Marrakech - the magic of the souk

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Africa » Morocco » Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz » Marrakech
December 24th 2012
Published: January 8th 2013
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Christmas holidays so the world at our feet! No spinning of the globe to choose our destination, we had decided on Morocco a long time ago. It's hard to believe it's 16 years since we were last in the country. There have been many changes since then. Improved transport is a big plus but the influx of tourism and raising of prices is a huge negative!

We had a VERY early start to this holiday. Having finished work at 9.30pm on the Thursday evening, we had to be up at 4.00am! A quick shower and last minute packing saw us in a taxi pretty sharpish and at Pamplona airport to check-in at 5.30, just an hour before take-off. Would you believe it, the desk wasn't even open at that time. They sauntered along at about 5.45 and the cafe didn't finally open until 6! We could have had an extra half an hour in bed!!

We took off on time and were soon finding our way around Madrid's terminal 4. Our onward flight to Morocco left from Terminal 4S, which was a bit of a pain really. We got there easily enough and looked for somewhere for breakfast. Unfortunately all of the food outlets were on strike! We made our way back to Terminal 4 only to find the same industrial action going on there. Luckily McDonalds finds itself outside of the jurisdiction of the local unions so we managed to find a hot breakfast. We don't really recommend flitting between the terminals though, because you have to keep going through passport control and security checks which is a bit of a pain.

At long last we were on our way to Morocco. Immigration at Casablance proved to be a breeze, and buying a train ticket to Marrakech was pretty easy too. We just had to change at the first station - Oasis. Once there we waited patiently for the Marrakech train which was the first train due on our platform. It duly arrived and we jumped on, but nobody else did and it started to pull away. A friendly old chap stepped in to help us and forced the guard to stop the train and let us off. It seems we had jumped on an unannounced train which was NOT going where we wanted to! We did eventually get on the right train and soon regretted saving a couple of Euros by not buying first class. It was hot and crowded and we vowed to upgrade on future train journeys. Our arrival in Marrakech was a bit of a surprise as we didn't realise there was a brand new train station since our last visit - it is very modern and posh!!

Taxis, as always are a bit of a pain but we negotiated a price we were happy to pay and soon were being deposited at the gates of the Medina with no idea where our hotel was. The taxi driver got a young man to help us out and we were led down a dark alley and assured that the almost unmarked door ahead of us was the entrance to our hotel. It was! The B&B Marrakech is a cheap Riad with slightly less than friendly service. Nevertheless, it is a riad hotel at a price we were prepared to pay. It was good enough for the money, although the name B&B is a bit of a misnomer as breakfast is extra!!

The really good thing about the hotel was its location. It is literally 2 minutes walk to the Jemaa al Fnaa, the huge central square for which the city is famous. That's where you go to watch the snake charmers, musicians, soothsayers and storytellers at work. Even though you can't understand a word they are saying, it can be amazing to watch. Make sure you watch from afar though, or they will come chasing after you for a tip! There are also a series of outdoor restaurants on the square which have certainly been tidied up since our last time. Indeed, we think they are probably now more hygienic than some of the more established restaurants. The food is pretty good and not badly priced. In Morocco, you have to learn to love couscous and tajines (stew) or you will starve.

The other thing that people think about whenever they think of Marrakech is the souk, or rather the maze of streets in and around its various souks. They don't seem as crowded and "dangerous" as they once did. Maybe we are now much hardier travellers but I think they have genuinely cleaned up their act. It's now possible to wander through the alleyways and look at the occasional stall without being dragged in, but don't linger too long or they WILL pounce on you.

Our destination in amongst the souks was the Photography Museum. It wasn't easy to find but, possibly more by luck than by judgement, we got there! The museum houses an incredible collection of photgraphs showing the history of Moroccan life over the last century. It is an unmissable sight in our opinion. We also drank mint tea on the rooftop terrace admiring the view over the whole of the city.

With only three nights in Marrakech we were not going to do an awful lot. The journey getting there was certainly exhausting and we needed to rest. Aside from the medina and the souks, we only had one other place on our list to visit. That was the Majorelle Garden , erstwhile home of the late Yves Saint-Laurent. The gardens were a little smaller than we had anticipated but it's worth the visit, if only to see the extraordinary colours of the pots and walls all around. The biggest disappointment was the monument to YSL which we thought looked out of place and tacky. It was just a single stone column. Maybe simplicity was what he wanted but we expected something a little more flambouyant.

So that was it for us. We wandered, ate tajine and couscous, sunbathed on the roof of the riad, and we even found a nice spot for a beer or two. Look for the Grand Hotel du Tazi which is a bit sleazy but they are very welcoming and it's much cheaper than most of the other places which served alcohol.

Additional photos below
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16th January 2013

Enjoyed looking at these pics very much, they are great!!
10th February 2014

Just saw this photo and got sidetracked from whatever it was I was doing - great shot, love the light and timing. Ok, back to work now :-)

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