Getting to the desert in Morocco might take a bit of effort. You can take a tour (join a group) from say Marrakech, but it will no doubt cost more than if you arrange it yourself. Making an overnight camel trip to the dunes requires quite some travelling first. The nearest dunes are those at M'Hamid. There are no trains south of Marrakech so the only option is either bus or taxi. A bus takes some 11 -13 (!) hours to M'Hamid, but only costs 120 dh (about 12 €). It's easy to arrange camel treks to the dunes once in M'Hamid. A one-night (2 days) camel ride will start from 350 dh. It depends on your negotiating skills how much you will actually pay. However absurd this may sound, adding a day to your trip will more than double this price.
A 3-days organised tour from Marrakech costs about 130 € (unless you are lucky and try at Hotel Ali, then you can get with even 50 € for a 3 day trip). In a way it is better though more expensive, because you get to the dunes faster without crowding in a local bus.
If you're going on your own and you don't want to return to Marrakech after the trip, you can take a ride to Er-Rachidia via Zagora (all together some 10 hours or so) and from there to Fes (9 hours).
The dunes at Merzouga (Erg Chebbi) are said to be nicer, but it will still take about the same amount of driving.
Anyway, we have still not settled our mind about going or not to the desert. We want to, but it depends on many thing if we will actually go. I really do want to celebrate Mitja's 25th birthday up on the dunes and listening to the drums in a berber tent or just watching the sunset and the starry sky! :)
Final destination of our trip is Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. In the picture we can see the Belém Tower (the sentinel over the Tagus river that protects the entrance into Lisbon) which is also one of the UNESCOWorld Heritage Sites.
Port is fortified wine which means that during the fermentation process aguardente (pure wine alcohol) of 77% is added. That stops the fermentation process, makes the wine more sweet and results in a stronger wine (about 19-22%). Tasting Port wine while in Porto is a must and we don't plan to skip it :)
The valley of the Douro river is the source of the profitable port industry. Douro meanders 850km from it's source in Spain to it's mouth in Porto. Once a turbulent river of rapids and rarrow ravines, it has been tamed considerably by the construction of eight dams.
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal. It is famous for its port wine(in the picture is a traditional boat for transporting it). You can find a lot of variety in the Porto's architecture, modern and medieval buildings are placed side by side.
Coimbra is famous for its monuments, museums, libraries, gardens, fado, but above all for its University of Coimbra, one of the oldest universities in Europe. In the picture we can see the courtyard of the university.
Fatima is famous for it's religious visions that took place there in 1917. Many pilgrims wonder to the sanctuary which is dedicated to Virgin Mary. The tower of the basilica in the picture is 65m high and the monumental organ inside it has around 12000 pipes.
Obidos, a small walled town about 100km north of Lisbon, is one of the Portugal's most classic walled settlements. I tried to write something about it but the link tells it much better that I can, click it :)
This detailed itinerary includes specific timetables and prices for our journey, but it's still not entirely fixed, since we may change our journey if we decide so. So it is more a rough day by day guide.
Tue, 04.09. - Gorizia to Milan. Start of our journey on Gorizia Centrale train station. Train leaves at 17:47 and arrives to Milano Centrale at 22:45. Ticket cost is 32,50 € (see link). Transfer train station to Milano Malpensa airport at 23:15 hour, arriving to airport at 0:05 hour. Ticket cost is 6,00 € (see link - price and link- timetable). Overnight on airport.
Wed, 05. 09. - Milan - Madrid - Marrakech. The EasyJet plane leaves Milano Malpensa at 11:15 from Terminal 2 (T2), arrives to Madrid (Terminal 1) at 13:35 (flight duration 2 h 20 min). Ticket cost is 22,99 €. Changing planes in Madrid. EasyJet leaves Madrid at 20:05 from terminal Terminal 1, arrives to Marrakech at 20:10 (mind the change of time zone). Ticket cost is 29,99 €. Take a bus or taxi to the medina (city center) and find a hotel.A petit taxi should cost no more than Dh60 (a little less than 6 €), the bus (no. 11) runs irregularly to Djemma el-Fna, cost Dh3 (Lonely Planet: Morocco or the Bible, pg. 321). Overnight in Marrakech, cost should not exceed 15,00 € per person.
Thu, 06.09. - Marrakech. A whole day dedicated to exploring Marrakech. Overnight.
Fri, 07.09. - trip to the desert. I can't go into details here, since things are so blurry, we don't even know if we'll find a decent option to go. We will try to find or join a group to the desert in Marrakech. It should by no means come more than 70,00 € per person, the usual rate is 35,00 €. It would be perhaps easier to travel from Marrakech to M'Hamid (bus travels 8 hours, cost is Dh120) and book a 1-night camel trip with Sahara Services (Sunset tour) for a cost of 38,00 €. Though this would mean a LOT of driving.
Bus Marrakech - M'hamid: There are 2 connections daily from bus station Bab Doukkala in Marrakech, the bus at 8.30 arrives in M'hamid at 20, the bus at 19.00 arrives in the morning at 8.30. There is also a CTM-Bus from Marrakech (0.30) to Zagora, arrival 9.00. From Zagora there is a collective taxi every 40 minutes, price 25 DH (2,50 EUR).
Sat, 08.09. - return from the desert to Marrakech. Overnight.
Sun, 09.09. - Marrakech, going to Essaouira. Exploring Marrakech until afternoon. Journey to Essaouira. Supratours or CTM bus costs aprox. Dh65 (130 km, the Bible says Dh35 for a 3 h drive). Accommodation in Essaouira, overnight.
Mon, 10.09. - Essaouira, going to Fes. Exploring Essaouira in the morning, then going to Fes. There are no trains from Essaouira, but there is a bus service connecting Essaouira to Safi, from where the train leaves for Fes. There are 2 buses daily leaving Essaouira for Safi, the journey takes 2,5 h and costs Dh40 (about 4 €). The train connecting Safi to Fes departs at 15:50 and arrives to Fes at 00:10 with a stop at Benguerir. The journey takes 8,5 hour (see link). Ticket price is Dh178 (16,00 €). In Fes search for a hotel. Overnight.
We may as well skip this whole Essaouira thing and from Marrakech travel straight to Fes. In this case there is a good train connection. Ticket price is Dh180, the journey takes some 7 h and there are several departures throughout the day (see link). The bus connecting the two cities takes a 9 h drive and costs some Dh150. We may consider a day trip from Fes to Meknes, or spend a day more in Chefchaouen, Tangier or Seville.
Tue, 11.09. - Fes. A whole day dedicated to exploring Fes. Overnight.
Wed, 12.09. - Fes. Night travel to Tangier. Spending the day exploring Fes until night. Night travel to Tangier (or Tanger). Train leaving Fes at 01:50 or 2:50 (on Thu, 13.09.), arriving to Tangier Morora at 7:16, changing trains at Sidi Kacem (arrriving 3.33, departing at 04.25; see link). Train journey takes about 6 hours. Ticket price: 2nd class 97 dh, 1st class 145 dh.
Thu, 13.09. - Travelling to Portugal. Ferry to Spain (Algeciras) leaves port at aprox. 9:00 or 10:30 (see link), ticket price: 31,00 - 36,00 €. Ferry journey takes 1h 30m. Since we may arrive to Tangier in early morning, we might catch the 9:00 or 10:30 ferry, arriving to Spain at 10:30 or 12:00.
Considering the border-crossing procedures, we may lose some time in the Algeciras port and therefore miss our bus connections for Portugal. I imagine we will catch the Algeciras - Seville bus (leaving at around 15:30, arriving to Seville at 19:00, journey takes 3,5 h, ticket cost aprox. 15,30 €, see link), but not the Seville - Lagos connection (last bus leaving at 16:15). Therefore we may need to spend the night in Seville and take the first bus to Lagos at 6:30 am (arriving to Lagos at 9:40 am, ticket cost is 20,00 €) or the one at 8.30 am.
Unless we try a bit to catch the 5:30 ferry to Spain, then arriving to Algeciras at 7:00 am, catching the 10:00 am bus Algeciras - Seville (arriving to Seville at 13:45) and then the 16:15 bus Seville - Lagos (arriving to Lagos at 21:45).
The bus from Algeciras will most probably arrive to the Prado de San Sebastian Station, but for Portugal the bus leaves from the Plaza de Armas Station. Both stations are practically in the center and in most cases you can walk to or from both of them. If not, take a taxi and give the name of the bus station. Plaza de Armas is about 3 blocks from the Triana bridge and Reyes Catolicos. The Prado de San Sebastian station is close to the university and across the street from the Jardines Murillo.
Cascais is a cosmopolitan suburb of Lisbon and one of the richest municipalities in Portugal. In the surrounding area you can find popular beaches like Guincho Beach. It is a popular resort for surfing, winsurfing, sailing due to weather and wind conditions.
We decided to use public transportation for getting around Portugal. It is pretty cheap, reliable and much safer than renting a car (if I quote Lonely Planet "Portugese drive like car thiefs." and "What happens on Portugal's major highways is civil war.").
Buses: There are a few small private bus operators, they mostly cover one region of the country. The network is quite dense. There are different types of bus services like expressos (fast buses between major cities), rapidas (quick regional buses) and carreiras (which stop at every crossroad). According to the guide we should have little problem getting a seat on the bus. Ticket for a 3.5h (320km) journey from Porto to Lisbon costs about 14€. An Euro26 card should get us discounts up to 20% at least on the long-distance services. Largest companies are: Rede Expressos, Rodo-norte and Eva.
Trains: Are mostly cheaper then the buses and on long distances they tend to be slower, but it depends on the destination. Euro 26 card should get us discounts up to 30%. Again there shouldn't be any problems with booking or getting a seat. Different types of services are: regional trains, interregional trains and expres trains (called rapido or intercidade). Schedules and prices can be found at the state railway company's site Caminhos de Ferro Portugeses.
In the cities: In the bigger cities like Porto and Lisbon we will use trams, metro and buses. We will see what will be the best way to get from one destination to the next.
I started with collecting information on schedules, prices,... so that we can decide which of the many possibilites is the best for us. That way we will have everything gathered in one spot and we won't have any problems adjusting our plan if needed.
Evora is a smal town enclosed by medieval walls. It's included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. It offers many different architectural styles: Romanesqule (like the Diana's temple on the photo), Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque.
Estremoz is known for its marble in fact there is so much marble around Estremoz that it is used everywhere; even the doorsteps, pavements and the cobble stones are made out of marble. In the picture we can see the Central square of Estremoz.
We will arrive to the southernmost region of Portugal which is called the Algarve. It is a very popular tourist destination since it has very nice beaches, just like the one in the picture. We hope to find a nice, cosy beach near Lagos and relax there after intense sightseeing and travelling in Morocco.
The many spices in Morocco. Especially the markets in Djemma el Fna (Marrakech) and in the Fes medina are famous for high-stocked spices on their stands. Or sweets and vegetables. Actually, everything is on display so pompously that it just calls you to buy some.
Fes (or Fez) is the medieval capital of Morocco, and a great city of high Islamic civilization. It also has the best-preserved old city in the Arab world, the sprawling, labyrinthine medina of Fes el-Bali.
Fes is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination and many non-Moroccans are now restoring traditional houses (riads and dars) as second homes in the Fes medina.
One of the most important things to pack in a backpack is certainly a set of urgent medication that can offer relief on the road. There are plenty of advices about what to pack, one I found on this page and I find very useful, because it does include only the most necessary.
In Morocco especially there is a high risk of diarrhea, so travelers must be on high alert about where and what they eat and drink. The water is undrinkable, so travelers must stick to bottled water and fruit that can be pealed. Also be aware of the food preparation process (on the mentioned page the travelers were eating from stands at Djemma el Fna where the cooks were using the same water to wash a big amount of dishes through the night. Since we're also planning on visiting (and eating) on the mentioned market, we can never be too alert.
One general list on what to take with include, but is not limited to:
pain killers (Nalgesin) and medication for high body temperature (Lekadol, Aspirin, Coldrex)
medication against diarrhea (Linex, Ciprinol, chalk tablets,...)
re-hydration drinks in case of diarrhea or vomiting (Isostar, Nelit,...)
alcohol-based disinfectant (in small packings)
ointment against bites and stings or allergies (Fenistil gel)
antiseptic gauze, plaster, a small bandage
a pair of pincers
A good option is also to buy a small first aid traveler's kit, but usually it costs less to make one of your own, and this way you can pack just what you need, without the unwanted extra.
And never forget to pack a bottle of home-made schnapps :)
Street scene in Marrakech, Morocco. We'll be arriving to Marrakech on September 5, late evening and travel to the medina (city center). Hopefully we'll find some kind of accomodation for the night and the following days. After a sleepless night at the airport, a bed will certainly feel alright.
And if it's too hot to sleep inside, hotels do offer accomodation on matresses on hotel terraces for a lousy 25 dh a person (that's a bit less than 2,5 €), breakfast included with coffee.
We'll be staying in Marrakech a couple of days and hopefuly do a 2-day trip to the Western Sahara desert from there as well.
The Edificio de Correos (Communications Palace) in Madrid, Spain. Situated on the Plaza de Cibeles, which is an attractive square featuring a beautiful sculpture and fountains that have been adopted as a symbol for the city of Madrid.
Too bad we're only passing through the airport and not visiting the city.
Flying in from Milano Malpensa airport, departing for Marrakesh in the evening. Flying EasyJet.
We changed the appearance (hope you like it), allowed adding comments for non-registered users (let the spamming begin!) and from today on we will start posting a picture a day (pictures will follow the described plan). The source of the pictures is http://www.sxc.hu/.
Google maps is very useful for planning trips like this one. You can add placemarks, lines, write some descriptions,...
Our trip curently looks like this:
That looks like a mess, right? Wrong! It's (hopefully) going to be a very pleasant trip. But to help you out a bit here is the direct link to the map. Just click on the placemarks on the left of the screen and you will be guided step by step along our journey. Have fun :D
Here is the Portugal itinerary. It's not as bad as Kristina says :) The most travelling will be done on day two, from there on it's just sightseeing, relaxing, enjoying.
Now the more thorough planning begins. I will start with transportation, accomodation, then sights to see in each of the selected locations, some festivals and a very rough estimate of budget (maybe we can start guessing? :) ).
Our wishes, possibilities and real situations just keep changing. We are beginning to realize that 7 or 8 days is very little to experience Morocco. We do want to see too much in too little time, but we also don't want to spend our whole week just in one city. Combining the two together is tough work.
We are now almost decided we do want to include a trip to the Sahara desert while staying in Marrakech, but we cannot afford more than 2 days to do that. Including the desert means cutting out some of the cities we were first planning to visit.
So our rough itinerary now looks like this:
04.09. - start from Monfalcone (Italy), train to Milan. Overnight on airport. 05.09. - Flight Milan - Madrid - Marrakech. Landing Marrakech airport, bus or taxi to medina (center), find hotel. Overnight. 06.09. -Marrakech. Overnight. 07.09. - trip to the desert (from Marrakech via Zagora to Erg Chigaga) 08.09. - return from the desert to Marakech. Overnight. 09.09. - Marakech, afternoon going to Essaouira. Overnight. 10.09. - Essaouira (night journey to Fes). 11.09. -Fes. Overnight. 12.09. - Fes. Night travel to Tangier. 13.09. - ferry to Spain (Algeciras), travel to Portugal (Lagos).
Mitja has given me a spare day to include somewhere along the way. I may use it to recover from the busy schedule somewhere in Essaouira or Fez or just to have a spare day if we need it.
I think after a trip of this kind (wait till you see the Portugal itinerary!) we'll need a month free to recover :)
During our planning I took some time to take a look at Planet Guide's Morocco starring the legendar Ian Wright. It did present almost the exact route we are planning to do, except for some remote villages on the Atlas mountains... and in a backwards route. But beside that, it was the same. It felt a bit odd, knowing that in less than a month I am going there as well. I did not particualarly like the show, maybe because I have a much more romantic vision of Morocco in my mind, when in fact I am aware that I am to expect poverty and crowded streets.
My itinerary is almost complete and I intend to publish it here soon. I already started looking at various checklists what to and not to pack, since this is my first time backpacking (and although while going to the Ios Island I did have a backpack with me, I am not counting it). Mitja seems to be much more at ease with everything. Me? Starting to panick a little bit, but that's just because I am a woman.
And as a woman I do worry a little bit about travelling in the muslim Morocco. Good thing I will have my personal bodyguard with me.
With each having about 500 pages I imagined (and feared) they would be enormous. But they're actually of a pretty acceptable size. Which is good, so we don't need to carry along an extra bag just for the books :)
Now we may (or may not) start some more serious planning.
Mitja keeps telling me to state how many days I need for Morocco. My original plan included also a stop in Andalucia, but that would come to 10 days and apparently he needs more than 11 for Portugal. I already thought about cutting out Casablanca and instead visit just Marrakech, Rabat, Meknes maybe, and Fez. Then travel up to Tangier and take a ferry to Spain.
... and I'm already over my time-budget for Andalucia. I don't want to cut the days on Marrakech and Fez, since these two appear to be the most worth-a-visit in Morocco. Maybe Meknes 1/2 day and Rabat 1 day. So we still have a day to come to Tangier and enter Spain. And maybe a day for bathing on the coast of Andalucia...
And while I hurry up planning and all, he doesn't even have his insurance taken care of.