Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Travel Tuesday : Marrakesh, Morocco

About 20 minutes before we were scheduled to arrive in Marrakesh, the train guard came by and opened the door. Not a lot of hustle and bustle – I brushed my teeth and got my bags back together, and then we pulled into the station. Much less frantic than I expected.

Went through the pretty station (again, no left luggage), and easily grabbed a petit taxi. Then the hard part started. I had wanted to stay at the Jnane Mogador – but had noticed a big hotel called the Riad Mogador near the station. Of course, that’s where the taxi driver took us first. I said no, showed him the map, and then we drove around. And around. He pulled up at a couple of other hotels, asking doormen, other cabbies, etc. I think he hoped we would just say okay, that’s the one. But eventually he found the road and drove along it as far as he could. We got out, shook off a tout, and then headed up the road.

A few minutes of walking and we had found it. Unfortunately, the owner didn’t know if he had any rooms for the night, but invited us upstairs for coffee/tea while he found out. The riad was gorgeous – lots of beautiful carving in the courtyard, and a lovely terrace where we had tea. There was even a cute (if filthy) tiny gray kitten frolicking. But, sadly, no rooms were available.

He did call someone else, whose place we went to look at. It wasn’t nearly as nice, and all looked new trying to look olde. The rooms we were shown were 300 and 400, and the 300 room stank. To top it off, they then told us the 400 room was already booked for the next night. So back to square one. Mohammed made another call and we went to look at a third riad, Riad des Princesses.

A bit farther off the grid, but beautiful and quiet. We bartered down to 500/night including breakfast, which is less than we paid in Tangier. The manager/owner is called Ahmed, and he has a beautiful tiny orange kitten named Khalim.

I showed him the pictures of Bub and Kiki and he softened towards us completely. And he was touched we bothered to ask his name. The riad has a beautiful roof terrace where we relaxed in the evenings and were served breakfast in the mornings.

Oh, and the breakfasts were AMAZING.

Once in the room we had showers, washed our stinky socks that never did dry in Tangier, and then enjoyed a great breakfast in a weird little café with no ornament other than a photo of the Spice Girls on the walls.

spice up your breakfast!

We spent the middle of the first day in the relative cool riad having a siesta till the heat died down. Well, died down a little. We went out to visit the Dar Si Said handicraft museum first. The building itself  was more impressive than the crafts, though the carpets and textiles were stunning. And the best part was how lovely and quiet and cool it was inside.

After dawdling through there, we went to the Bahia Palace which, while it wasn't very crowded, wasn't exactly empty so it was less peaceful than we'd hoped. Beautiful tilework, carved friezes, and woodwork.  I think we enjoyed the Dar Si Said more; perhaps because it was more quiet.

I should point out that this picture of Wil is among my all-time favorites.

Went out in the evening for dinner and timed things perfectly right -- climbed up to the rooftop terrace at Chez Chegrouni just as the couple in the prime location were getting up. Ordered (surprisingly flavorless) veggie couscous and a veggie tagine, but perhaps we should have asked for cumin? Slightly annoying having people come and stand next to us to snap flash photos of the square, but we had gotten the best table in the house.

Then back down to the main square, the Djema el-Fnaa -- very crowded with snake charmers, monkey wranglers, water sellers, dancers, henna painters, drummers, and all the foodstalls you could imaging -- from the amazing fresh-squeezed orange juice stands to the snail sellers. Lots of locals out at night -- pressing through the souks. The square was crowded at every time of day, but really got hopping when the sun went down. A bit of sensory overload, in a good way.

On our second day we stayed in the medina -- the old town -- all day, but saw very different worlds. Souks are a bit overpowering -- so many things, so many people.

While wandering and looking for the perfect Moroccan poof, we ended up in an expensive bar -- Cafe Arabe -- drinking mojitos on a roof terrace and feeling a bit too much like Mick Jagger in the 1970s.

Then back into the souk where our pouf quest continued. Wil had memories of a 2-toned one his granddad had, while I had a more modern one in mind. But we did agree on two things: 1) green should be the main color and 2) no camels. So we wandered around until we saw shops with many choices, but no one had our color. After a lot of looking (and a few disappointed salesmen), we found a good compromise -- a 2-tone, dark green with tooled tan leather one, good sized, and with a nice seller. He wanted 650, I wanted to pay 400. I'm sure we still paid over the odds, but I'm happy with 400 for our pouf -- especially since that's what we had just paid for 4 mojitos with tip at Cafe Arabe...

our pouf! (unstuffed for travel, of course...)

So eventually we wandered back to the riad, attracting extra attention because we now had a shopping bag. Dropped off the pouf, checked the maps, and headed out to dinner at Nawarma. We didn't quite know what to expect, and I wasn't even sure we were headed in the right direction. But then Wil spotted the sign and an "official greeter" led us in.

What a place! Beautiful and dark, and very stylish. Black-clad servers seated us at a table near a burbling fountain, while a DJ spun a very strange set of 70's-style samba covers of hits including "Ladies Night", "We Will Rock You", "Roxanne", and yes, "Y.M.C.A." -- which was amazingly (and coincidentally, I assume...) mashed up with the 10:00 call to prayer. Then a cover of Billy Joel's "I Love You Just The Way You Are",l which reminded both of us of a bit we'd heard where a woman deconstructed some of the lyrics, saving her special scorn for the line "I don't want clever conversation; I don't wanna work that hard." Oh, okay Billy.

But back to Nawarma -- it was a Moroccan/Thai fusion place, so Wil had another go at veggie couscous, while I tried the green curry. And another round of mojitos.

The food came quickly and was beautifully presented. The couscous came with 2 sauces, which made it exponentially better than the version we had the previous night. My green curry was flavorful, spicy, and filling.

The bill? More than our pouf, more than our night's lodging. 605. But still worth it for the ambiance and delicious food. Besides, we decided we deserved a splurge...

We loved our visit to Marrakesh -- despite the heat.

Travel Tuesday is a project where I'll be revisiting old trips and reposting the stories here. For the next several weeks I'll be posting stories from our trip to Morocco and Egypt in 2009. Next week: Fez!

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