Friday, June 26, 2015

Here's Looking at You, Kid!

Yay! Morocco! I've always wanted to visit Morocco and I am so excited that me and the kid finally made it! Even though the airfare was a tad on the expensive side for spring and there could have been a chance of cheaper tickets at a later date, I really really wanted to go NOW! So, like the spoiled child my momma tried not to make me, I spent the money and here we are!

*Just FYI, this blog is a scrapbook of sorts for me. So I can keep track of everything I'm doing and what has happened. I can look back in a few years and be like, yea, look where I've been. So this trip is chock full of photos! Hope you enjoy them. And you can always just page down quickly until something catches your eye!

2 happy campers headed to Morocco!

We flew with Qatar airlines which was quite nice except we had a 7 hour layover in Doha!! Once we arrived in Doha, we went to the transfer desk, and there was some sign about hotels which I didn't understand. The lady took our tickets and clacked away on the computer for awhile then said, "I'm sorry but we don't seem to have a hotel reservation for you." I told her that we didn't have a hotel booked and she said, "but ma'am, your flight doesn't leave til 2am!" Luckily, we were able to purchase visa's for about $55 and we headed into town. The taxi dropped us at this huge square building and said go inside. We went in, and there were all these little shops and cafes.

Blurry but shows the air before the sandstorm.

A fountain inside the artists studio building.

The side of a building.

So we looked around, bought some souvenirs and then, suddenly while we were eating, a sandstorm hit! And I mean it came out of nowhere! Suddenly people were running all over, a bunch of folks came into our restaurant, employees took masks out from somewhere. The sand was hitting the windows so hard you could hear them cracking.

Folks disappeared quick! 

Had to wrap up just to breathe!

Taxi ride in a sandstorm!
Because of this, of course, our flight was delayed! I don't know if it was better or worse that they boarded the flight, but then had us sitting there at the jetway for forever!

But, at last, we arrived in Casablanca!! Where I rented a car (the answer to your question is, yes! I am crazy! Driving in Morocco!!) and, ask me if I knew the car was a stick shift, which I haven't driven in a million years! And we drove off to explore! I didn't even stall out, thank you very much!

Renting the car!
 So, apparently, they rent you a car with an empty gas tank, so you can return it empty, too! We barely made it to the gas station! Literally, the car was sputtering because it took forever to find a gas station. We kept stopping and asking people who only spoke french and they didn't understand the word "petrol". I thought that's how they said it in French but I guess not!

So, I guess you wait for the green light in the middle of the round about here!
We went to Hassan II Mosque and then to a restaurant to eat before leaving Casablanca for Rabat.

This close to the ocean it was really foggy, but not too cold. Ajenai said it reminded her of San Francisco. We miss fog! I think my hair was also happy to see the fog as it drank it up like a sponge!

I love the architecture here! It is amazing, especially the beautiful mosque's.

I was fascinated by the building. The architecture was completely beautiful of course. I loved all the doors!

I was told that you could see all the way across to the other side! On a clear day of course! There was this guy in the water swimming, of all things! I know his butt was freezing!

Oh yea, so this happened. So it turns out, for some reason, my google maps is really terrible. Like the kid has to move the map with her finger or else it won't move, terrible! It doesn't show landmarks or speak or even have written instructions! I don't know what that's about but we're having a bit of trouble with navigation! We found a good restaurant on TripAdvisor that was near us and set out to find it. Couldn't find it! Map said we were there but we obviously were not. We decided to park and walk around to see if we could find the spot. After 10 minutes, the kid said lets just forget it and drive to Rabat. We go back to our car, and there's a hideous, yellow boot on it! I was like, WTF?! This guy comes out of nowhere and is like, "didn't pay park". And I said where? He pointed vaguely down the block which showed no sign of any sort of parking meter contraption. He said, " you call." and then he started to write down something on his hand. I am not gonna lie, I almost started crying at this point! I haven't even been in the country 24 hours yet! And this! I took out my phone and asked him to dial the number. He puts a 50 into the phone. I just stare at him like, call this? And he says, "you give me". Ahhhhh, I got it... it's a shakedown! And luckily for me, 50 Moroccan dirham is about $5 bucks! So this ended with a win! I am going to be totally paranoid about parking this car the rest of the trip now!

Luckily, we found a restaurant and the food was delicious! And it had an attached bakery that was to die for! So of course I bought way more sweets then we could actually eat!

One of the main reasons I wanted to drive was to see the beautiful country side of Morocco! All along the way we kept seeing herds of sheep,with sheep herders too! I've seen lots of sheep on roads in different countries, but I've never seen people with the herds! And most of these sheep herders were women.

Finally made it to Rabat! Again, I'm amazed by the architecture. I love all the doors here! The buildings look old and kind of run down (probably because I am coming from brand new Abu Dhabi!) but the doors are so beautiful!

In Rabat we stayed in the heart of the Medina. Medina's are like huge outdoor shopping areas, but they also are full of houses. So you could have your shop right below your home. And the Medina's are the heart of every city!

Our next stop was the jewel city of Chefchaouen. I was dying to get to this town even if it was waaaay up north in Morocco. It is known as the "blue city". And it is a place where people of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths resided in peace as exiles from Spain. The architecture is reminiscent of all 3 faiths; the blue paint from Judaism, the open interior courtyards from the European Christians, and the domes and minarets from the Muslims.

The drive was not that long and surprisingly easy; "first on the left and straight on until morning"! (Peter Pan for those who couldn't figure it out! lol)

When my leg got a cramp I pulled over to the side of the road. We saw this beautiful overgrown grave site and a road that curved into nowhere.

And we drove around the curve in the road, and the town of Chefchaouen opened up before us! It was an incredible sight!

Welcome to Chefchaouen! The door into the town.

Of course, even with a paper map and a bad google map app, I got lost! So we called the couple we were staying with and said "help!" And the lovely Ricardo offered to come and get us!

Watching some lovely boys play futball while we wait for Ricardo to pick us up!

Our room is so cute! The bottom floor of the house has 4 rooms which are rented out to Air B n B. There is a shared bathroom and WC. Their is an open air dining room on the roof and the tippy top level is the owners apartment.

Love this view!

This is the open dining area.

The stairs leading down to our room.

The view outside my window!

The sign to look for to find our home!
Ok, so, this was a loooong time coming! Of course I have 100's more photos and commentary and I will get those out as soon as I can!

Ciao for now!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Hello Again!!

Hi! So I know it has been ages and ages since I've written, but I'm determined to rectify that! What happens is I get so overwhelmed with pictures and writing and blah and blah, so I just decided to start where I start! So here goes!

Last night I went to celebrity chef Todd English's Olives restaurant. I've actually heard of him because I love cooking shows and he was mentioned...somewhere. I asked my friend Dedra, to go to this restaurant with me. She says which one, I say I don't know. Then I looked in TimeOut Abu Dhabi and saw a blurb about Olives so I said, what about here. Dedra said great, where is it? I say I have no idea! So she did the rest of the research and found out it's in the Ritz Carlton hotel! Ohh la la!

Can I tell you how awesome the whole experience was?! From driving up this long, beautiful driveway, to valet parking, to walking through the lobby of the Ritz, to the restaurant itself, awesomeness!

The thing about the UAE is it's such a new country (had it's 43rd birthday this year!), that there is tons of construction going on, and also there is tons of empty space that is still desert. The Ritz-Carlton is located in one of these empty spaces. It is in a desert space with nothing else around it. The hotel is like a mini city unto itself! It is huge and is not just a hotel, but a shopping center, about 6 restaurants, a spa, and there is a dhow boat ride that will take you all the way out to the corniche or across the way to the Farimont Hotel.

And the experience starts driving thru the arches as you are greeted by a tuxoded gent with immaculate white gloves who is not even sweating in this 97 degree heat! All the employees are dressed in, I guess I would call it a sort of 18th century uniform, that have the same sort of theme but are all different and actually very beautiful and sparkly.  Plus, the hotel and the employees were all extra sparkly because it's Ramadan!

After having a bunch of pretty unsatisfactory interactions with different customer service folks this week, the level of service at the Ritz was just over the top! All the smiles and greetings and offers to help, and they almost literally jumped to answer any questions we had! We were wandering around a bit because the hotel is huge and the restaurant is in the Venetian Village part of the Ritz, which is a relatively new part of the hotel.

Outside view of the restaurant
Then, the restaurant!! I hadn't realized that the restaurant is brand new and hasn't even had it's grand opening yet. We walked in and were greeted by two lovely ladies with adorable French accents (I dare you to show me any human who doesn't love a French accent!). We had a tour of the restaurant, and were greeted by the chef who had worked with Todd English for 17 years at previous restaurants. We got a peek inside all the different rooms the restaurant has including the areas for private parties. The decor was quite elegant. One thing I noticed was there was no art work on the walls, but it was still elegant with the different textures of the walls and the beautiful lighting fixtures.

We were greeted by these two ladies!

You can watch the chefs preparing the pasta
So, what did we eat?! Well, I had a beautiful sweet potato brava for a starter. It is not something I would normally have ordered, so I was outside my little foodie box and it was definitely worth it! The sweet potato had ricotta cheese, a brown butter glaze, and a jalapeno sauce. It was beautiful and all the elements together had a perfect balance of flavor. I'm not a really spicy person so I was slightly worried about the jalapeno sauce, but it was perfect with the tartness of the ricotta and the sweetness of the brown butter glaze. I felt like I was a judge on Masterchef Australia!! Then I had a ricotta ravioli for my mains. It had veal Italian sausage and some little crunchy nuts that had a great texture. Dedra had butternut squash ravioli for a starter and an asparagus tart. The ravioli was surprisingly good! It had a savory flavored sauce but the butternut squash was actually sweet. Great surprise of flavors on your tongue.

Ricotta Ravioli, yummy!

Asparagus Tart
While we were eating, the wait staff kept us supplied with water and changed our silver service for each course, they even wiped the table of crumbs! As the server set down each course, he explained the courses and also how to get the perfect bite.

As we were leaving, the manager and the head of front of house asked us what we thought of the food and the decor and the service. They asked us for our business cards for their collection (sadly, I don't have one, but Dedra did). And when Dedra asked about validation for the valet, the head of front of house was so apologetic that they did not have that service yet and he pulled out his cell phone and added valet service to his to do list! Then he took our valet card and said he would check on our car for us. We were talking to the employees for awhile and then we said, ummm, where did he go. And she said he will be back don't worry. He came back and not only did he have the valet price waived, he had our car delivered practically in front of the restaurant so we didn't have to walk all the way back around the hotel! Talk about 5 star service!

 All in all, it was a marvelous experience and I will definitely return!!

See you soon (I hope!)!!