Sunday, December 7, 2014

Marrakech, Morocco, Day 3

On our final full day in Marrakech we started with the Majorelle Gardens and the Berber Museum (housed inside the gardens). Inside the gardens it is quiet, peaceful, colorful, and exotic.  The garden is 12 acres and was designed by a French artist, Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s and 1930s. The designer, Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Berge bought the gardens in the 1980s. We walked around for quite a bit admiring the variety of cacti and other plants. We enjoyed lunch at their outdoor cafe, and we visited the Berber Museum. The Berbers are natives of Morocco who have a rich culture and history. The exhibit was extensive and displayed many beautiful pieces of clothing and jewelry from the culture.

When we were finished relaxing in the gardens, we took a taxi back into the center of the town to the Jemaa-el-Fna square. We weren't there for more than a few minutes before we decided to go back into the souks. The square is mentioned in the tourists books as a lively place with food vendors and snake charmers but we just felt downright uncomfortable. The snake charmers and monkey handlers just seemed creepy and it made me a bit sad. Even more sad was the young children desperately trying to sell stuff to tourists. Even during the day I would recommend steering clear, or just quickly walking through. Hold on to your stuff.

Once back into the souks, we explored a bit more, until we found a cafe to sit and relax for a minute. Once we left the cafe we must have gotten turned around and confused because we got lost for quite some time. Finally a young boy of about 10 years old guided us back to the square, where we walked from there back down towards the spice markets. We did some last minute shopping before we went back to the Riad absolutely exhausted.

A couple of useful pointers and hints about Marrakech:

-Haggle! The vendors expect you to. Everything is already quite reasonably priced, but definitely haggle. It will not insult them, and they will settle on a price that is reasonable to both parties. Bring a price converter cheat sheet with you to check. This also goes for cab fares. Again it is also incredibly cheap, but there shouldn't be much reason to spend more than $5. The journeys are short.

-Almost everything you buy is handmade. Respect that. Buy as much as you can that you may possibly want because it will be nearly impossible to find the handmade goods from Morocco outside of Morocco, especially at such reasonable prices.

-Keeping that in mind, pack light, and leave lots of room to bring stuff home. Rugs will be rolled up into nice packages. Many of the nicer shops will even ship items. Had we known our luggage was so under weight, we probably would have bought more. What were we thinking!! Haha.

-Dress modestly or at your own risk. I read many conflicting pointers about this. I saw many tourists in tank tops and shorts. This is not respectful to their culture, and it makes you stand out even more as a tourist. I went with a maxi dress and a t shirt over it, and sandals.

-Most of the terrain is uneven-old cobblestone. Be careful.

-Like any other city, be mindful of your personal belongings.

-Drink lots of water. Especially when visiting in the summer, you will want to do lots of touring, but staying hydrated is key. Drink bottled water only. The locals do too.

-The people are friendly. Don't let your guard down, but it doesn't hurt to be friendly back to people who are being friendly and welcoming to you.

-Have fun, take lots of pictures, and enjoy.

Marrakech, Morocco, Day 2

The second day was both magical and exhausting at the same time. We started off the day with a lovely breakfast at the Riad, then went off on our guided tour of the souks, or market stalls. The guide came right to the Riad, and walked us down the street a bit until we hopped into a cab. It is amazing that cabs even fit down these bustling streets. The souks are central in the old city, but it would have been a long walk in the heat. 

The first section that the guide took us to was the iron work section. Here we walked past people creating items in their shops, and also some shops that sold the goods. The guide took us to a nice, big shop where we purchased a few items. Since they were quite cumbersome, they allowed us to leave the items there to pick up later in the day. The best part about having the guide with us is that he knew all of the people at the best shops, and where important things were like the bathroom and ATM. Otherwise it is just a crazy, huge maze that you would easily got lost and confused in (which we managed to do later on our own). 

It is also neat that the souks are generally organized by category, so in one section you will find mostly shoes, another section would be glassware, another might be rugs, and yet another would be jewelry. Some more sections include silver, basketry, wool, leather, and clothing. You can see almost all of these things being made in and around the souks. That is not to say that in some areas you will find other things mixed in. There is also a section closer to Jemaa-el-Fna square where the shops seem more mixed likely because this is where many tourists come through on their own. 

It's hard to describe the beauty and the feel of the souks so I will let some of my pictures speak for me. 

After we had toured quite a bit of the souks, and our feet and wallets couldn't handle much more, the guide took us to a swanky restaurant to eat lunch, and then we visited the "Maison de la Photographie". For all of my photography friends, I would recommend this. The images were beautiful, and there was of course a rooftop cafe and view to check out.

That was quite a day, so back we went to the Riad. Perhaps in the winter months we could have dealt with more, but the heat was overbearing. The Riad helped us book a taxi and made dinner reservations for us in the new part of the city. The restaurant was fine, and had peacocks wandering around.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Marrakech, Morocco, Day 1

I haven't quite kept up to date with my travels here. I have been quite a few places before heading off to name a few...Paris, Rome, Salzburg, Venice...perhaps one day I will catch up to those. I felt that Marrakech deserved a few minutes of my time to share my experience.

My Mom and I decided on Marrakech for our 'exotic vacation our husbands wouldn't want to go on'  because of the shopping it promised, and it sure did deliver. We used Ryanair, which is a discount airline, to fly from Frankfurt Hahn to Marrakech Menara Airport, which took about 3 hours. We highly recommend paying the extra for a checked bag, and an even heavier checked bag on the way back (I'll get to the reason later). The most important thing about booking a trip to Marrakech, is booking the right riad. We did not go to Marrakech to sit in a gated resort somewhere and sit by a pool. We wanted to immerse ourselves in the culture and see the city. A riad is a bed and breakfast type of accommodation. We stayed at Riad El Mansour, and it was amazing. They arranged our airport pick up and drop off, and we didn't have to worry about money right off the bat. Every expense we made through the hotel was saved until the end, including a personal guided tour through the souks, or market stalls, and taxis to and from the dinner reservations they helped us make. They were more than happy to help us with anything from getting medication for us to giving us directions and recommendations. They had freshly made dishes available almost the entire day, and had spa amenities available too. The entire place was gorgeous, from the bathroom in the room, to the courtyard.

Okay enough about the Riad (but seriously it was the best oasis from the heat and bustle of the city one could ask for), now onto the visit itself. The first day we ventured out on our own to explore the Medina, or old city. The walk was about 15 minutes to our first site, and it was definitely a bit of culture shock; from donkey carts about to run you over, to calls to prayers, to mopeds buzzing everywhere, to watching people be human 'froggers' trying to cross the street. There was a lot to take in, and our first stop was to Palais La Bahia, a must-see historical site. As we were heading to our next site, we came across a small bead shop, and then the spice market. The spice shop was our first Marrakech-style shopping experience. The shop worker was very informed and eager to show us all of the different kinds of spices they offered. It was really neat to see some of the spices in raw form. He also offered us tea, a common custom there. After purchasing a few things (and not enough!), we were off to Palais El Badi, which were historical ruins. It was neat, but not as much to see as the last one, and please be careful walking around on the uneven surface....

We were ready for a much-needed break at that point considering it was probably about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and we were dressed modestly to respect the culture and to avoid any trouble. I would recommend to any women to wear maxi dresses or skirts and a t-shirt. There were tourists and even locals in shorts and tank tops, but I felt it was safest for me, as a young women, to not call attention to myself. I found that the maxi skirt was the coolest option vs. capri pants I had worn the first day.

We got lunch at a cafe called Kosybar, which had some nice lunch options and a roof terrace to sit at. At this point we were both overheated and a little injured, so we hailed a cab back to the riad where we cooled down in our air conditioned room. My best recommendation is not to go in the summer but sometimes it is unavoidable, so plan to retreat back to your riad for a break in the day. Our overheated selves were not up for another outing, so we ordered light fare from the riad and ate in the courtyard.
The stray kittens were oh so cute, and there were dogs too. Poor things.