Marrakech Trip Report March 2010

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Apr 20th, 2010, 04:50 AM
  #1
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Marrakech Trip Report March 2010

This is my first attempt at a trip report so here goes.....

My husband and I spent 5 days & 4 nights in Marrakech at the end of March. We took the first Easy Jet flight on a Monday morning from a chilly Gatwick to Marrakech, arriving a few minutes early. We had been warned that immigration can be appalling so not to hang around getting off the plane. In the event it was a doddle and we were through the airport and out waiting to be collected within twenty minutes. We were duly met and driven into town.

Moments after passing through one of the gates into the Media (the Old City) we were assaulted with the smells and sights and sounds of the souks that that were to become so familiar to us over the following days - spices, orange blossom and bbq'd meat fought with fumes from many scooters, the crowds, many in long djellebahs, pushing their way through narrow streets sidestepping scooters carrying improbable loads and shop keepers trying to sell their wares calling over the constant tooting of horns and ringing of bike bells. We left the taxi, following our houseman, and plunged headfirst into this hot, crazy melange, heading for our riad on foot.

A couple of minutes later we were directed off the souk into a quiet, almost windowless alley, then another and then another, further and further away from the hustle and bustle. We finally stepped into the peace of our riad about seven hours after leaving home - the first thing you saw from the front door was the plunge pool with intricate tiling behind, looking up through the house you saw the balcony on the next floor with the rooms behind and upwards to the roof terrace. We had decided to have lunch in the riad and were treated to moist, tasty chicken brochettes, a mixed salad, olives and fresh bread. A delightful start before venturing out on our own to explore.

Our first objective was to get to Jemaa El Fna, the square which is the heart of the city, to try to get some bearings, which we managed after getting lost once. It is hard to describe this square with its teeming mass of humanity, the spice stalls, the orange juice vendors, the snake charmers, the musicians, the horse and carriages, the monkey trainers, the stream of vehicles passing through, the call to prayers from the mosques. It was everything I expected. I loved it.

Now we headed off down a narrow souk past stalls selling djellebahs, spices, babouches (slippers), jewelry, mirrors, musical instruments, bowls, tagines, teapots, glasses, baskets, rugs, dried fruit, lanterns, belly dance outfits, olives, Moroccan hats, pashminas, kebeb skewers - the list is endless. Although the stall keepers did try to encourage you into their stalls the hassle factor was way less than I had been expecting and we quickly developed the trick of not making eye contact whilst wandering past. We lost our bearings very quickly so stopped for mint tea instead of worrying about where we were. We would get back eventually.

As dusk fell we shared an early supper at Argana in the square - a chicken tagine and pigeon pastilla. The pastilla was layers of a flaky pastry with a spiced pigeon filling dusted with icing sugar which was tasty in a slightly unusual way. By this time the square was filled with mobile restaurants, the air was thick with the smoke from bbqs and rich with the enticing smells of many different foods cooking. The noise and atmosphere was now far more intense than during the afternoon with more of everything going on all wrapped in a haze of darkness, lights and smoke.

After a leisurely start to Tuesday, with a long breakfast of eggs, orange juice, coffee, fresh bread and croissants on the roof terrace, under a cloudless blue sky, we headed back off into the souks. With no particular objective we eventually found ourselves heading towards the city walls so decided to continue on and walk to the Majorelle Gardens in the New City. Firstly, somewhat footsore, we had lunch in their charming cafe - beef tagine and a chicken salad with mango - and then wandered around the tranquil, shaded gardens interspersed with pools, fountains and rills. It is a little oasis in the heart of Marrakech with palm trees, cacti, bamboos and other exotic plants offset against the vivid Majorelle blue, orange and yellow paint on pots, walls, pillars and doors.

Then back to the Old City, by taxi this time, to visit the Saadian tombs, an enclosed, once hidden and almost forgotten enclosed garden with many very old and worn unnamed mosaic tombs on the ground and three spectacular halls with important tombs in each. All the mosaic work is clearly very old; it is easy to see that the individual pieces have been cut and assembled by hand.

We stopped at the Artisanal Centre where everything that you can buy in the souks is sold at fixed prices with no haggling. We quickly found it soulless after the vibrancy of the souks so we only had a brief look round before heading outside again and drifting slowly back to our riad for some down time before a candle lit dinner on the roof terrace. Our cook produced a superb lamb and apricot tagine served with rice, fresh bread and a selection of beautiful salads.

We had booked a car to take us on the long journey through the Atlas Mountains to Ait Benhaddou and on to Ouarzazte on Wednesday so were up early and on our way by 7am. It was cloudy and grey as we left Marrakech so the idea of driving over a mountain pass in the mist wasn't appealing but after an hour and a half the mist started to clear and we came out of it into the sunshine. The mountain drive was really interesting with the red rock on the Marrakech side gradually becoming a lighter, more grey-yellow colour as we crossed the pass to the other side, towards the Sahara. The vegetation that was plentiful on the Marrakech side thinned as we climbed and was insignificant to almost non existent as we descended.

Ait Benhaddou is a 400 year old fortified mud village, with world heritage status, sited on the old caravan route from Marrakech to the Sahara. On one side of the river is the modern Berber village where the majority of the population live and, crossing the river by donkey or on foot, is the old one. We waded over and had a guide show us round this fascinating site. At the top of the site is the old granary with far reaching views across a rocky, barren expanse where you can imagine how the sands of the Sahara would begin just over the horizon. Then onwards to Ouarzazte, sometimes dubbed the Gateway to the Sahara, for a much needed lunch of mixed brochettes, chicken tagine and cous cous. We took a tour round the Casbah of Taourirt, which had also been on the caravan route and had a short stroll around before deciding that enough was enough and that Marrakech called.

Dinner that night was in Marrakchi, in the square, where we also enjoyed some belly dancing. We shared a selection of briwat (stuffed filo pastry cigars), pigeon pastilla and cous cous royale which was cous cous piled high with vegetables, chicken, lamb and merguez.

On Thursday we again enjoyed breakfast on the roof in the sunshine before heading out to the Bahia Palace, not far from our riad. There are courtyards, arcades and elaborate receptions rooms all with the beautiful mosaic tiling and painted woodwork so characteristic of old Marrakech. Then on into the Mellah, the Jewish quarter, for a wander round the souk and an unexpected visit to the synagogue before going on to the Jewish Cemetery where there are many thousands of plain unmarked graves. It was a quiet, still place basking in the hot sun and moving for the sheer size of it.

At lunchtime we headed to La Mamounia for their poolside buffet. I can't tell you what we had because we tried so many different things but it was excellent. We then took the opportunity for a leisurely wander round their formal gardens before heading back into the hectic Medina.

Later we dined on fish tagine, salads, cous cous and fresh bread at our riad. Another triumph for our cook who really should write a cookery book for guests to buy.

Friday morning found us half asleep at 5.45am outside the Bahia Palace hoping that we would be picked up for our hot air balloon flight. The pilot arrived just a few minutes late and we started an absolutely brilliant morning with four other people. He drove us out of Marrakech to the launch site, on Berber land, where he and his team inflated the balloon whist we enjoyed most welcome coffee and croissants, and took photos. Then we were away for a flight across Berber villages, dried up rivers and olive groves, always with the stunning Atlas mountains in the distance with the sun rising and, memorably, singing Happy Birthday to two people who were both celebrating their birthday that day . Too soon, it seemed, the flight was over but the morning wasn't. First we were taken to a Berber tent for a huge breakfast of a selection of breads, olives, hard boiled eggs dipped in cumin and salt (yum!!), orange juice, mint tea and coffee, then we were given a tour round the Berber home and farm - this would normally seem very uncomfortable but the pilot and the residents have a mutually satisfying agreement; for instance, he can use their land to fly from; all the untouched food from breakfast goes to them - and then it was back to the Berber tent to the somewhat surreal sight of the low table now colourfully laid with a birthday party tablecloth, napkins and cups. There was a large birthday cake with candles so we sang Happy Birthday again, ate cake and talked and talked. Finally we returned towards Marrakech for a camel ride at the Palmerie, a palm tree filled oasis, before being dropped back for our final afternoon. What a brilliant morning!

After immersing ourselves in the square and souks for the last time we finally headed back to the riad for a very late lunch of a simple chicken tagine, bread, olives and an intriguing mixed salad which, as well as lettuce, avocado, cucumber and tomatoes etc, also included oranges, strawberries, kiwi, sultanas and almonds. Now there was nothing left to do apart from pack and enjoy some quiet time reading on the roof before heading back to the airport and home.
CarrieAnn40 is offline  
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Apr 20th, 2010, 07:36 AM
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Sounds like a great time - thanks for sharing.
We leave in a couple of weeks (volcano willing); can't wait!

Did you have any stomach problems? I was thinking we'd need to skip the salads and unpeeled fruit. Sounds like you didn't hold back.
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Apr 21st, 2010, 02:43 AM
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pao
 
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sounds good and interesting trip
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Apr 21st, 2010, 02:59 AM
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Thanks, Leslie.

My stomach 'complained' just once. His was fine.

I'm sure you will have a great time too. Just hope the flights are sorted by then.
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Apr 21st, 2010, 05:16 PM
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Thanks CarrieAnn ! we go wheels up in 9 days !!!
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Apr 22nd, 2010, 04:51 AM
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CarrieAnn- End of March weather obviously was a little different than May but do you have any recommendations on what to wear? Did you wear - or see people - in jeans? Wondering if they will be too hot. In restaurants did you dress up at all? Some of the ones in our riads where we'll eat look sorta posh.
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Apr 22nd, 2010, 09:33 AM
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The end of March was too hot for me to wear jeans but, yes, there were people wearing them or similar - especially locals who were sometimes surprisingly wrapped up in coats whilst we were enjoying the sun in summer clothes!!. I wore cotton summer skirts just below my knee, short sleeved t shirts and thong sandals. The same or slightly nicer for dinner. I didn't take trousers but did wear leggings and closed toe sandals just for the balloon trip & camel ride for practical reasons.

My husband generally wore shorts, a polo shirt and leather deck shoes.

http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...-for-women.cfm

Hope the flights are ok for you, too, Marko.
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Apr 22nd, 2010, 03:12 PM
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Its all looking very good at the moment, but mother nature can be a fickle mistress!

Did you buy a rug ?
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Apr 23rd, 2010, 03:06 PM
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Thanks CarrieAnn. That's funny about the locals being bundled up. I'll assume then that May will be too warm for jeans and just pack khakis, etc.

Your balloon ride sounds like it was fun - you're brave!
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