Yes, you understood it correct ! Travelling from the Netherlands to Morocco by train. Never thought it is possible? Well, it is very realistic! And in this blog we are going to share with you our travelling experience.
Probably the first question every person will ask will be “why not just to take a plane”? yes, taking a plane is a very standard travel solution. But we like unusual travel options that allow us to see and explore more than just sky and cloudsJ Moreover, this travel felt like a real adventure!
In order to make this trip possible we needed to arrange a lot! As we have 2 young kids of 2 and 5 years old we first needed to arrange a babysitter for them for a week! Who can be better than a grandmother? Only in our case the grandmother lives in Russia. She needed to take free from her work in order to come to the Netherlands! For the trip itself we needed to book multiple connections and hotels in advance! It was actually arranged very fast, within one day, with the exception of the train for the way back from Madrid to Barcelona operated by Renfe train company. The problem was that in the beginning for a very long time it was not possible to book this train online. The system was asking us to try again later. We contacted Renfe customer service many times but were very surprised about the lack of proper customer service. They were just telling to us that they do not know when the train will become available for booking. Later we got the message that the train will not be available during the period when we needed to use it. We found it very sad and started to search for alternatives for travelling from Madrid to Barcelona. As a result, we booked ALSA bus tickets.We were not so happy about this option as we were supposed to spend the entire night in the bus instead of a few hours on a high speed train. To our surprise, one week before travel we have checked the website of Renfe again and found that the train we needed is available for booking…So Renfe customer service provided wrong information to us which influenced our travel decisions..We tried to contact Renfe to complain but they ignored us completely…In the end we just booked this train that we needed and lost our bus tickets because they were not refundable..
So let’s start our adventure!
Day 1: Travelling from Schiphol (the Netherlands) to Barcelona
On Wednesday February 21, 2018 early in the morning we took a bus from Nieuw Vennep (where we live) to Schiphol Airport in order to take a train from there to Paris. Sounds funny, right? To go to the airport and to take a train instead of the plane. It is like this because the airport in the Netherlands is combined with the train station which is located right under the airport. There, at the airport, at the GWK Travelex office we also exchanged euros to Moroccan local currency-dirhams.
So, at 8.34 we took a train from Schiphol to Paris by Thalys train. Our travel expereince is very positive. The trip took around 3 hours and we hardly noticed how the time passed by. The train was riding very smooth. We had comfortable chairs, free wi-fi, personal phone chargers and tasty snacks. What else do you need for a happy travel?:)
At around 11.30 we arrived to Paris Gare du Nord train station. Our next train from Paris to Barcelona was from another train station – Paris gare du Lyon. It is easy to reach it by metro but we decided just to walk to it, exploring Paris. It took us around 1 hour. On our way we bought some snacks at the local supermarket and reached the station around 50 minutes before our departure to Barcelona.
Our train to Barcelona operated by Renfe departed at 14.07 from Paris. The journey to Barcelona Sants train station takes around 6,5 hours and we also expereienced it as very relaxed.The average train speed during entire journey was around 300 km per hour. We could track the train and see where we are using the local connection onboard of the train. We started our journey with some snacks and watched a movie “ Hideous kinky” with Kate Winslet about her adventures in Marrakech. What else to watch if you travel to Marrakech? J During this leg of our journey we passed the following places: Valence, Nimes, Montpellier, Beziers, Narbonne, Perpignan. Then we entered Spain, passed Girona and finally arrived to Barcelona Sants station at 20.34 from where we went straight to our hotel “Salsas and Co”. After check-in we went to explore Barcelona by evening enjoying Gaudi architecture masterpieces like Sagrada familia, Casa Mila, Casa Batllo.
So far so good!
Day 2: From Barcelona (Spain) to Tangier (Morocco)
After a good night rest in Barcelona and a breakfast the next morning at our hotel we proceeded our journey. On February 22, 2018 (Thursday) we took a train from Barcelona Sants train station to Antequera Santa Ana departing at 8.30 in the morning. On our way we passed he following stations: Lleida, Ciudad Real, Puertollano, Cordoba and at 14.02 arrived to Antequera Santa Ana where we needed to make a change to our next train to Algeciras departing at 14.40. This train to Algeciras was making many stops on its way as it was a regional train but the nature was nice and it was a pleasure to see many palm trees, orange and lemon trees on our way. Having crossed entire Spain, at 17.40 we arrived to Algeciras from where we took a bus (30 min ride) to Tarifa. Tarifa is a nice small town where FRS ferry terminal is located. Having exchanged our e-tickets to paper tickets at FRS office we boarded the ferry to Tanger Ville, Morocco and at 21 o clock we started to cross the Straight of Gibraltar. On board the ferry we needed to fill in immigration papers and to get stamps in our passports from Moroccan police authorities. The journey by ferry takes only 1 hours and at 21 o’clock we arrived to Tanger. There is one hour difference in time between Amsterdam and Morocco. That is why we arrived at the same time as we left. This day we had a long travel. You would probably think it is enough for today but we needed to continue our travel this day. Having arrived to Tanger ferry terminal, we met the lady from Travel Link (moroccan travel agency) who brought us our train tickets to Marrakech. We used the services of this travel company in Tanger as they could book for us the train tickets from Tanger to Marrakech. Unfortunately, at this moment you cannot book these train tickets online and you can buy them either at the train station in Tanger or via some travel agency paying a service fee to them. But like this you have a guaranteed place on the train. Moreover, like this you can have a guaranteed place in a sleeping compartment of the train. There is only 1 sleeping train car! But it is very useful! You arrive rested to your destination the next day.
The first moment we arrived to Tanger we were attacked by a local taxi driver who was offering his services to us for a high touristic price. It was hard to walk away from him as he kept finding different excuses to make us travel with him. But we still managed to walk away. The lady from the travel agency who gave us the train tickets agreed with another taxi driver about the price for our ride to Tanger train station from FRS terminal. She was speaking Arabic to the taxi driver and he agreed for the local price of 20 dirham. But as soon as we were alone in the taxi and this lady went away, the taxi driver started to complain that he confused the bus and the train station. He was telling that he thought we needed to go to the bus station and that the train station is much further..Of course, this was another way to get more money from tourists like us. We paid him more than agreed. This was our first immersion into the Moroccan world. Everywhere in Morocco where they see tourists they try to earn as much as possible on them.
In Tanger they were busy with the reconstruction of the train station at that moment. So there was only some tent instead of the train station. There were no pavements as they were busy digging everything out around the station. We were impressed about the crazy traffic on the road. There were zebras to cross the road but nobody was even thinking to stop to let us go..Dangerous for life! At 23:45 we finally boarded our train to Marrakech and were assigned to 2 top shelves in the sleeping compartment. As we were quite tired already by this time, we fell asleep very fast and had a rather good rest. We shared the sleeping compartment with 2 more passengers. One local Moroccan tour guide who was travelling together with a group of foreigners and a man from Germany who has been travelling for a couple of months already working on his way everywhere he could.
Day 3: Arriving in Marrakesh at Djema el-Fna and searching for our Riad
The next moning on February 23, 2018 at 9.50 am we arrived to Marrakech. We agreed to share the taxi with the German guy from our train and went straight to the main touristjic attraction in Marrakech- Djema el Fna square to which all roads in Marrakech lead. What a completely different world it was! Very old buildings, local people in traditional clothes, palms, sunshine, herbal aromas and arabic music.. Of course, being tourists with big backpacks we were very noticable and locals tried to make us buy different goods and services..One Moroccan woman grabbed my hand to draw a henna tattoe on my hand. I wanted to make so many photos of eveything here..Nice lamps, houses, exotic goods and food on the market.. Exploring the city we tried to find our Riad Faiza in Marrakech..It was not that easy as the city is a maze of small streets.. As soon as you stop outside to check the map you are attacked by locals who try to guide you to show you the way to earn money from it. The local children tell you on purpose that some road is closed so that they can show you longer touristic way to earn money from you like this…You constantly need to watch out for the motor bikes in Marrakech as this is a very common transport here. These motorbikes are everywhere here on narrow streets, even between crowds of people.
In the end we used the services of one local guy on a tucttuc taxi to bring us through this small streets to our riad. Finally we arrived to our Riad Faiza!
What a nice place! Real oasis of peace in this bustling city! Palm trees, traditional moroccan decors, lamps and furniture, magnificent view from the roof terrace over the city. We had a very warm welcome with a cup of Moroccan mint tea and local cookies. Having unpacked we rushed to our hammam appointment at Medina Spa in Marrakech which we booked in advance. It is a must to explore it at least once when you are in Morocco! We had a special treatment for couples in one hammam room. Traditionally in Morocco hammam is done separately for men and women but for foreigners there are special places to experience it as a couple. What a magnificent experience! First it starts with a hot shower, then they place a special black soap on your body, then for some time you lie down on warm stone table. After it you are scrubbed very strong with a special hammam glove and washed in the shower! It is amazing how much old skin comes out from your body after this treatment followed by olive oil application. After hammam itself we were guided to the massage room with massage tables. Two ladies there were real massage specialists. We had a very relaxing unforgettable massage! Totally relaxed and feeling like newborns, we were offered a traditional mint tea to make our experience complete! To sum up: we totally recommend hamman if you ever happen to be in Morocco!
The next part of the day we spent exploring local markets (the souks) where you can find everything you want. We were particularly interested in hammam black soap (beldi), argan oil, spices, aromas and local scarfs which we needed for the next trip to the Sahara desert. From one of the sellers at the market we also got instruction on how to use these scarfs for our heads in order to be ready for our desert adventure to protect our head and face from wind and sand. Gerben became a real expert in it. Now he can do it like a real Berber manJ
After the souks we went to the local restaurant to experience our first tagine! Tagine is a special pot where meat and vegetables are prepared in a special way. The food becomes very tender and soft! Delicious! The meal in Morocco cannot be complete without the mint tea, of course. We tried tea a la mente and berber tea. After this substantial meal we went to watch Djema el Fna square by evening which is also an experience in its way. It becomes very crowded there with tourists and the locals who sell goods and entertain people with different musical shows. Gerben also wanted to make his contribution to the entertainment process. He decided to juggle on this famous Djema el Fna square attracting locals and touristsJ You get completely charmed by this amazing place that offers you the street food, wonderful aromas and shows! Having seen and done so much we headed back to our riad stopping on our way in one cafe to have some snacks like pancakes with local amlu. Amlu actually tastes like peanut butter but they say it is a mixture of argan oil, almond and honey. Back in riad we were amazed about how quiet and relaxing it was there. Actually we were the only guests at this riad and could enoy it completely! Maybe because it was still February. But we found February the best month to travel to Morocco as it was very warm there already. We could escape from the cold in the Netherlands and at the same time it was not extremely hot in Morocco. Because in summer the temperatures there can rise up to 55 degrees Celcius which is obviously too much!
Day 4: To Zagora (the Sahara desert)
The next morning we started with a Moroccan breakfast which consisted of pancakes with jam and honey, bread, orange juice and mint tea, of course. At 7 in the morning we needed to go to the local cinema building Al Hamra where we were picked up for our next adventure – the Sahara desert tour!
It was a group tour. Unforgettable experience! The route itself was very scenic! The distance to the desert was around 360 km but due to the narrow mountainous roads it took us 8 hours to reach it and the same time we needed to spend on the way back. The time passed by very fast as we saw different Berber villages and locals herding their goats.
We crossed the Atlas mountains and Tizi Ntichka pass (2260 m.alt), driving along Draa Valley with thousands dates palm trees! Draa Valley hosts the largest palm trees plantation in Morocco! The road to the desert is dangerous due to many curves and narrow roads. On the way back we saw one truck on the road that turned over…If you look down when you sit in a bus you see a deep abyss. Scary! On the way to the Sahara we had several stops where we tried different moroccan dishes: tagine (of course) with lamb, tagine with chicken and lemon, couscous with mean and vegetables, etc. During one of these stops we visited the shop where Moroccan women were cleaning argan nuts for argan oil production.
Here in the same shop we bought argan oil for us and as a present to take home. Argan oil is considered to be a liquid gold from Morocco as it is a great skin moisturiser which softens skin. It was not easy to buy argan oil as there are many fake products on the market. We read that the real argan oil needs to be in dark glass bottles and it needs to have a mild, nutty scent. Based on this description we bought the argan oil here. Of course you cannot be 100% sure that you bought a real product but we tried our best. Along our route between the Sahara and Marrakech (former caravan route) we visited the ancient fortified village (ksar) called Ait Ben Haddou located in Ourzazate province. Very impressive! This village is UNESCO World Heritage and is often used in the film industry. Many famous movies have been shot here. According to the belief, this Ksar was founded in 757 A.D. by Ben-Haddou.
In the evening of our 4th travel day we finally reached Zagora (the beginning of the Sahara desert) where we were met by berbers and their camels. We continued our trip riding camels over dunes and watching the sunset. Must-do experience! Although the camel ride was not that comfortable as we imagined, it was definitely worth it! It took us around 1 hour to reach the berber desert camp surrounded by sand dunes where we stayed for the night. Feeling of being in the middle of nowhere! Upon arrival we were directed to our tent and welcomed with a mint tea with cookies. A bit later the traditional Moroccan dinner was served. The dinner consisted of Moroccan soup, tagine and fruit. It was very tasty! Afterwards we were entertained by Berbers with their drums while sitting next to fire outside under the stars and enjoying the silence of the dessert and clear sky. Being quite tired by the end of the day we went to sleep in our tent. We had proper beds here with blankets but still were happy that we took our warm sleeping bags with us. It felt very comfortable to sleep in them! We stayed in a comfortable camp with modern toilets and hot showers. In this comfortable camp we could stay in a private tent.
Day 5: Waking up in the Sahara desert!
Wake up! You are in the desert! Truly iconic dessert experience of waking up with the sunset over the sand dunes! The first thing we did was to run to the dunes to enjoy them, to enjoy the sunrise and, of course, to make nice photos!
Yesterday when we arrived it was already too dark for nice photos, so the morning was the perfect moment for it! After saying “good morning” to camels and after a berber breakfast we rode our camels again through the desert to meet our driver waiting for us on the road. From here we departed to Ourzazate where we stoped for lunch at a local cafe and visited Taourirt Kasbah which is used as a setting for a number of Hollywood films like for example Rules of engagement. It features clay buildings with a scenic desert background. Well, “visited” is a kind of wrong word here, because as soon as we stepped out of the bus we were met by the local tour guide who just mentioned a few words about this kasbah but in fact did not direct us to it. Instead we were directed to the carpet shop run by a local Berber man who first offered us tea calling it “Berber hospitality” and later started to show us different carpets so that we could buy them. The situation was not so pleasant because we were kind of forced to buy carpets.. We did not by them…But it was not such a pleasant experience to be pressured. We just do not like to buy things which we did not plan to buy.
Early in the afternoon we drove back to Marrakech crossing the High Atlas Mountains. Our tour ended at Jamaa El Fna Square at around 18 o’clock in the evening. With shoes full of sand we proceeded further into Marrakech to search for our next riad -Riad Shemsi. It was a bit further than our first riad but we managed to find it quite easy. This riad was another oasis of peace and quiteness. It was more luxury than the first one with a nice swimming pool and a terrace where you could enjoy the view of the city. But somehow we liked the first riad more.. Probably the first one had more warm home atmosphere…Having prepared our bags for the next day we went to bed.
Day 6: Last day in Marrakesh and back by train to Tangier
Checking out and buying souvenirs
February 26, 2018 was the last day of our stay in Marrakesh. After the breakfast at our beautiful riad Shemsi we checked-out but still left our bags at the reception, as we still needed to explore the city and to buy some souvenirs.
We started from a shop where we bought local species, eucalyptus crystals and aroma blocks. Afterwards we went to admire the Bahia Palace which was built in the 19th century. It was quite busy here. Many tourists tried to make pictures of every single corner of the palace 🙂 So, it is better to visit it early in the morning.
Visiting the leather tanneries
Afterwards we went to visit the leather tanneries where local families work for generations using pre-industrial techniques. It is a very strange place. You see here skins of dead animals which are treated in the pigeon dung. The smell can be very strong. That is why before entering the tanneries you are given some mint to smell it during your visit.
We planned to visit this place on our own and found it ourselves but just before entry to it we were caught by some unofficial guide who started to guide us around when we did not even ask for it.. We wanted to stop it but it was not really possible.. After this tanneries visit he directed us to the leather shop where we felt a pressure of buying something here. It was the same unpleasant experience as with the carpets shop a few days ago. We did not buy here anything again which probably made the shop owner angry. The guide kept chasing us and when we went out of there, he asked for payment of 100 dirhams for this short tour of 5 minutes which we even did not plan to have… Luckily we had only 20 dirham cash in the wallet which we gave to the guide. He seemed to be angry but we were happy to leave that place.
Observing life in Marrakesh and exploring the garden of Koutoubia Mosque
Following the narrow streets of Marrakesh and observing real non-touristic life we proceeded to the central square. We have to note that in general local people are friendly but those who see you as tourists only and as money bags, can be very sticky. At some point you get tired of it and just ignore it when someone starts talking to you outside to draw attention to his/her goods or services.
In the late afternoon we went to walk a bit in the garden next to the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh.
Saying goodbye to Marrakesh and on our way back to the train station of Marrakesh
Afterwards we went back to our riad to collect our bags and took a taxi to the train station of Marrakesh. The train station is located in the modern part of the city called “Gueliz” with European style of houses and buildings. At 19 o’clock our train departed back to Tangier and we left sunny Marrakesh preparing for the night in the train.
Day 7: Arriving in Tangier and back by ferry and train to Barcelona
February 27, 2018
By train to Tangier from Marrakesh
During this night in the train I didn’t really sleep good. Gerben slept very good. The train was shaking too much and was speeding up too much for this old train..
At the moment in Morocco they are busy launching a high-speed train from Tangier which will cover the same distance of around 600 km in 2,5 hours and should be ready to operate in the second half of 2018 although its not clear to us if it will go to Marrakesh or only to Casablanca. Having arrived to Tangier, we took a taxi straight to the FRS ferry terminal from where our ferry back to Spain departed at 8.20 am.
By ferry to Tarifa (Spain) in Stormy weather
It was a bit stormy that day in the Straight of Gibraltar. Due to this it was even difficult to walk on board of the ferry. We had a small delay and arrived 20 minutes later than planned to Tarifa. In Tarifa we realized that we forgot our precious selfie-stick onboard the ferry and went back to the terminal to the customer service. There we heard that the ferry left already back to Morocco and because of stormy weather it won’t go back the same day to Tarifa. So bye our selfie and thanks for your good service 🙂
Exploring Algeciras before travelling to Madrid
From the ferry terminal we went to the bus station to catch a bus back to Algeciras. We had some time in Algeciras and went to explore Alta Plaza in Algeciras. It is a small and cosy square full of orange trees. We found some supermarket here, bought a tasty fish pie with yogurts and had a lunch sitting on the bench on this square.
After it we took a train to Madrid that departed at 15.03 and arrived to Madrid at 20.34. Unfortunately we didn’t have so much time here but we could explore a bit the train station in Madrid and found a nice tropical palm tree garden with turtles in the center of it.
From Madrid to an apartment in Barcelona
Here we made a change to the next train departing to Barcelona at 21.25. Renfe trains are very comfortable and good. I had some troubles connecting to wifi onboard but in the end succeeded and could even watch movies offered by Renfe via Renfe app. At 23.55 we arrived to Barcelona and went straight to the apartment which we rented through Airbnb. What a difference in weather in comparison with Marrakesh! Cold and rainy in Barcelona!
Day 8: Our final day of this adventurous journey!
Breakfast at McDonald’s before boarding our train to Paris
February 28, 2018
After a good night rest in Barcelona the next morning we went straight to Barcelona Sants train station. After a breakfast at McDonald’s we boarded our train to Paris departing Barcelona at 9.25 am.
And again we were impressed about the weather change. It was snowing in the south of France. Everything was white! It was kind of sad to go back to the winter from the sunny kingdom of Morocco. At home, in the Netherlands, it was around minus 10 celsius that day.
With some delay we arrived to Paris Gare Du Lyon from where we proceeded to our final connection of this journey. We went to Gare Du Nord train station to catch our Thalys train back to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
It was very cold this day in Paris and we needed to wait for more than 1 hour at the station. Gare du Nord train station is not really built for cold weather conditions. When we could finally go to the train we noticed something funny: there is a special area where they scan and check the baggage of the passengers. We stayed in the wrong queue which was not leading to these scanners. We thought we would be directed back in order to pass through security check but we and all other people in our queue were just allowed to proceed without any checks… Strange security system when not all passengers are checked…
Going back home to the Netherlands
Having boarded the train we ate some salads and were looking forward to arrive home. Our train departed at 19.19. It was the time when we could relax a bit in the train after the trip and update our blog! From Schiphol airport to which we arrived at 22.24 we took a bus to Nieuw-Vennep and arrived home.
How happy we were to see our kids and to give to them presents from Morocco! Now it is time to prepare for the next trip to Berlin, Tropical Islands resort, which is planned for the coming Friday!