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bewitched, bothered and bewildered, jbr

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norfolk
posts: 7,442
reviews: 30
bewitched, bothered and bewildered, jbr

I should have known it was going too well. As we were about to board the aircraft, the gate crew made an announcement. Due to a wildcat strike at menara airport, Marrakech, we were instead flying to Casablanca. We would then be transferred to Marrakech by bus, a journey of some three hours. Woman makes plans: God laughs.

Cue frantic trying to phone the riad to rearrange pick up. Unsuccessful. Asked the gate crew – I had booked the hotel through b.a. – to be told it would all be sorted out. Ho hum. Arrived in Casa at about the time we should have been in Marrakech. There were supposed to be people on hand to help – what we actually got was a young lady who pointed at the buses. ‘Is ok’ was all we got. It was gone 10pm when we reached menara airport, and ‘is’ was not ‘ok’. No pick-up. Of course, I did not know where the riad was. Google maps, the hotel map and google earth showed three different locations. And my phone didn’t work. We tried to haggle for a taxi. Shoulders were shrugged. It was 400 dirham or walk. And yes, of course the 400 was to the door. No, he wouldn’t just abandon us in the medina....

Taxi driver having disappeared in a puff of smoke we were running, over cobbles, along a crowded street trying not to lose sight of our suitcases. The two lads portering soon abandoned the trolley they had, and set off dragging cases behind them. We were trying to take it all in. Now approaching midnight, the alleys were full of people, shopping, eating, cooking, yelling at donkeys, and staring at us. One of our guides came back to point out my rucsack was hanging open. Goodness knows what had gone from it. Bizarrely – in those few frantic minutes I fell in love...

Having politely given us time to argue over a fair price with the porters, Simon opened the door and let us in to riad karmela. He briefly showed us round, and to my dismay we saw a beautifully laid dinner table in the courtyard. I had planned for us to have dinner the first evening. Simon quickly assured us it would be fine to have dinner the next night instead, and sent home the cook who obviously been waiting for us. He fetched us a beer, we checked out the roof-top for a smoke, swigged on the dutyfree and tottered off to bed.

Next morning, we breakfasted on the roof and remarked on the heat. At 7.30 a.m. Guess I was right to leave the pac-a-mac and the woolly pully at home then. We tentatively set forth, running the gauntlet of ‘not-a-guide’ and ‘big-square this way’. We learned the tanneries were that way, there was a special berber sale today only, leather was sold cheap at the auction at 4 o’clock, and this road was closed while that one was muslims only because of the mosque. Eventually we worked out a circular route so at least we didn’t keep passing the same people....

That first day, we spent getting our bearings, and making a few essential purchases from the little hole-in-the-wall shop. Tonic water [called Schweppes] and washing powder [omo] mostly. We found a cafe on place d’epices, which became our sanctuary for the whole of stay. The usually recommended place in that area is cafe d’epices but it was absolutely packed, so we found Rahba Kedima diagonally opposite, where we were made very welcome throughout our stay. Dinner and a bottle of wine in the riad came to 56 euros.

Saturday was our anniversary. We mooched about the souks in the morning then had our first hamman and gommage in the afternoon. This was arranged in the riad, and was very relaxing. Dinner in the riad again, fixed menu but every item was different from the night before.

Day three we went to look at the new town. We stopped in the emporium artisanal on the way; found it very restful but also very expensive. We had coffee at the hotel solarium and pretended we were in Paris but at a tenth of the price. The lavatories here are very good, newly refurbished and fully stocked. Many of the shops were closed in the new town. They seem to have Sundays off here. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when we got back into the medina. Did not like the shiny pavements and lack of shade in the new town.

That evening, we ventured out at night for the first time, and ate at Naima’s, a home-cooking style fixed menu place near our riad. Dinner and a bottle of coke each was 220 dirham. We were made very welcome and had someone to wave to every day from then on.

Monday we went to see the storks in the Kasbah, and had a good nose around over there. Feeling a bit brave, we ate at stall 14 in the square. Calamari, bread, sauce and aubergines each came to around 90dirham. Excellent food and really good value. We did come to grief on the tea stall, no.70, where two glasses of spiced tea and a small portion of halva cost us 70dirham. Done up like kippers! But hey ho. It happens when you take your eye off the ball.

Tuesday we set out for jardins marjorelle. Sadly we went astray and ended up in the huge market at bab el khemis. But we had a fine old time, looking at all the stalls, stopping for ‘nes-nes’ [instant coffee] and poking our noses into all the blacksmiths shops along the way. Decided the gardens would wait and went to the museum of photography instead. This was a wonderful place! Loved the photos, but best of all was the documentary running on the tv upstairs. All in French, it showed an expedition with a group of berbers through the mountains.

Wednesday we found majorelle. We also found a supermarket near the gardens, where 50ml of cosmetic argan oil cost me 50 dirham. In the fixed price artisanal shops, the same brand was 102 dirham. We loved the gardens and easily spent two hours there. We did not go in the museum. Coming out, we were offered a taxi back for 20 dirham. We told them we were going for lunch first. Lunch was a very good camembert sandwich and excellent coffee at a restaurant just outside the gardens. Much cheaper than inside. When we went back to the taxi rank, mysteriously the price had risen to 60 dirham. I taught them some anglo saxon and stropped off. A taxi picked us up a few yards away for 20 dirham.

Thursday we went on a trip to the Ourika Valley. We did the mint-tea in a berber village thing – and the argan-oil co-op thing, then had the most expensive set lunch of the trip. The food was ok, but really 120 dirham for the set menu was way too much. The climb up to the falls was dreadful. I was terrified. At the top [we thought] we were shown a vertical route, using a ladder, which was the next stage. We were told if we didn’t go up, we would have to go down on our own with no guide... up it was then. I have bad knees, a dodgy hip and a mortal dread of heights. We were told the trip was a short walk to a waterfall – it was a long scramble over rocks, and a climb using handholds. Most worrying, I am sure that my travel insurance would not have covered those conditions. Oh, and the waterfalls? Seen better after a short walk in Yorkshire.

Friday we spent the day at L’atellier de Faim D’epices, on their package which included Mythic Oriental spa. This was a great day out and I shall review it.

Saturday was our last full day. Suddenly, we realised we had not seen any of the museums or buildings on ‘the list’. So we rushed round the museum of Marrakech, where, contrary to many of the reviews, I found the exhibits very interesting. We went on to the madrassa, which is an amazing building, but I was very uncomfortable upstairs and had to rush back down to the courtyard to wait for my husband. Too many ghosts in there! We then went round the corner to a riad I had spotted earlier. It is home to a foundation supporting female artisans, and had some very good quality craft work. In the basement was a very interesting exhibition of political paintings by a local artist. They also hold free folk-concerts every evening, but we were running out of time.

Sunday was for last minute shopping and saying our reluctant goodbyes. We have a few regrets, for instance, I wanted to try meschui but the weather was so hot the whole area was too smelly for me. Next time, maybe.

We spent much of our time watching people, asking questions, getting the ‘feel’ of Marrakech. We have come to various conclusions, learnt many lessons, and fallen in love. We will be back, inshallah..

Leeds, United...
Destination Expert
for Langkawi
posts: 6,872
reviews: 74
1. Re: bewitched, bothered and bewildered, jbr

.....but did you manage to buy a bucket???? lol

L

somewhere near...
posts: 223
reviews: 46
2. Re: bewitched, bothered and bewildered, jbr

Great read. Thanks. What an adventurous start to your holiday!! Really whetted my appetite for our next trip at beginning of august. Cannot wait to get back to the crazy sights, sounds and experiences.

Niki.

Castril De La Pena...
Destination Expert
for Morocco
posts: 6,115
reviews: 39
3. Re: bewitched, bothered and bewildered, jbr

Great report.

"We did come to grief on the tea stall, no.70, where two glasses of spiced tea and a small portion of halva cost us 70dirham."

A perennial problem--what to do when you've not checked the price in advance, and now you're being stuffed. And what's more, you know you're being stuffed. I know these stalls but can't remember the proper prices for the spice drink and cake. It would be somewhere near 15-20dh (the prices are listed in Arabic on the stall), so if I was asked for 70dh I would offer 5dh.

Play hardball with scammers. The more visitors roll over and pay exorbitant amounts, the more they will try it on.

"this road was closed while that one was muslims only because of the mosque"

Makes you laugh though, just how much they try it on... Many years ago I was meeting my sister-in-law's husband who is Moroccan, and someone told me he wouldn't be coming that day, "didn't you hear, his sister died last night" and immediately volunteered to be the replacement guide for the day.

norfolk
posts: 7,442
reviews: 30
4. Re: bewitched, bothered and bewildered, jbr

bucket not required, madame president. the plug fitted!

tim, i love your tales! remind me to tell the 'wrong taxi' story sometime....

i shall burst some of the other great myths as time goes by, but, i have just found out why they get so much 'muck' off you in the hamman. the dye runs in the black glove...

pam

Thornton Cleveleys...
posts: 599
reviews: 23
5. Re: bewitched, bothered and bewildered, jbr

Love your report Pam! Although reading it was obviously accompanied by a mini internal tantrum of "WHY can I not be there NOW" (I bet Niki knows what I mean!)

We obviously think on the same wavelength - along the lines of "If nothing goes wrong, w'll have no funny holiday stories to tell". It's the best way to be and I'm so pleased you fell in love with Marrakech after all your planning before travelling. I hate it when people come back and say they were disappointed.

Cardiff, United...
posts: 927
reviews: 30
6. Re: bewitched, bothered and bewildered, jbr

Great report Pam, brings back so many of my own memories.

Wish I could go back tomorrow..........

marrakech
Destination Expert
for Morocco
posts: 7,693
reviews: 63
7. Re: bewitched, bothered and bewildered, jbr

Pam,

Thanks for posting this.

"running the gauntlet of ‘not-a-guide’ and ‘big-square this way’. We learned the tanneries were that way, there was a special berber sale today only, leather was sold cheap at the auction at 4 o’clock, and this road was closed while that one was muslims only because of the mosque".

Is classic. This happens all the time. Blimey if I stray off my beaten track it happens to me and makes me laugh out loud every time (someone I vaguely recognised once asked me where I was going and when I said Acima supermarket he said it was closed but there was another one this way!).

Hong Kong
posts: 2
reviews: 27
8. Re: bewitched, bothered and bewildered, jbr

Wow sounds like an amazing trip. Did you get your romantic dinner as previously planned for your first night? Expect you have many photos, look forward to seeing some of them. What was your favourite Morroccan dish on this trip?

Stockholm, Sweden
posts: 3,858
reviews: 66
9. Re: bewitched, bothered and bewildered, jbr

Nice report. I like the people who find it was funny even if they got some small problems etc. Just such small problems make the travel interesting and funny. Not if all is going as on the butter.

norfolk
posts: 7,442
reviews: 30
10. Re: bewitched, bothered and bewildered, jbr

the favourite food question is so hard to answer! since dawn asked about 'moroccan', it is a tie between simple chopped tomatoes with fresh mint, topped with a 'crust' of brown sugar and crushed fennel seeds, kefte tagine, and the sole and calamari from stall 14.

the tagine and the tomatoes impressed me so much i tried to recreate them last night. the meatballs were the wrong consistency, but tasted right. i didn't have fennel, so used caraway which worked very well indeed! on the whole, the moroccan food i had was very simple and is quite easy to do yourself. it is also 'traveller friendly': not much to scare the horses here.

i loved the little sweeties sold from carts - two carts were doing the rounds of the square. the first time, we bought from the one whose goods were covered [being of a nervous disposition, lol] but tried the other one the next night and his were better.

but the best food is always, in my experience, when you get just what you fancy when you want it. so my 'best' was the camembert sandwich near the majorelle gardens. heaven on a plate at that moment. and i loved the harira soup at rahbe kedima in place d'epices. and the dates provided in our room on arrival.

pam