Otherwise known as YVR, this is one beautiful airport. As soon as you enter, there is a nature theme, even sounds like the trickling of streams… that’s because there are actual streams winding their way through the space.
There’s stunning Indigenous art, and another great feature is the aquarium. It’s so well designed that as you come upon it, it looks a part of nature & you’re drawn to its relaxing flow. To many viewers’ delight, 2 scuba divers suddenly appeared in the tank to clean & check the fish.
There are so many things to see as you wander through to pick up someone from Arrivals or while you await your own flight.
Cartier, Burberry, convenience shops with snacks & amenities to make your trip better & many other stores line the corridors, along with quite a good selection of food. There are a couple of sit down restaurants, if you’re looking for a more civilized meal that takes a little more time, or there are spots like A&W, Subway, Salmon & Bannock (with a delicious fresh beet salad & also candied salmon on a bed of fresh lettuce for those of us with dairy & gluten intolerances or who want to eat a little healthier). Of course there’s also Starbucks.
The washrooms are always clean, with plenty of soap & sanitizer. There are water stations so that you can bring your own bottle to refill. There’s a play area & plenty of seating to watch the planes come & go. The only thing that is still lacking is the complete shortage of outlets to recharge phones, laptops, etc.
Vancouver International Airport was fabulous this trip. It’s beautiful, yes, but it was also efficient & very clean. Our luggage went straight from YVR to RAK & back with no issues… thank goodness.
We managed to get quite a bit of work done at the tables near the manmade little creek that meanders through the food court prior to boarding. We’re always there AT LEAST 3.5 hours before our flight because if you’ve ever driven from Abbotsford to Vancouver – anything can happen. This relaxing spot makes for a really nice start to a holiday.
While sitting in Cafe Koutoubia, admiring Koutoubia Mosque, we saw all kinds of people going about their day… I felt it deserved a gallery. People are fascinating. #marrakech #morocco #koutoubiamosque #cafekoutoubia #people #travel #wanderlust #africa
Jemaa El-Fnaa Market is a square & market place in the old city or Medina of Marrakech, used by locals & tourists.
During the day it’s mostly fresh juice stalls, merchants with traditional leather bags, jewelry & brass cups, youths trying to get you to pay for photos with monkeys & then there are the snake charmers. There are plenty of small cafes & restaurants to have a meal or Moroccan Mint Tea.
As the day progresses, the entertainment changes: late in the day the square becomes more crowded, with dancing/acrobatic boys (it would be against custom for girls to provide such entertainment), storytellers telling their tales in Berber or Arabic, magicians, and peddlers of traditional medicines or Argan oil lotions & such.
The souks with the spices & fruit are beautiful in their gorgeous colours & smells!
As darkness falls, the square fills with dozens of food stalls as the number of people on the square peaks. Steam rising from food stalls greets you, as do the greeters trying to invite you over for a meal.
The square is edged along one side by the Marrakesh souk, a traditional North African market: both for the common daily needs of the locals & for the tourists looking for something to take home with them.
On other sides are hotels, gardens & café terraces, narrow streets lead into the alleys of the medina quarter.
The square is so busy that you must watch as you go, for mopeds rush past at breakneck speeds! There are carts, pulled by donkeys, loaded down with fresh bread or fresh produce.
If you want to go into the alleyways we suggest one or two things: 1) Ask your Riad or hotel to find you a guide. You’ll pay them a little to help you not get lost & they’ll take you to what you ask to see. 2) If you don’t want a guide, always look like you know what you’re doing – if you don’t, some troublemakers take note & may try to pickpocket you or otherwise bully you into paying them some money. We chose a guide & had no trouble. Our friends went it alone, and did have a bit of an issue.
The best view of the market will be from a restaurant rooftop patio. We suggest https www.zeitouncafe.com You can enjoy the craziness from the comfort up above! You can hear the entertainment + the Calls to Prayer. Take a peek at our video here: https://youtu.be/xqKpYCBXhWQ
If you want to experience Moroccan cuisine there is literally no better way than to immerse yourself all in. And by all in, I mean sign up for a cooking class!
We booked this class through Viator after reading many excellent reviews about Chef Najla. And she did not disappoint.
As we started to arrive at the meeting point, we introduced ourselves, there was a young woman from Milan, another from Nottingham, a couple from Portugal, myself from Vancouver, Canada & then another couple, from Port Moody, Canada! Not far from me! What are the chances?!
They all were really fun people & we had a great time together. We were greeted warmly by Chef Najla in a little alleyway near a pharmacy & were asked what we wanted to cook from chicken, lamb, vegetable & meatball tajines. We decided upon chicken & meatball, then were given little shopping baskets as we stepped across the street to a fresh fruit & vegetable stand. Najla explained about choosing your vegetables & what to look for, explaining the Moroccan diet & why they eat the way they eat – bread is life – but fruit & vegs are also very important.
We moved along one stall to the butcher where we purchased the chicken, some choosing to see how the fresh chicken is caught & “prepared”. Then down another little alleyway to a beautiful doorway into the chef’s own home.
Her home was the style of the Riads we’ve visited but this one had a more enclosed “courtyard” where all the cooking classes are taught, her family meals are taken, and where she also teaches how to make Argan products by hand. The beautiful tile work & Moroccan decor was bright & welcoming. The home originally belonged to her mother’s parents & holds many memories. It felt very special to be there.
Najla is a lively, cheerful person who clearly loves what she does. We were made the most heavenly Moroccan Tea that I had the entire time we were in Marrakech. It was made with gunpowder green tea (which I purchased) & then infused with special herbs (I purchased the dehydrated version to take home). That was Anise, Spearmint, Peppermint, Lemon Verbena, Lemongrass, Wormwood, Rose Petals & Thyme. There is a certain way to boil & make the tea to “clean” the leaves & get a clear, flavourful tea. The teeny gunpowder tea is as small as caraway seeds but expands when boiled to so much more than you’d think! Then of course, there’s the sugar – they love their tea sweet!
Once we started the food prep, Najla explains the Moroccan spices & what they should (& should not) be used with as far as fish, chicken or vegetables. She explains about the timing & cooking using tajines, also depending on what’s in them. We did get to make some sides as well, one with fire roasted aubergine (eggplant), another with zucchini, also a tomatoe one & lastly, one with potatoes. All were delicious & refreshing!
My favourite thing to learn about was the preserved lemon! The flavour is amazing! It’s lemon only so deep and rich. I’ll be trying my hand at making my own.
It was very interesting to see the difference between the vegetables that we get in Canada from our grocery stores and the ones we chose in the market in Marrakech. Their tomatoes are so beautifully red & flavourful that it makes ours seem tomatoe-esque… the aubergine were a different flavour as well, everyone liked that side dish, even though they weren’t normally fans of the vegetable. I think the difference is that when ours have been shipped, they’re picked before they’re ripe so that they ship well, which means they won’t have the same flavours at all. I will be sourcing our produce directly from local farms from now on, as much as possible.
I have cooked millions of meals for my children, husband, grandchildren & extended family over the years & I still managed to learn some tricks! One: cut tomatoes in half then “grate” the insides out to get a fresh tomatoe base for your tajine(or stew or soup, even pasta sauce); two: take your garlic clove with the skin on – grate that too – you’ll be left with the skin to toss and nicely minced garlic; three: you can fire roast your peppers or aubergine right on the flame of your gas stove! Is it ever tasty!
We got to enjoy every bit of that meal, of course with fresh bread & was it delicious?! The best! We were able to purchase the Berber tea that we got to enjoy, tajines or any of the spices we used, even a few other items, like the Argan products Najla also makes. She does classes to teach people how to make oils by hand too.
As we said goodbye, we took each other’s information so we can follow each other’s further travels & so that we could receive the recipes to try making at home. I’m excited to try!
We would highly recommend this class & would take another ourselves if we were returning to Marrakech, for sure.
We stayed our entire time in Marrakech at the lovely Riad Catalina, reserved with Booking.com. We had researched, as always, on Booking but also Tripadvisor & the reviews were excellent, as were the guest photos & comments. When we arrived, we were greeted so warmly & given our first experience of the refreshing Moroccan Mint Tea & biscuits.
Sitting in the stunningly tiled courtyard surrounded by the sounds of birds, murmurs of the other guests & beyond the walls, the bleat of horns, calls of merchants & clip clop of the horses & carts, we immediately felt the immersion into Moroccan life.
We were given our choice of two rooms, shown where the rooftop pool is, and told of the meal times. We knew we could ask any info of the staff there & did! Our friends Samara & Baha were just two of the wonderful people we met there. The food was fantastic, the room was spotless, as was the rest of the Riad.
There was a fountain & mature trees inside the courtyard, quite a few types of birds, 2 cats(wait… plus the 5 new kittens!) & 2 turtles. There was plenty of seating for meals or just to visit. Once, when it had rained overnight, we were able to sit inside & still have the wonderful views & a comfortable meal.
We did join in breakfast on the days we were not on adventures, and it was delicious! Always hard boiled eggs, plentiful fresh pastries, bread, jam & the best freshly squeezed orange juice, a pot of English tea for my husband & a pot of coffee for me with hot milk for it! We enjoyed a couple of evening meals with them as well, but most times we were out adventuring.
The service from all of the staff was perfection, always smiling, always polite, our room had sweet touches each day after being refreshed.
One thing we must unfortunately mention, was the extremely loud, outdoor neighbouring patio bar. You must understand, the way the buildings are, there is quite an echo at the best of times, it’s usually not an issue, especially when the hauntingly, soulful Calls to Prayer play, but when it’s music played from 9:30 pm till sometimes 2:30 am & it’s mostly only the bass you can hear… it’s so disruptive & there’s no rest to be had the nights that is going on. We experienced at least 6+ nights like that when we had daylong excursions to wake up for, we can’t imagine how the poor families function daily that live right there. We would highly recommend to stay here still, but do bring good earplugs. It would be a shame to miss out on this lovely, centrally located spot due to an ignorant neighbour.
There were many things to see and do from this location such as coffee or Moroccan Mint Tea across the street from the Koutoubia Mosque visitmarrakech.com/en at the Cafe Koutoubia, where we watched the worlds of Moroccan life & travellers combine.
There was not too far of a walk to the main Jemaa el-Fnaa Market & all its stalls, stands, merchants, restaurants & more.
We found rooftop restaurants & street side diner-style spots to sit & enjoy the city while we ate Tajine.
The Riad itself is an amazing piece of architecture – from the winding staircases, the tile-work, the soaring wooden ceilings, the dreamy draped curtains, the carved Moroccan furnishings… the colourful stained glass-type windows, the carved doorways within doorways… what an experience in Marrakech! We’ll never forget it!