EXPEDITION MOROCCO

Blog Contributor: Paulina Grochala

the energy of the Medina

the energy of the Medina

Oh, Morocco. Another one of my very favorite places in the world now. I’ve been dying to go to Morocco for as long as I can remember; it was at the very tip top of my list, along with Peru (someday, hopefully soon!) and Amsterdam (done!).

I do solo travel often and have been since I was 16, for ten years now, but something about Morocco and solo travel gave me some trepidation. I’d been to Africa before, but it was a group study abroad trip to South Africa for three weeks during my senior year in college. Morocco on my own just didn’t seem like something I was ready for, which is why I’d kept it on my list without actually going for so long.

I then found out via instagram that the lovely Emma of Owl in the Ivy was preparing to host a photography and styling workshop in none other than Marrakech, my dream destination. I couldn’t believe it – I had been following her adventures back and forth from Bath, UK to Marrakech for a few months and her photography had only stirred my heart more and more, wanting to go so badly.

I had also been actively looking for a photography workshop to sign up for abroad, because just as I did with my yoga teacher training in Costa Rica, I love getting the chance to combine my travels with learning experiences. I knew I didn’t have to look any further – I signed up for Emma’s week-long June workshop immediately and booked my flight.

Getting to Marrakech was a bit rough. I flew from New York into Casablanca, landing around 3am NYC time, and then connected to Marrakech. This trip totally took it out of me and while usually I’m okay with jetlag, I was DEAD this time – exhausted and actually nauseous, something I’d never really felt from flying before. (Made a note to add dramamine to my carry-on essentials.)

some snaps from the beautiful Beldi

some snaps from the beautiful Beldi

Thank god that when Emma picked me up from the airport, she immediately whisked me to the Beldi Country Club. What a dream. This place is absolutely gorgeous, as stunningly Moroccan as you can get, and I was able to relax/take a nap/try not to vomit next to the perfect pool, which I eventually did take a dip in and felt a bit better. The grounds were so beautiful and if I had been up for it, I would have done a lot more exploring there.

could not get enough of this beautiful courtyard and home

could not get enough of this beautiful courtyard and home

That evening we checked into our Riad, La Maison, which was hands down the most stunning airbnb I’ve ever been in. I felt like a princess drifting through time. Our host, Nic, was just the kindest, sweetest, well travelled, most gracious woman ever – my life goals. If you’ve never heard of a Riad (…I hadn’t, sigh) it means a multi level home built up around a courtyard and pool. I mean. Also life goals. And her rooftop?! Oh man, I could go on forever.

absolute rooftop garden goals

absolute rooftop garden goals

breakfast on the perfect rooftop

breakfast on the perfect rooftop

I felt totally fine after a great night’s sleep, and was ready for the next few days of Marrakech adventures. Every morning Nic and her assistant prepared the most beautiful breakfasts for us, perfectly suited for food photography. And off we would go to explore the Medina and the Souks.

moroccan coffee - a dream

moroccan coffee - a dream

even the orange juice was the best I've ever had

even the orange juice was the best I've ever had

stunning and perfectly ripe peaches dusted in cinnamon

stunning and perfectly ripe peaches dusted in cinnamon

local boys playing with water balloons in the heat of the Medina

local boys playing with water balloons in the heat of the Medina

Street photography is hard in Marrakech since most locals don’t like to be photographed, which is fine, of course – you have to ask, pay for, or discreetly get a shot  – or take a selfie and get screamed at because they think you’re taking a photo of them, which is what happened to me, haha.

selfie-ing while getting screamed at because they thought it was pointed at them – but I love this one

selfie-ing while getting screamed at because they thought it was pointed at them – but I love this one

Still, it was exhilarating to be out there wandering around with the locals. One of my very favorite street moments happened when I was walking back to our Riad alone one afternoon, I think on our last day – my phone was dead and I didn’t have my camera with me, and then a horse drawn wagon carrying the biggest load of onions ever trotted right next to me on the street. I so wish I had captured that, but sometimes the mental images can be even better/more special than the actual ones.

hello little friend

hello little friend

Emma planned wonderful excursions for us in addition to walking the Medina and shopping in the Souks. We spent an afternoon taking a horse-drawn carriage ride to Yves Saint Laurent’s gardens, le Jardin Majorelle. So peaceful and wonderful to be in such a lush garden in the middle of this crazy climate.

strolling through the gardens

strolling through the gardens

We also had appointments for a Hamam at Le Bains de Marrakech. So, again, I didn’t know what exactly a Hamam entailed… I figured, okay we’re at a spa, it’s going to be a massage, so lovely. And it was still lovely, but …different than I expected, haha. The women were so stern with us that Lou of Little Green Shed and I couldn’t stop giggling.

entrance to le bains

entrance to le bains

“OFF,” they demanded of our robes once we were in a steamy room, and literally yanked mine off of me. They plopped us down on these elegant white waterproof beds, and proceeded to dump hot water all over us while we’re still giggling and screaming a bit. They left us for a while, I guess to sweat it out with the hot water on us and the steam also collecting in the room, and we start whispering, wondering what was to come next. They finally do come back, rub us down with Moroccan black soap and leave us for a bit again – coming back soon to scrub us within an inch of our lives. I mean, I was exfoliated FULLY. But it was amazing. “Everything okay,” they would say to us, more of a stern reassurance rather than a question. After being scrubbed like crazy, they escorted us to this gorgeous waiting room with beautiful Moroccan lanterns and brought us biscuits and mint tea. We got admonished again for chatting it up in this room, but the experience was so fun to share with someone I had just met – definitely threw us right into friendship! And of course my skin was so soft for the rest of the trip.

Shopping in the Souks was another amazing/favorite experience. I never thought I would enjoy bartering – the thought of it always stressed me out, ha – but wow, it was so much fun arguing a price and winning, or sometimes realizing way later that 100 dirham was insane for the little trinket when you got the gorgeous sitting cushion for 150. The whole experience was just so vibrant. I came home with such lovely treasures, from a silver tea set to presents for friends to a stunning dusty rose pink gown I wore most evenings in our Riad, to complete my princess feeling effect.

Food-wise, I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten as well as I did during my week in Morocco. The food was just crazy on point and I had no issues with my vegetarian dietary requests. Our host Nic was an amazing cook, and in addition to that Emma arranged for Japanese chefs to come to the Riad one day and cook us an amazing Japanese lunch for us to photograph and enjoy.

We went out one night to dinner at Nomad, one of the best in Marrakech, and it certainly did not disappoint. I really love middle eastern food to begin with, so this was just heaven for me. We sat on the roof terrace in a beautiful corner overlooking one of the main squares of the medina and had the best three courses and wonderful rose wine.

Another couple spots we went to was a little cafe (Cafe Des Epices) for refreshing drinks while souk shopping, and the restaurant Kechmara on our last night. It wasn’t quite as amazing as Nomad, but still lovely to sit on a rooftop and eat a veg burger with the company of women I had grown to adore and admire so much in one week.

Besides the beautiful time we spent in Marrakech between Nic’s Riad and our adventures in the Medina, we also were driven out to spend a few days in the Atlas Mountains, staying in a villa in the beautiful Kasbah Bab Ourika. As much as I loved the hustle and bustle of the city, being out in the mountains was incredible and peaceful. They fed us each meal on site, and the grounds were just stunning – yet another fairytale princess feeling few days.

I learned so much on this trip, from getting deeper into my own camera (and being SO happy with the quality of shots I’ve started to produce), to Lightroom editing, to styling our shoots with the guidance of Hannah from Seeds and Stitches, to backend WordPress blogging tips. It was the perfect week with the perfect balance of learning, adventuring and relaxing.

Emma is going to be hosting a couple mini workshops in the fall in Marrakech, if you are interested in exploring this incredible city with her I can’t recommend it enough – more info can be found here!

We were honored to have Paulina Grochala as our blog contributor. Check out her blog where you will find more of her adventure stories, wellness and beauty tips and more!