On Friday afternoon, I got into a minivan (for real! There aren’t a lot of them here, but this was a real honest-to-goodness American mini-van) with 6 other women and headed out of town. We were headed to Meknes, where two of my wonderful friends had planned a little get-away for a few of us expats here in Rabat. In Meknes there is a riad which also houses a small cooking school; by appointment only, you can sign up to learn how to make one of several classic Moroccan dishes. I’d heard of it but never been, but several of my friends had.

I was the only woman in the car who spoke French, and none of us spoke Arabic, so I was on call as we rolled into Meknes. But by following the classic “This looks right” and “I just don’t think we should take this left,” we managed to find our way to the riad with only one false turn.

A riad is an old Moroccan house built in several stories around a courtyard. They’re found in the medinas, or the ancient cities, all over the country. Within the past 10 years or so, it has become very trendy for Westerners to buy them, redo them, and turn them into small hotels; they are also very popular places to stay. But at their heart, they simply old family homes, whose walls have probably seen generations of fat, curly-headed toddlers and old grandmothers coming to grief on their steep steep stairs.

Since this place isn’t used as a hotel, we had the entire place to ourselves. And we had a blast. Highlights included me sharing a room with Denise and staying up till 2 a.m. laughing hysterically (I told Ilsa and she raised her eyebrows at me), and a chocolate fondue with mounds of fresh strawberries, pineapple, apples, and pound cake for dipping—plus real marshmallows and graham crackers. (Two of the women are Embassy-connected, which means they can get American stuff).

It was a fun, relaxing time. At one point, Denise and I and another friend decided to work off just a teeny bit of all that chocolate we’d been eating, and we wandered round the residential part of the medina, looking for the touristy bit. We found it eventually but needed to get back for lunch and after all, the point was the walk.

Meknes is an imperial city with a rich history full of bloodshed and glory and tiled arches, but this really wasn’t the time to play tourist. The goal of this trip was more chocolate-oriented. There’ll be time to go again and see all the area has to offer.