If I walked left, to the less developed hill top villages. So naturally I went left. Someone had told me that there was a hidden gem of a tavern in the area, but it was so off the beaten track, that I would never find it. They were right. But persistence prevailed and soon I came upon Bagarasi restaurant. There is no sign and the restaurant is down a side street hidden from the main road. But the negatives stop there. The small tavern is run by Maria (a schoolteacher by day and cook by night) and her family. The food is incredible. Maria grows all of the greens used as side dishes and mezze (small plate appetizers) as well as all of the herbs used to season her meals, in her garden. The restaurant is in the front part of her property with her home next to it. And it is just what you would expect from a hidden hillside tavern-small wooden tables and chairs naturally protected from the sun by overhanging, large, old trees. From the fried local goat cheese appetizer to the main courses of fresh fish and kebabs, everything was fresh, perfectly seasoned and delicious. The chocolate soufflé and fried ice cream were as good as any I had ever eaten.
Overall the meal was as good as any five star resturant.
So the next time you come to a fork in the road, turn left-you will not regret it!