Shopping In Marrakesh

Our journey back to Marrakesh was a bit of a nightmare as the “luxury” coach wasn’t quite up to scratch, despite looking fine from the outside. My belly was still playing up anyway but it was by far the hottest day of our week long stay and the aircon either didn’t exist or wasn’t working. 3 hours later we were relieved to step off the bus to find the taxi, who as usual couldn’t find the Riad despite telling us initially he knew where it was.

We eventually got to the parking area nearest the alley where our Riad is located but were followed down the now very familiar path by a dodgy local who tried to “guide” us to the front door, despite our objections. When we got there (all of 50 meters) he demanded payment, the cheeky get. We refused out of principle but he was very persistent and there was a bit of a stand off with us and the hotel owner and this wierdo with no teeth, but we stood our ground and eventually he left.

Street 4

After chilling out over a nice fresh jus d’orange we left the Riad again to finish our shopping down the souks. The hardest thing is that you have no idea how much something should cost and the starting price is always ridiculously high. The bartering usually takes a similar format.

Us: So how much is this?
Shopkeeper: Oh well this is the best quality tagine/skewers/lamp than the others. How much would you want to pay?
Us: Dunno, about 50 Dirhams.
Shopkeeper: Oh no, come on give me a realistic offer, this the best quality, I have been to England and I know what this would cost there.
Us: 55 Dirhams?
Shopkeeper: No, no no. I give you 2 for 350 Dirhams.
Us: We don’t want 2, we just want one
Shopkeeper: But for 2 I give you best price
Us: No, just 1 please.
Shopkeeper: Ok Ok Ok, so give me a proper price
Us: We did, 60 Dirhams.
Shopkeeper: Are you a Berber or something, how about 200 Dirhams
Us: No, 60 Dirhams final offer
Shopkeeper: 150 Dirhams, thats a great price
Us: No 60 dirhams final offer, we’ll take a look somewhere else, thanks
Shopkeeper: 100 Dirhams then
[We slowly keep walking away]
Shopkeeper: 80 Dirhams
[Keep walking]
Shopkeeper: OK then 65
Us: OK done, 65 Dirhams

Somehow you always feel like you have paid too much even by bartering hard and getting a significant discount from the starting price. Amanda tried bartering for some skewers at one point but unfortunately was getting her zeroes muddled up, nearly paying £20 for a set instead of £2, the shopkeeper bit her hand off at that price before I whispered in her ear and she suddenly realised her error in the nick of time.

In case anyone reading this wants to know how much we paid for things then this is what we bought with the final price we paid, so you know at the the maximum price something should be (although you could probably get it cheaper still)

  • A Medium sized coloured glass lamp – 150D (£11.50)
  • A cooking (non decorative) tajine – 120 D (£10)
  • Set of 12 hand crafted wooden handled kebab skewers – 65D (£5)
  • A wicker bag with leather handle (to carry stuff on the plane) – 35D (£3)
  • 2 x medium sized decorative olive/nut pots with lid – 50D (£4)
  • Hardwood root drinks tray – 120D (£10)
  • Hardwood root tissue box – 80D (£7)

We rounded off the holiday where we started in Le Fondouk restaurant where I sampled a Moroccan pastry and Amanda had cous cous,before flying out the next morning via easyjet back into Gatwick. Its been a fantastic week and I would highly recommend Morocco to anyone looking for somewhere a bit different but not too far away. One of the highlights was our accommodation, the Riad Djebel in the heart of Marrakesh, where our hosts gave us a genuine warm welcome from the start, is impeccably well kept and is an Oasis of calm within streets of chaos! I would describe it as homely, yet professional, a real gem of a find. 2 or 3 days would be a perfect amount of time to spend in Marrakesh I reckon as there aren’t actually that many sites and the real fun is just experiencing the people and atmosphere in the streets. This could be combined with a few days on the coast as we did, or a trek in the Atlas mountains which sounds great and is something I would definitely consider doing in the future. The sahara desert would also be a good visit although it is quite a distance from Marrakesh and might be worth taking an alternative flight to get a little closer.

Breakfast

Camel Rides and Dodgy Bellies

Yesterday was largely spent relaxing by the pool in our Riad and chilling out, helped by the fact that the weather was pretty good. Can’t quite work out the weather here yet, one moment its bright and sunny, the next we have thick fog. Its always fairly windy and Essaouria is rightly known as “The Windy City”, kite surfing and windsurfing being very popular activities. In the sun it gets very hot but when the wind blows it can get chilly and it is very cold at night.

Essaouira Harbour In The Fog

I got a bit of a dicky tummy last night, which we had been half expecting at some point this week. Amanda really wanted seafood as we were by the coast but I persuaded her it wasn’t a good idea and so we went to another restaurant where I had steak and chips instead. This morning I was really not feeling great and was about to cancel the camel ride we had booked when they were 20mins late but fortunately they turned up and we went and we had a really good time.

Camel Ride 1

Its quite a shock initially when you get onto a camel as you are so high up compared to a horse and feel like you could fall off at any moment. I found the ride surprising comfortable though and our friendly guide took us to a ruined palace where apparently Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens once played an impromptu concert, then headed to the empty beach where the Timbuktu and Cappuccino stretched their legs a little. The best thing about it was is that it was just Amanda and I and there was a sense of isolation even though the town was only a couple of miles away. So glad we did it, even if we were both feeling a little ill.

Camel Ride 2

We finished the day by doing a bit of shopping in the souks, woodwork being a particular speciality on sale by local craftsmen. Tonight is our last night in Essaouria before heading back to Marrakesh by coach tomorrow afternoon and from there we will have just one night before heading back to the UK. Essaourira has been a place for us to stay and chill out for a few days and would definitely recommend adding it to any itiniary which also includes Marrakesh.

Essaouira Harbour At Sunset

Essaouira: The Atlantic Coast

We rounded off our last evening in Marrakesh by eating at a randomly selected restaurant overlooking the Djemma El Fna but for once was disappointed with the food. Although the Harissa (spicy bean soup) was good, I can only guess as to which cuts of meat both Amanda and I had in our tagines but there was a lot of fat, bone and gristle. Fortunately no side affects today.

This morning we got out of bed relatively early so we could catch our coach to Essaouira, a popular seaside resort on the west coast of Morocco. Neither of us can pronounce it yet but we have managed to make it here without a problem. The journey was fairly unremarkable, mostly grassy plains and fields with crops or herds of sheep and goats but we have been most impressed since we have arrived. First impressions are that its much more laid back and less hectic than in Marrakesh and we have had even less hassle walking down the sea front.

Our accomodation is called the Riad Zahra and Amanda is quite smug about her choice of hotel, although I have to admit she is right to be. Its a splendid place to stay with great views out to sea from the terrace and a fantastic pool area which we share with 2 tortoises and 2 terrapins, the latter of which occasionally pop into the pool to cool off.

Terrapins

We have just returned from a walk down the beach where there are many improvised football pitches set up with  games going on. It never ceases to amaze me just how popular the game is no matter where you go in the world (and quite right too!).

Beach Football

Our plan for the next few days is just to chill out and relax for a few days and I think we are in the perfect place to do that. Having said that I think a camel ride is planned a little further up the beach so that should be interesting. Just hope they have one big enough for me.

A Lesson In Bartering

Some observations from Marrakesh

  • The streets appear much more intimidating than they actually are. Its actually a very safe place to walk around, day or night.
  • There are a lot of bony and decrepid looking stray cats, but hardly any stray dogs
  • The height of male teenage fashion is a black addidas tracksuit with gold stripes
  • You get a lot less hassle from sellers and con-men than one might expect
  • There is no stereotype for a person who rides the streets on a moped
  • Old men seem to do most of the heavy lifting and carrying
  • There is a real mixture of dress codes, from the very traditional to the ultra trendy but this does not in any way segregate the population
  • Its quite expensive to eat and drink out in any restaurant that serves alcohol
  • Belly Dancing seems quite out of place as a tradition in a conservative muslim society.
  • Maintenance of pavements is not a priority in Africa
  • Despite there being a lot of horses and donkeys on the street, there is very little crap around. I found out this afternoon this is because they wear kind of open nappies that catch the shit as it drops. Genius.

Trotters 4 sale

To celebrate the last few hours of my birthday, we went to a restaurant called the Tagire to eat which served up a great selection of kebabs with beans that went down nicely. A group of belly dancers followed the live music and I tried not to look as others who did were asked up to dance in the middle of the restaurant. I got away with it but probably missed of on some nice views of cleavage! Top quality food and a great way to celebrate the first day in my 30s.

Birthday Meal

After a long lie in ths morning, we spent about an hour looking for an ATM that wasn’t broken, took maestro and allowed us to withdraw money. Eventually resorting to mastercard (I tried to tell Amanda it would cost a fortune) we made our way to the Jardin Majorelle, stopping off along the way to buy a bus ticket for our journey out the coast tomorrow. There was a stark contrast between the new city and the old city with modern looking buildings and boulevards, and a lot more traffic than in the walled Medina. The gardens were peaceful and serene, a legacy of fashion icon Yves Saint Lauren who famously (apparently) recreated the cactus and bamboo style garden for the Chelsea Flower Show some years ago.

We rounded off the afternoon with our first bit of bartering in the souks which was far easier and less stressful than we thought it was going be. The first shopkeeper actually gave us a lesson on bartering before we commenced, advising us to keep calm and offer much less than the starting price.

Tonight we are going to find a less expensive restaurant to eat in although this will probably mean no wine :(. The main square should also offer us some people watching opportunities as it apparently comes alive in the evening.

Some of our pics are uploaded to our flickr site, my favourites are ones where I’ve sneakily taking some street scenes without anyone knowing.

Street

Marrakesh First Day

So, i’m currently sat on the Riad’s roof top garden writing this post with the eerie sound of muslim evening prayer songs floating around the rooftops. The snow capped Atlas mountains are clearly visible on the horizon as the daylight finally disappers and the temperature drops. Its been a fantastic way to spend my 30th birthday and it got even better when I found Everton made it past Middlesborough today to reach the FA Cup semi finals.

We started to day with a stroll to the main museum, the Ben Youssef Merdersa and Almoravid Koubbawhich were all very interesting, particularly the intricate carvings almost everywhere.

Ben Youseff

This is us in one of the old dorm windows looking down nto the main courtyard.

Almost more fascinating though is just seeing the local people going about their business in the narrow streets. We definitely saw a lot more other tourists out and about today but we still felt as if we were totally immersed in another culture with most the stalls and street entertainers there for the locals rather than the tourists.

Street

Its sometimes very difficult to get out of the way of donkey karts, bikes, motorbikes and even horse drawn carriages.

Carriage In the afternoon we continued to walk the streets and take in the city experience and souks (market stalls) although we did take a bit longer as I managed to get us a bit lost. The Djemma el Fna is the most famous square in the city and its here in particular there is a real buzz with street performers, snake charmers and monkey handlers all attracting large crowds

Djemma el Fna

Towards the end of the day we visited one of the palaces which seemed to attract a large collection of stray cats (which there are a lot of in general), but it was nice to be able to chill out somewhere a little less hectic.

Thanks for all your cards and messages today, it was great hearing from you all to celebrate/commiserate my 30th birthday. Going out for a nice dinner tonight at a traditional Moroccan restaurant recommended to us by our guest house so that will be a nice way to end the day.