Marrakech is an enchanting trio of African, Arabian and European culture and is a truly unique city. From the moment I arrived I fell in love with it. The streets are a dusty orange labyrinth with a new surprise around each corner, and the exotic smells, sounds and sights make this a wondrous place.
In Morocco you are likely to stay in a Riad, which is basically a cross between a homestay and a hotel, and our Riad was amazing! From the outside it was literally a door in a dusty street, and I was pleasantly surprised to enter this magnificent Riad! The décor was gorgeous and had so much character, there was a fountain in the courtyard type communal area and there were lovely tables and chairs and a lounge that we could use if we wanted. There was also a hot tub on the roof terrace but it was a little chilly to be using that during this visit! The Riad was called Riad Hannah in the old town and was in a fantastic location.
Talking of location…I don’t think I have ever visited such a challenging place to find your way around! Every street looks the same and there are so many blind corners that you can never see what’s ahead of you. I found myself creeping around corners hoping there was no oncoming traffic (pedestrians and vehicles seem to use the same pavements). I think it is almost impossible not to get lost in the old city of Marrakech…but then that’s part of the fun surely!
When we arrived at our Riad I was amazed to see my good friend Tom from work walk in within minutes! I knew he was in the city, but was very surprised to see that he was staying in the room below me in the same Riad! So as he had already been there a couple of days we were lucky enough to have a guide to take us out for food-and it was nice not to get lost on the first night of arriving in the dark!
The ‘Marrakechy centre of the universe’ is the ‘big square’ or the Jama el Fnaa. Everywhere you go people will direct you back to the square, as if this is the only place that a tourist could possibly want to go. We later on figured out that when they are directing you they are in fact more often than not sending you in the complete opposite direction-to their shop! I wised up to this after a long trek through the Jewish quarter to the ‘big spice market’ that turned out to be just another spice shop that I had already seen several of and been dragged into already! I won’t fall for that again in a hurry…!
As soon as entering the big square we were pounced on by two henna women, we all wanted to get some henna done so began to look through the books of designs that they had. However, before I even had the chance to look at more than a couple of pages the woman had started doing the henna on my hand already! I told her to stop as we had not agreed a price and I knew it would end up costing a lot but she dragged me over to a chair so she could finish the design. The other woman grabbed my friend and Tom was busy laughing at us. The henna looked very nice and she made it all nice and glittery for us, however I was expecting a fight when it came to payment time! She wanted around £40- which in Africa is just lunacy! In the end we agreed to pay around £20, but for the rest of the trip I was kicking myself at how I had let that happen…and I call myself a hardened traveller???! School boy error I say!!! I was on my guard after this….
So we then proceeded to investigate the street food scene. This was quite different from Asia, with communal tables set out and menus. We had a couple of chicken skewers and some mint tea and got to know some of the locals a little.
The food in Marrakech is nice, but rather limited. Their menus pretty much consist of skewers, tangines (a blend of meat and vegetables in a tangine clay pot) and cous cous. Every meal came with large amounts of flat or French bread and almost nowhere sold alcohol. It was nice to try to local food, but after being there only 4 days, I can say I was ready for something else!
In the day, the big square is a completely different scene. It is one of the most chaotic places I have ever been! As soon as entering the square we were again pounced on, but this time by snake charmers! They immediately put a snake around my friends neck and took him off for photos. Then my other friend was taken off the same and finally me. I was given a small snake and sat about three feet behind a huge cobra! I was more nervous about being close to the cobra than I was having the snake around my neck!
From here we took lots of photos of the general chaos of the square. However, each person that saw you point your camera in their direction expected money from you! I would just walk away and they would follow me, grabbing my arm telling me I must pay them! As I said, the square is very full on!
There are also monkeys around the square. A man walked up to my friend Tom and put a monkey straight onto his head! He was saying no and that he wanted to agree a price first, but it was too late- the monkey was aboard! It was so funny!
There are also monkeys that they dress up, the boys have pants, the girls skirts and the babies have nappies on! It was funny to see, but also very sad. The monkeys had chains around their necks and did not look like they wanted to be there. A sad side of tourism here I guess.
What I loved the most about the square was the orange stalls! Morocco has the most delicious oranges! They would have heaps of fresh oranges that they would squeeze into a glass in front of you. And all for around 30pence! Amazing! I went everyday for an orange juice!
Although there are sights to see, such as the tombs, the gardens and the palaces, for me, it was the vibe and the atmosphere that I wanted to experience during my trip. The people are incredibly friendly (although the men do make many pervy comments) and I was so grateful for the hotel staff for washing my coat free of charge and without me asking after I accidently and rather stupidly soaked it in the Riad fountain (don’t ask!) and I thought that was so sweet of them.
One very friendly lady even let me come into her school to see what it was like and to see the children. After having a very insightful look around and feeling rather pleased with my French communication I was very grateful to have met such a kind, friendly person. And I am sure that there are so many others like it in Morocco.
There are so many streets, lined with shops and stalls selling everything and anything you could imagine. Visiting the shoe shops (and there are a lot) was like a scene out of sex and the city! The spice shops were very intriguing as well and I was lucky enough to have had explanations of the different spices and products they sold and how to use them. For example, I bought some black eucalyptus spice and was told to put it inside a cloth and sniff it to help clear my airways (I had a dreadful cold at the time) and it worked fantastically! It was a godsend at night!
One particular spice shop had a cage outside with tiny tortoises in it. I thought they were really sweet and so asked to hold one. It was very cute but sad that they were living in such a small cage. Once I had put the tortoise back in its cage I was told that it was about to become tortoise soup!!!!!!!! How awful- that poor tortoise! That made me feel a bit sad… : (
One evening we decided to go to an upmarket bar/restaurant in the new town that had shisha and belly dancing. The food was very expensive, but delicious, and the show was great, although rather short lived. I didn’t want to get involved in the shisha smoking as I have done it a couple of times before and its not really my thing, however Tom and Stacey had never tried it so decided to have a go. Neither of them were impressed and it was extremely funny to watch Tom cough his guts up after inhaling too much!
Marrakech boasts a few ‘gardens’ that are nice to have a walk around and escape the hustle and bustle of the city life. However these are not gardens as you might imagine. You find rows and rows of plants, more like a garden centre than a garden! Outside the Manara garden were camels. Going for a ride sounded like a nice idea but was a little too costly, so we opted to have a look at the camels before continuing on our way to the Majorelle gardens. These gardens were previously owned by Yves Saint Laurent and hold a memorial there, they are beautifully decorated and in complete contrast to the Manara gardens. The Majorelle gardens are full of bright colours and exotic plants, including lots of cacti. They were lovely to look at.
Perhaps the most exciting part of Marrakech is exploring the souks. Street after street you find so many shops selling everything you can imagine. It is a fantastic place to buy shoes, although they don’t seem to sell sized bigger than UK 6! It is also a brilliant place to buy good quality leather and hand-made carpets. There are lots of shops selling ornaments, lamps and mirrors as well as an array of other things as well! It is good fun haggling and you can get some good bargains (although it was not as cheap here as I had expected). It is extremely easy to get lost though and people are constantly offering to help you find your way back to the centre of the universe (aka the big square)!
Another thing that seems to be really big in Morocco is the hamman spa and massages. I have missed my regular massages so much since leaving Asia that I was straight in the spa on my first day! I had a wonderful massage, although was rather vexed to find that they had put massage oil in my hair!! The greasy look doesn’t do it for me at all!! :s The spa all have hammans, which is basically a bit like a steam room, where you have treatments and relaxing time. I didn’t go in there but if I return I will definitely be giving that a go!
Although we did a lot of fun things on this trip, including visiting the palaces and tombs, massages, belly dancing, shopping in the souks, doing a trip to the Atlas mountains and the place where they filmed the Gladiator (I will write more about this in the next blog entry) and general exploration around the city. That was not what I liked the best on this trip. I absolutely fell in love with the aura of the place, the mystical feel that it had. There was something magical about this place. The general vibe, the colours, the smells all made up the atmosphere that filled the streets of Marrakech. As you walk through the maze like city there is quite literally a new surprise around every corner…and I like surprises! : )
It is difficult to put into words just why I loved this city so much and I really don’t think what I have said exemplifies the wondrous destination that this is … so you will just have to visit it and see for yourself to really understand!
Morocco we love you!