Marrakech

4 days at home is plenty of time! Back to the airport. We have a really late flight today – at 9.20pm. I don’t normally get such late flight when just going away for the weekend. Flying with a random airline – Royal Air Maroc. Online check in doesn’t exist. The 8kg (even though the website says 10kg) hand luggage was being strictly enforced everywhere with multiple weighings. And twinkly music played for almost the entire 3 hour flight.

2015 country number 10 – Morocco

We landed in marrakech really late – 12.50am. Although the TV screens and the announcements would have you believe it was 11.50pm. Most confusing. There is no time difference from England!!

Luckily passport was very quick. We had no luggage, so walked straight through and our taxi was waiting. Hardly any cars around on the roads this late at night, so we whizzed through and by 1.30am we were tucked in bed in our riad!

In the past month I’ve spent time in Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, South East Asia and Africa. Not too bad!!

Saturday 2 May 2015

I’ve wanted to come to Marrakech for a while; to stay in an old riad and wander through the maze-like streets surrounded by mosaics and colour.

We are staying within the 19km walled medina – the old city. But we are towards the northern end, in a more residential area in a large riad.

No more slumming it. This place is amazing.

A riad is an old courtyard house. Many of them were sold to foreigners 25 years ago when the locals wanted to move out of the old city, to the newer city outside of the walls to a larger, more spacious house. So now many of these old riads have been converted into hotels. Our room is huge – a lounge, bathroom with 2 sinks, walk in wardrobe, it just goes on!!

There is a roof terrace with beds to lounge on, 2 pools, 2 courtyards, palms everywhere, mini lanterns dotted around on the stairs and in every corner, a small water fountain in the main courtyard and white roses everywhere. Not to mention the orange trees dangling over one of the pools and free oranges everywhere. Don’t need to leave the hotel!

We had breakfast up on the roof terrace, endless different types of bread – roti, khobez, small pitta type bread, chocolate cake, croissants, fruit (and yoghurt and cheese if you wanted) all brought to you. I had some mint tea, it’s a local specialty and comes in an ornate silver pot, they pour from a great height into a small coloured glass. It’s nice, but it’s very strong.

Then we headed out into the maze. We’ve hired a guide for a few hours to take us around this morning. We wandered around the red-coloured streets, past hammams (baths – designated times for men and women), small shops overflowing with breads and past the bakers. People can bring their own dough to be baked here if they don’t have their own ovens.

Small doorways lead off the alley ways. Many of these doorways lead into large riad style houses. The doors are always made of 2 doors, a larger one and a smaller one which opens as part of the larger one. There are 2 different knockers too. Apparently family are supposed to use the small door and knocker – and the women know they don’t need to cover up. And guests use the larger one, so the women can be prepared and cover up.

Cars can’t enter some of the narrower streets of the medina. Instead motorbikes zoom through, whizzing around the corners at great speed. Donkeys are also used to carry loads.

We went inside a couple of old funduqs – these were all a bit tatty and seemed to be mostly now used for storage. They used to be full of people and animals – desert traders and merchants moving through the city. The ground floor reserved for animals and the upper floors with rooms for the people to sleep.

The souks – markets – are in the centre of the medina. An even tighter maze of streets. They are divided into different sections. We entered by the leather section, here some men were selling piles of leathers, some were cutting, others were fashioning shoes.

This isn’t just a market area – the artisans also work here. A metal carving area – making lanterns, animals and other metal creations. A shoe section – known as baboush, leather shoes. Bowls. Wooden spoons. Carpets. Lanterns. Mirrors. Dried fruits. Clothes. Each type of good had an area.

We wandered, with our guide leading the way, mostly hassle free – which was really surprising. I bought some small ceramic serving bowls for £3. And made a mental list of all the other bits and pieces that I wanted to buy!!

We ended up on a small square, which is part of the souk. Piles of olives of all colours (they grow a lot here) and stacks and stacks of mint leaves. Women sat around in the middle of the square making henna paste from leaves and other women trying to draw on everyone who walked past. We went into a spice shop and the people tried to sell us every type of spice and ointment that they had. Ras el hanout, paprika, cinnamon, nigella seeds, argan oil, saffron and many more. I bought some ras el hanout , just because it’s local (I bought loads of other bits last week in India!).

The Djemaa el-fna is the main square of the city and a UNESCO world heritage site. Around AD1050 this was the site of public executions. Today it is a circus of snake charmers, henna tattooists and small food stalls. The orange juice sellers shout at you from their stands and local people dressed in tribe outfits try and follow you. But not too much hassle.

We went to the Ali Ben youssef medersa – an old school and mosque. A large, ornate courtyard, full of colourful mosaics and carved marble. In the centre of the courtyard was a small pool of water, which reflected all the patterns of the walls. It was really pretty.

All around the courtyard and upstairs were small rooms which the 900 boys would have stayed in. Today, it’s no longer used as a school, just for tourists to look at!

After a few hours of wandering around, the guide left us and we navigated our way back to the hotel (without getting lost!!). We were still rather full from breakfast, so when we got back, just had a few oranges for lunch. And then swimming pool time!! It was freezing!! But a nice refresh from the 40 degree heat!

After a few hours of lazing around in the pool and on the outside beds, we headed back out again. It was a lot quieter. Many of the shops seemed to have already closed – it was only 4.30pm!

We went back around to the souks – this time for some shopping! I bought some bowls, some plates, lanterns and a few hamsa hand ornaments to hang up. We got a little bit more hassle this time, being without a guide, but really hardly anything and it was easy to ignore. I’ve had far, far worse!! They all like to start at ridiculously high prices – 600 dirhams for some lanterns (£41) which I ended up getting for £13. Everything else was the same – so after a few hours I was over bartering for the day.

We ended up back on the main square. As it was now gone 6pm, all the food stalls were setting up. Piles of mint and meat were moving around, along with many benches and people. Some stalls were already up and running, serving food. These stalls are mostly frequented by locals – all the seats were already full! Griddles of meat on sticks steaming away.

We made our way back to the hotel and got back just after 7pm. Whilst the streets are a maze, they do make sense – I recognise them and we haven’t got lost yet!

For dinner, we are eating in the riad – they serve a set menu. We couldn’t eat on the roof as it was a bit windy, instead we sat by the downstairs pool. The starter was enough for a whole dinner – it was delicious. A plate of lots of different salads – beetroot, tomato, tomato and aubergine, courgette, lentils, carrot, green beans. So many vegetables. Each one was really tasty! Then an unexpected soup course – it was a green vegetable soup with lentils, I think it was made mostly from broad beans. Then a tagine – I had vegetables – peas, courgette, carrot, aubergine and potato served in a tagine pot. There was grilled vegetables (aubergine, courgette and red pepper) and bread too – just too much food. It hardly looked like we had eaten anything!! And I was about to explode! And then dessert – an apple tart. It was tasty! All of dinner was really tasty – I like the food here! But there was just far too much of it!

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