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davidx Marrakech - A travel report by David
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Marrakech,  Morocco - flag Morocco -  Marrakech
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davidx's travel reports

Marrakech – like nowhere else.

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That’s what everybody said – ‘like nowhere else.’. All I can be sure of is that it’s not a bit like anywhere else I have ever been. I swore I shouldn’t eat a sheep’s eyes or have a snake around my neck and I certainly never ate sheep’s eyes. For the rest

Koutoubia Mosque from Djemma al Fna'a
Koutoubia Mosque from Djemma al Fna'a
I don’t know why Marrakech stopped being capital of Morocco in favour of Rabat. It is undoubtedly a city of some considerable magnificence. I love the almost seamless mix between the near medieval [such as donkey and mule drawn carts, still in fair profusion] and the modern [like Mercedes taxis.] I had to think carefully about my attitude to haggling before I went; part of me felt that anything I could get off would be far more of a blow to the seller than a meaningful gain to me. However I heeded the argument that they wouldn’t come low enough to avoid making an acceptable profit and that in many cases the seller had already rooked the maker. Some of my efforts were very successful – others less so. Expecting a very large market area, I was still amazed by the extent of the main souks and many other roads were not unlike what are sometimes called markets in Peru – very reasonably since they have stalls on both sides. I am told the traffic is not as bad as in Cairo or Hong Kong. Be that as it may, I should never have wanted to join the competition for hardly enough space with the donkeys, mules, handcarts, calleches drawn by two horses, bikes and motorcycles – to say nothing of other cars. I admit I found it a huge relief to escape for a day into the relatively peaceful Ourika Valley. Given the low average wage in Morocco, it was evident that the more luxurious restaurants would not attract other than visitors and wealthy locals but I must say I enjoyed eating at the far lower prices of the stalls in the main square.

Favourite spots:
In Djemma al Fna'a
In Djemma al Fna'a
It’s often hard to pick a favourite but in Marrakech, despite the fabulous tracery and mosaics of some of the buildings, surely the favourite has to me the much acclaimed Djemma al Fna’a [various spellings.] it is claimed to be the biggest square in Africa; who am I to argue? In daylight there are numerous stalls, mainly selling food or drink, and, well spread around the enormous area, a few snake charmers, tooth pullers [NOT my scene!] and rather more fortune tellers, who seemed to be getting plenty of custom [again, not my scene.] See night life below. There’s no danger from traffic here – anybody but an utter oaf must have ample room to avoid you. At least three mosques can be seen from most points of the square, of which the best and most famous is the Koutoubia Mosque, worth seeing far closer although you are not allowed either in the mosque itself or its superb bell-tower.

What's really great:
Tracery in the Bahia Palace.
Tracery in the Bahia Palace.
Good architecture always comes high in my mental checklist and there’s no shortage of buildings worth seeing. I believe there’s one mosque open to non-Muslims, although I didn’t see it. There are some must-sees however. First come the two palaces in the southern Medina and the Saadian tombs.

If you only have time for one, make it the Bahia Palace. The detail of the stone tracery, the mosaics on the floor and the beautifully ornamented cedarwood doors and ceilings are all of a terrific standard. The Badii Palace was once known as ‘the incomparable palace’ but is now a ruin. However it’s well worth seeing and seems to be the only place where the storks go – at least in winter – and there are quite a number of them.

The Saadian tombs contain some exquisite stone and wood carving. Each of these three places only costs 10 dirhams! The Museum of Marrakesh and the nearby Medersa Beri Youssef also contain fine ornamentation at the north of the main souks area.

Typical scene
Typical scene
I guess I simply have to refer to the market stalls somewhere. I read that it’s easy to get lost in the main souk area north of Djemma al Fna’a. Hence I took a compass – and used it! The next line of defence is to ask a child, who will take you where you want and ask for more money than whatever you give him – it’s always HIM. Lastly, if you have to phone your riad, try to avoid telling them that you are near a stall with handbags! Apparently some do this!!

Pharmaceutical goods, herbs, nuts, fruit, ceramics, metal artefacts and ornaments, materials and of course carpets.; all are there and everywhere, interspersed with the odd place for instant refreshment.

One area worth seeing is the old Jewish area of the Meddah, near the palaces. This is the oldest area and the buildings are higher than elsewhere. Though nowhere near as large as it once was, there’s still a significant population of Moroccan Jews, living peacefully along with Arabs and Berbers.

Riad Arahanta
Riad Arahanta
I only had four nights and I spent them all at the same place. This was the Riad Arahanta, a ‘small’ {everything is relative!] riad owned by two Scots who can’t do too much to make their visitors comfortable and contented. The two single rooms share a shower room – but there was nobody in the other one. The two master bedrooms each have en suite facilities. All this occupies three sides of the ground floor around a courtyard and the fourth side is given to a spacious salon and a kitchen, where you are free to use the facilities. I found use of the fridge particularly useful and had a constant supply of cold water.
The owners’ accommodation is on the first floor and the second floor is given entirely to a roof terrace, where visitors to the riad are able to relax. I shall do a travel tip.

Djemma al Fna'a at night
Djemma al Fna'a at night
The Djemma al Fna’a is transformed at night. There are simply masses of people, many, but by no means all, of whom are visitors. There are several long rows of benches around every main eating stall and an astonishing number of people seem to be eating at any one time. Since this was my sole eating experience in the city, I’ll deal with it under restaurants.
There are also stalls selling fruit and nuts to take away and other stalls selling snails [only] to eat in situ. A pile of thousands of the creatures is kept in the centre and they are served in two sizes of bowl with liquid. You pluck the small snails [nothing like the French kind] from their shells with a toothpick and throw the shells into one of the many bins surrounding the stall.
The main entertainment other than eating is now provided by story tellers, musicians and acrobats, although those mentioned above can still be found.

Some colour in the Bahia palace
Some colour in the Bahia palace
I suppose I was too keen to see the main sights to really take a lot of notice of places to hang loose during the day. For a longer stay or one in summer, this would have been very important because the temperatures are something else. In fact the city is very well provided with delicious gardens where people of all nationalities can be found just enjoying the shade. I only visited the exotic Majorelle Gardens in the new city, owned by Yves St Laurent and expensive by Moroccan standards. The display of cacti and succulents surpassed anything I had seen, even in Madeira. I continued my sorrowful history of holiday camera misfortunes by forgetting to take mine here!

Among the souks
Among the souks
Back to those main food stalls in the Djemma al Fna’a. The general pattern did not seem to vary much between the stalls but it’s worth taking advice because some are much hotter than others [temperature – not spice!] There are numerous main dishes like tagine, kebab or couscous, which run from around 25 dirhams [just over 16 to a pound and just over 10 to a euro] to 60. The 25 kebabs and tagines were plenty for me. With them a large roll, olives, tomato sauce and chilli sauce are served on separate plates automatically for no extra charge and chips, poivrons, aubergines or spinach can be bought for about 5 dirhams each.
At some stalls mint tea was provided free after paying for the meal.

Other recommendations:
'Good advice here!'
'Good advice here!'
My advice on traffic.
Car hire; forget it! If it’s too late to tell you that, consider the following in order:
1. Park your car ANYWHERE, pay any necessary fine and [possibly] live.
2. If you MUST drive and you are religious, pray.
3. If not, consider conversion - and then pray.
4. Failing all these, PANIC.

You have a fair chance of life as long as you don’t try to avoid the donkey, mule, bike, cart, motorcycle or car that’s heading straight for you. They don’t really want to hit you but, if you do move, they may swerve the same way to avoid you and then be unable to miss.

My advice on haggling:
Never be drawn into stating a ‘good price’ before your last one [or else give one so absurdly cheap that nobody would consider it]. Otherwise you are giving a floor from which you can be bargained up. If the price does not then fall to what you are prepared to pay, or below, state your price, make it clear that it’s a final offer and stick to that.

Published on Monday November 12th, 2007

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Mon, Nov 23 2009 - 06:54 PM rating by mistybleu

Agreed; you hit the nail on the head. Great report.

Thu, Nov 13 2008 - 04:18 AM rating by gloriajames

This is really useful for me. Am planning a trip next year to spai + portugal + morocco. Excellent report as always! 5*********

Mon, Mar 31 2008 - 04:54 PM rating by eirekay

David, worth five stars for the "Other Recommendations" alone! Wonderful report, written with your usual wisdom!

Thu, Feb 14 2008 - 12:02 PM rating by krisek

David, this is a perfect report! I was in Marrakech once - in 1996. I was on a ride and camp trip with three friends - we drove from... Poland. Thanks for bringing back the memories. I love your advice on traffic.

Thu, Dec 13 2007 - 08:03 AM rating by barcelona

Eres un maestro, nadie escribe reports mejor que tú, mi enhorabuena!

Tue, Nov 20 2007 - 09:58 AM rating by jorgesanchez

creo que este es el mejor report que has escrito. te felicito.

Tue, Nov 20 2007 - 12:15 AM rating by szidonia

David, it was an outstanding spot of the morning, I red it with undrawn attention and you literally took me to everywhere you went, you write excellently. Djemma al Fna’a, tooth pullers, fortune tellers, these two are neither my scenes :) Koutoubia Mosque - and the superb bell tower which are not open to visitors captured my fantasy - I admire architecture, too, especially well proportioned buildings with exigent details and a "little bit" sacral touch. Majorelle Gardens with those cacti and suculents - again a must see, if I would have been there, because dendrology and botanics are the other favorites I visit most of places I went to. How could you forget to took your camera?! :) The closing part of your report made me laugh, you write in a really enjoyable manner, why don't you start publishing your travelling experiences? I would definitely be one of your greatest fans. Thank you for sharing this report with us!

Sat, Nov 17 2007 - 04:23 AM rating by rangutan

One of your best reports David, full of exciting little adventures, exploration and discoveries, very exotic experiences!

Fri, Nov 16 2007 - 10:02 PM rating by mtlorensen

Great report and advice, David! I took a day excursion to Tangier while in Spain 20 years ago and much of what you describe has brought back some fun memories.

Fri, Nov 16 2007 - 11:13 AM rating by frenchfrog

Great report David, thanks for all your tips and advice, it is true! Great details were provided. I have one advice, to get "rid "of a tour guide or haggling, invent an unknow language and turn round an empty pocket of your troussers, it is almost a good bet that will go away! Love the stork by the way!

Thu, Nov 15 2007 - 11:40 AM rating by marianne

It is good to see that you enjoyed Mrrakesha nd that the weather was not too hot. It is indeed different from anywhere else (although Fez looks very much like it, I am sure you would enjoy that city as well.)
You covered about everything in this report and therefore a very good guide to the city.

Wed, Nov 14 2007 - 10:44 PM rating by downundergal

Your report makes for great armchair travelling - I loved it especially the pictures and the traffics tips - you can't help but chuckle.

Tue, Nov 13 2007 - 06:57 AM rating by bineba

David, I'm glad you enjoyed Marrakech. Reading about it again reminds me to upload my slide show. Great report, as always.

Mon, Nov 12 2007 - 11:33 PM rating by zrusseff

Excellent article - I like a place I can get my pharmaceutical goods, herbs, nuts, fruit, ceramics, metal artefacts and ornaments, materials and of course carpets all in one place. Good accommodation tip. I like that.

Mon, Nov 12 2007 - 05:08 PM rating by adampl

David, a great report - as always :) I plan to go to Morocco next spring (nothing arranged so far) and you made me want to go there even more. Marrakesh must be great itself and it's so close to the Atlas Mountains.

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