Marrakech 2022 – travel!

PART ONE – OUTBOUND

Many of you who are kind enough to follow my blog will know that my favoured means of transport these days is by train. There are so many reasons for this which I won’t bore you with but our experience on this holiday sums it all up pretty well, so here goes…

You can get to Marrakech by train, in fact Morocco has a pretty decent high speed train system but it takes a long time from Bath. Bath to London; London to Paris; Paris to Barcelona to Madrid; on to Andalucia then ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar and finally a train to Marrakech. Throw in a couple of nights accommodation on the way and then do it all again the opposite way going home. So we decided to fly.

It was very easy, late morning flight from London Gatwick direct to Marrakech to arrive mid-afternoon seemed perfect so I booked the flights; and I booked the hotel in Marrakech and arranged for them to collect us from the airport; I booked the PCR tests for within forty eight hours of our departure; I booked the car parking at Gatwick and, finally, I booked accommodation close to the airport for the night before so that we could take everything really easy. Result, and not bad for an afternoon’s work.

The older I get the more stressful I find the whole flying experience and to counter this I build in time so that if there are hold ups I have a safety margin. It works (mostly) for me.

As our departure day arrived I checked the departures of the flights and everything appeared to be rock solid. We did all those last minute bits of shopping and got everything ready for packing………it was all going according to plan.

THEN

We were flying out on the Friday morning and at twenty minutes past four on the Monday afternoon my phone pinged and there was a text (SMS) message from the airline telling me that they had moved our flight to Marrakech on the Friday morning to Friday afternoon and flying from London Heathrow not Gatwick; oh really, thanks guys. There was a number to call so I called it and it said that waiting time was about two minutes, twnty five minutes later I gave up waiting and sent an email instead; I’m still waiting for an answer to that.

I needed to take action and by then an email had arrived confirming the change so without further ado I cancelled the parking at Gatwick (full refund thank you Gatwick Parking) and cancelled the accommodation(again with a full refund so thanks for that too Booking.com) and booked the car into our usual parking place for Heathrow. Well done me. At this point I realised that our bookings for the Covid tests were too early but was able to rearrange them to put us back into the forty eight hours time frame. Phew.

Then I had a look at the rearranged schedule attached to the airline email and, to my horror, realised that although we were flying out FROM Heathrow we were still flying BACK to Gatwick. A quick Google reveals that National Express run regular coaches between Gatwick and Heathrow so booked two seats for what should be about the right time but booked flexible tickets “just in case” and I think (hope) that was everything in place, it was a busy hour and a half. Then I remembered to email our hotel to let them know about the revised timing. And relaaaaxxx.

On the Thursday morning we were in the centre of town AT THE CRACK OF DOOM to get our PCR tests done and I used the rest of the day to get all the other paperwork done and mid-evening our negative results came through so printed them off and we’re ready to go. And no more dramas.

Friday morning arrived and at least we had no more mad rush so were able to pack, get the stuff in the car, check that we have everything and off we go to the airport. Nice easy drive to the car park and drop the car off and take the shuttle in to Terminal and decided to get through security straight away and relax when we arrived airside.

Departures was very uncrowded for a Friday, thank goodness.

To our relief check-in went very smoothly and our seats were confirmed and through we went. Once we were through to airside I felt at last that we could relax and I thought that a pint of beer would be nice so asked for directions to a suitable outlet but on arrival found that it doesn’t open for another few weeks however right at the end of the erminal I found this

which was most welcome and then we sat and watched the flights taking off until our flight was called.

And here we are on our way.

Oh, did I mention that our direct flight from Gatwick to Marrakech not only changed to Heathrow to Marrakech but also included a visit to Casablanca? No, OK here’s Casablanca airport just as we are about to board our onward leg to Marrakech, it seems quite nice.

Eventually we arrive at our destination and all will be well. Or so we thought but I had forgotten the rigour with which Moroccan immigration officials operate; it took us over an hour to get through and I will just say that the officials are polite and thorough. Then I wanted to change some Sterling for Moroccan Dhirams; there used to be a grumpy little man at a kiosk with a ledger, a calculator and a drawer full of cash but now there’s and official all singing and dancing Bureau de Change with computers and stuff and everybody appeared to want a conversation not a transaction so that took another three quarters of an hour.

Finally we emerged into the cold night air and saw a little figure opposite with a board for our hotel, bless him he’d been there for an hour and a half. at last we arrived at our drop off where we were met and walked the final five minutes to the hotel where we were made most welcome, plied with mint tea, given sandwiches and finally made it to bed at half past two on Saturday morning.

PART TWO – THE RETURN

I will start our return journey by saying that everything actually worked pretty well. Our alarm went off at quarter past three on Friday morning and we just washed and threw our few final things into the cases. Downstairs we were given mint tea before we set off to walk through the narrow alleys to find our taxi for the airport waiting. On arrival there we quickly went through check in and security but the place was dead but eventually we were able to get a fairly decent coffee and croissants near the gate so that was fine to kill some time. When they called our flight we joined the other twelve passengers in the queue and were soon boarded and on our way.

Final view of Morocco.

With nearly as many staff a passengers we had a nice relaxed flight and in due course descended into and landed safely at Gatwick where we taxied about a great deal until stopping near the terminal where we waited and waited and waited for the bridge to connect us to the stand but there was nobody to drive it to make the connection and nobody was answering calls; in the end a passing ground engineer was shouted to from the cockpit and somebody was found.

Out we got and spent the next quarter of an hour walking to the arrivals area which included using the travelators (I think we had actually landed in Haywards Heath) and out we came. We found the National Express desk and asked to change onto an earlier coach which was managed quickly and helpfully, thanks to the flexible tickets, and we soon were on board a coach to Wolverhampton!

The trip round the dreaded M25 on a Friday was not too bad at all until we got close by Heathrow where the traffic just stopped but that was where we exited the motorway for Tereminal 5 and then the driver used the local roads to get us round to Terminal 3 where we got off and found the stop for our shuttle back to the car park which arrived after about twenty minutes. We both felt that Heathrow was very cold.

We were soon reunited with the car and on our way home but I was soon feeling very tired and by the time we got two thirds of the way home I had to pull into the service station as I couldn’t stay awake, happily Mrs Sixwheeler is an excellent driver so she took over and tells me that I was fast asleep by the time she was off the slip road back onto the motorway. I woke up just as we drove onto the slip road for the Bath exit and fifteen minutes later we were home.

Our daughter had been working from home ‘from our home’ that day and we’d called her when we left the motorway so there was a cup of tea waiting and a huge welcome from the dog. An early night soon followed.

And THAT is the reason that we prefer train travel, of course things can go wrong there but it all seems so much more civilised with no three hour check-ins, your bags are close by with very few weight restrictions and you are at ground level so there’s lots to see. Hmmm, Marrakech has a spectacular looking railway station…

20 April 2022

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