Marrakech City of Morocco
As-salamu alaykum, we were greeted by most locals. Then coming from more locals was also ‘Bonjour, C’est bon’? Oh, the dichotomy…
BA Flight was for 9:45am. Woke at 4.30am. Was grouchy as hell but was excited. Met Carol at Victoria Station. Got the Gatwick Express. After changing currency to Moroccan Dirhams, we head to Boots to pick up mini travel essentials. I have an ‘Airport Angel’ card. Seeing as we had some time in our hands to play with, we head to the Aspire Executive Lounge for breakfast and then board (on schedule)!
We arrived Marrakech just under 13:00hrs. Its 21 degrees. Seems like...
Border security was tight. It was crazy. We had to complete the Cadre reserve a' l' Administration card and hand to authorities before entry. 3 officials scrutinised our passports thrice. But we got through. It felt like Africa. I was in North Africa. I have only been to the West.
We hop into the Taxi arranged by the Riad, for €30! Because of recent and historical news of chaos in Morocco, we felt it was safer and more sensible to get a licensed Taxi that was accountable or at least could be linked to the hotel, no, sorry the Riad. We travelled with a tad of uncertainty and it felt quite unsettling as friends kept telling us “you need to be careful out there”. The horrid incident in Paris had just happened and reports were coming that the master planner had roots of heritage from Morocco. It wasn't the best time to be going away to Morocco. Anyway moving on, we ride to the Medina where the Riad is located. Riads are traditional Moroccan style houses built around a courtyard, and converted to a hotel. There are usually the equivalents of modern European boutique hotels as they tend not to be as large as hotels, with very few rooms and have different interior design themes to each room.
Things I observed instantly riding in the taxi; Bikes are a means of transportation with even women riding them. Caleches are too. Men in construction sites standing on significant levels of heights, building and constructing but not wearing helmets or any personal and protective equipment. I gasped!
Marrakech is a city where there is almost a clear cut combination of European, Arabic and French cultural influences with several locals speaking French and Arabic. We literally crossed the Mediterranean in 3hrs to get there from the UK.
So we arrive a busy station road, well it seemed like. The bustling and craziness of Marrakech that I have always watched in movies or read about is faced me in reality. We followed the driver's lead and walked through lots of alleyways. It seemed again a bit weird walking via these narrow alleyways and my anxieties returned.
But then again, typical Gemini, my sense of adventure became alive. We finally arrived the Riad Khol.
LaLie, a lovely lady who was manager of the Riad with roots from Madagascar showed us round the hotel after offering and welcoming us with Mint tea in a traditional Moroccan tea pot and shot cups. That was divine. This was a chic Riad, by all traditional standards.
Our room was a ‘Riad Rouge’ with soft furnishings of a rich Moroccan red, stone walls, rustic furniture, white roses, pavement floors with more Moroccan tapestries and cushions. I could confidently say from my tiny experience of interior décor, most furnishings were handmade by the artisans of Morocco. It was all combined with the elegance of Moroccan design with the originality of every piece being handmade and vintage with a flavour of French antiques. It was my ideal sort of interior decor. Loved it. Was wowed! This Riad is owned by a French family.
So we catch our breath and head to the Souk Kafe and then into the famous Le’ Jardin restaurant for late lunch. They served traditional Moroccan dishes and had a boutique on the roof top. There were beautiful birds and garden flowers around the courtyard. I had a lovely, freshly made courgette soup with a poached egg and some Moroccan style cooked fish for mains. We head back to the Riad, sit by the pool and drink more mint teas with our magazines, listening to Berber Folk music, something I call, Moroccan Jazz.
Was our main day of exploring this exotic city. We get breakfast on the roof top of the Riad with rays of sun hitting our faces and skin, sipping on mint tea, eating fresh pomegranates, yoghurt and a hot breakfast of pastries and pancakes.
We then head to the Jardin Majorelle Gardens dressed in desert chic boho outfits. We looked colourful and stunning! The garden was colourful with fresh flowers and was a rich amazing site to cover in detail. The Garden belonged to the famous French designer, Yves Saint Laurent. He died on my birthday 1st June 2008 and his ashes were scattered there in his memorial. The Garden was designed by a French artiste Jacques Majorelle who the garden was named after.
We toured the museum and gallery and had brunch at the gardens cafe. We then head to the popular Jemma el fna market still in the old medina about 19 mins walk from the Riad. All I can say is wow!!! This market square is epic! Make sure you check it out. We saw snake charmers, teeth pullers, traders selling everything you could possibly imagine under this planet.
Every type of Moroccan fruit, food, spices etc. Other souks surrounded the JEF like the Souk Foundouk which we walked through to get back to the Riad. We also saw the Kasbah Wall which separates the old and new medina also known as ba dughal. We saw the famous Koutoubia mosque, the oldest mosque in North Africa dating to the 12th Century and is just about 200 metres away from the JEF. It’s a beautiful building made of bricks and sandstone, I always felt that if you hit it with your knuckles it could fall apart. We were not allowed in, seeing as we were not Muslims but like other non-Muslim tourists we took pictures outside the mosque.
One thing I observed there was that 70% of tourists were French from France and other Francophone countries in Africa. Then of course the other 20% was more Brits, Aussies etc.
We had breakfast at the courtyard, served home-made Moroccan crepes, home-made croissants, cakes, more fresh yoghurt, freshly squeezed orange juice, fruit and friend eggs, all Moroccan style. I think after American breakfast, Moroccan comes next for me, truly.
Abdul, a taxi driver whom we met after the Majorelle tour from the day before had promised to return to pick us up from the Riad to drive us to the Atlas. We had made a friend in him. He was a lovely gentleman, born and bred in Marrakesh.
We head at 10:00 for our road trip to the Atlas Mountains.
We stopped at Avenue Mohammed VI, the longest avenue in Africa about 14km long with trendy clubs, cafes, restaurants and stores. We stop at a bank to get some cash from the ATM. We passed through the popular Menara mall – I hear it is new and opened in the Ramadan. There was the famous Pacca club where all the celebrities who visit Marrakesh attend. We passed through the Kenzi Menara Palace, the Big Manderin farm with herdsmen and cattle, Aqua Fun Park/ Club Park, through the agricultural farms etc. It was a scenic road trip.
We then arrive a very green area called Jemma Dhermat- the proper old Marrakesh built in the 12th century. We parked and got down, met the Berber who had a store of everything he had made with his hands. Carol and I took some pictures on the roof top of the Berber’s shop and then had a short tour at the local handmade Berber's store. We pass through a town called Akrab meaning Scorpion. Home to mineral water, I heard! We also went via Oukaimeden, Marrakech’s home of skiing. It’s interesting how the weather split in this city separates a land of desert like the Palms and Oukaimeden, one of snow. I was astonished.
We stopped at the Berber’s town just before we arrive the mountains and we were told that Berbers are tight and very conservative so do not like to share information about their culture. They are like secretive and extreme preservers of their culture. Berbers’ locals eat goats predominantly for meat as a form of anti- cholesterol. Apparently the goats they eat, do eat herbs such as lavender, wheat etc so I thought these goats must be posh goats.
The Berbers have great skin I must say though. Anyway, this particular Berber woman opens her home to tourists for people like me to experience what it feels like to be them. What their culture is and how they live their lives. I was astonished. I won’t go into so much detail on that one, but one to do if you travel there. We climbed the Atlas Mountains and passed via three waterfalls which equates to about maybe 3,500ft. The mountains are over 13,000 ft for God’s sake. Please cut me some slack. The altitude began to affect my life, my breathing became laboured. I panted, and then prayed to God not to pass out. I survived. I am a wimp!
On our way back to Marrakech, Abdul stops on the side of the road and buys from a local Berber this Berbern fruit which has no English name but it’s called either- ‘sesno’ or ‘cest nous’. Its red, rich, has an amazing flavour, looks and has texture like strawberries. Please if you know what it's called, in English, can you tell me? We arrive the Riad, have dinner and then mint teas and relax for bed.
After breakfast, we drove through the King's Palace which is forbidden for tourists and members of the public! However, Abdul being a local and quite friendly with the fleet of army lumbered all over the Palace had special access through the gates. He did that for us to get a glimpse of the palace. I guess we were lucky tourists. This is why I love to hang with the locals when I travel. I would rather pay them and get the raw deal than pay these tourists companies with their extortionate costs and boring tours. It seemed quite intimidating with all that army, all armed standing everywhere.
Pictures are forbidden btw! We then head to Bahia Palace, built by craftsmen from Fez in the early 19th C for the personal use of the Si Moussa; this courtyard garden represents the Arabic and Moroccan culture of Morocco. ‘Bahia’- meaning ‘wonderful’ was the name the King (at the time, Si Moussa, grand vizier of the sultan) bestowed on his 4th wife after she bore him a son. The other wives had several daughters! The birth of his son was everything to him.
We left an hour later. On our way into town, we watched a small crowd carrying a corpse wrapped in white on a plank of wood, chanting in arabic! It caused a small traffic. Life eh? We then drove through ‘Mellah’- Marrakech Jewish community like Golders Green and Stamford Hill of London. We arrived the Palm trees also known as El- Nakhil measuring about 13,000 acres- historically owned by the wealthy locals before the French owned it. There were camels riding tourists etc. It’s such a beautiful place and we ended up taking pictures and a little walk around. We drove past the Palace of the Mother of the King. She lived close to the Palms. The Public are forbidden to go close to mum's Palace. We drove along the Palace of the brother of the King also. It was barely a construction site being developed.
We had such a beautiful, scenic drive around modern Marrakech. I had Nikki beach on my list of places to go but we were told it wasn’t going to be open at that time of the year. It was. We drove past Nikki Beach, the golf course next door with all the posh expensive hotels and restaurants. East of the end of that road led to Casablanca.
Modern Marrakech is beautiful and green and fresh. It was a little respite from the gritty, dusty, bustle of old medina/Marrakech. It was good to breathe again. My lungs needed the release.
The New Marrakech has the ‘Marjane’ shopping mall, I saw a Carrefour, Marrakech Railway station and then we stopped for brunch at 16 Café at Marrakech Plaza. After a lovely romance with the new medina, we head back to our Riad, rest for an hour and head to our traditional Moroccan Hamman and massage booked for 2hrs at the Oriental Spa (another chic Riad) 3 mins away from our Riad. We got beat. That's all I have to say!
There were cats all over this exotic city.
On our way to the airport, we went via the famous Menara garden, home to the olive gardens. We saw the King’s private airport where other Heads of State and world dignitaries will tend to land and take off from.
We arrive at the airport and east to the entrance is T2 being constructed. I hoped by the time I visit again, we may be landing there. Everywhere you go in Marrakech; there were white roses, we had them each morning in our room, at the reception of the Riad, at the spa, in stores and now I saw a garden of them at the airport.
I asked Abdul, “Abdul, what do these white roses signify, I see them everywhere”. He smiled and said, "June, white roses is a symbol of peace" Marrakech is a city of peace.
We depart Morocco in one piece and leave with peace. I loved it...
Written Jan 2016