We had to wake at an ungodly hour to head to the airport. We were flying Easyjet out of Gatwick. Easy enough. Gatwick is the closest airport besides Kent which flies limited passenger flights. Our flight departed at 7:30am so we needed to be there about 6ish. We picked Beth up in Canterbury along the way so we were all very groggy. The bonus if there could be one..... no traffic!! Our flight to Marrakech was uneventful and surprisingly short, only three hours.
We arrived in Marrakech with our landing cards filled out
. The airport is going through some major construction, more of which we would see throughout the city. It is as if they are getting ready for some serious tourism. Passport control was not a problem. We got our passports stamped and we were off. We caught a taxi outside the airport and showed him where we wanted to go from the email our riad had sent. A riad is a traditional guest house. The rooms are built around a central courtyard usually with a roof top terrace for enjoying the Moroccan sun. The riad, the Riad El Az or the Riad Danielle, got great reviews and the price was very reasonable so we took it. It is located in the Medina (the old town) and we booked a room with two bedrooms and a lounge for €115 per night. Check out their website at: http://www.riadelaz.com/
So the cab was 150Dh (that's dirhams, or about £9.80 or $19.30). We were taken down a road that dead ended at the hospital gate. I wish I could describe what these first minutes were like. This was a foreign land. When we got out of the cab a kid grabbed out bags and started waving us to follow him. I had read that the children were very helpful so we followed down this alley. Pasted other children playing and people walking. It was quite strange. We had no idea where we were going, just follow the kid with our bags. The alley seemed to get narrower and narrower until we had to duck into this cubby hole where we found a small wooden door. I thought this was the end. I imagined children surrounding us in this tiny area and taking everything
. Funny how the mind works. But the small wooden door opened and we stepped into safety. Steve gave the boy some money for helping us but he continued to beg for more until the woman at the riad shoed him out the door. This is something that we would find was a chronic problem in Marrakech..... they always want more.
The riad was lovely. We checked in with the help of Beth. Beth speaks some French and everyone speaks French in Marrakech. Many speak English but not as much as French. Thankfully Beth was there! Once in our suite we sat on the couch and took a deep breath. It had already been a crazy morning and it was still early afternoon. Jim stated that he wasn't leaving the riad again and instructed Steve and I to take lots of pictures.... Beth soon decided to join him. Absolutely not we are all going back out there and experiencing this place.
So after a quick tour of the riad (the roof terrace was fabulous) we were off. We found a good map in our room and decided the perfect place to start was Jamaa El Fna, the main square. I had read that during the day the square was quiet but to take care where you pointed your camera because if you got a snake charmer or monkey in your photo you would be hassled to pay
. The square is quite large and was scattered with locals doing all sorts of things. Snake charmers (you could hear their instruments everywhere), people with monkeys, ladies with Tarot cards, acrobats, old men telling stories to crowds of other men and even a "dentist". There were orange juice carts (is this Florida?) and carts full of dried fruits. We wandered through soaking it all in, all of us afraid to get our cameras out for fear someone would demand money. We decided to go to one of the restaurants that have seating on the roof to get a better look. Café Argana it was. This was our first taste of the local cuisine. We ordered tagines (vegetables with chicken cooked in a special bowl with a lid), couscous and good 'ole Coca-Cola. The food was good but different. After lunch we decided to set off to the souks. These are the markets. This was an experience. Imagine walking down dark little streets (they are all covered with corrugated metal) with shop after shop after shop. It's a crazy maze of stuff for sale. On the map we had none of these streets are labeled.... Half of them aren't even on the map. But we were content to just wander. We managed to wander out of the souks and onto a street I could not find on the map. Then a man in a white coat offered to help us find where we were. He was very kind and pointed out our position on the map. As it turns out he had a shop right there selling spices and natural medicines. So Steve went in to check things out
. He was greeted by a woman who proceeded to show him around. We all wandered around the shop looking at glass jugs full of colored water and dried plants. Steve asked the woman about something for snoring. She asked the man who had helped us on the street something in Arabic. This sparked an argument in Arabic. Then it escalated and they were no longer paying any attention to us they were arguing with one another. It became very uncomfortable so we slipped out. I don't know what happened but I think Steve started it. From there we headed back to the square. We had seen a big red hop on, hop off city sightseeing tourist bus and thought we would like to take a tour around the city. It's a very touristy thing to do but we wanted to cover some ground while also getting a good view from the open air top deck. There are two routes, the monumental and the romantique. With a ticket that is good for 24 hours you can get on and off as many times as you like on both lines. We toured around the monumental line and checked out the sites. This line covers a small bit of the medina and then goes into the new town. It was a nice ride and being in the sun felt GREAT! We went back to the riad for some much needed rest. On the way back Steve noted that in one of the small shops down our street he had noticed brains on a plate that morning when we left and now they were gone..... someone ate the brains!!!! Gross! We also met up with the children of the neighborhood. They had these drum-like instruments that they would beat on and then turn over so you could put money in
. Well, I had read in the book to take toys and colored markers for the kids. So, I broke out with the toys. It was crazy. They just wanted more and more. They would push other kids out of the way. They just kept saying, "J'ai faim" (I'm hungry). It was horrible but I refused to fuel the fire with more. They just don't know when to stop. We finally reached the riad and ducked inside to safety. We relaxed and took a much needed nap. That evening we wanted to go somewhere to have a beer with our dinner. Marrakech being a Muslim country doesn't have a lot of places to get alcohol. We found a place with the help of the book. It was the Hotel Grand Tazi. Beth ordered a Casablanca (Moroccan beer) and Steve and I had Heineken. Our waiter offered to do a four course meal that we all could share. This sounded like a good idea as we were hungry. It started with a huge maroc salad. Chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, rice, potatoes, beets, carrots. Then came the pastilles. This is chicken inside flaky pastry with cinnamon and sugar. Beth said, "This is my two favorite foods put together. Chicken and elephant ears." We all had a laugh. Next came chicken tagine and couscous. We were stuffed. The waiter talked us into dessert by describing it as a small tangerine.... We got a huge plate of oranges and apples. This wasn't all bad as we decided to snag a few oranges to take back to the riad. The oranges were so yummy. Really juicy and flavorful. Easy to peel. We snacked on those oranges the rest of the trip.
When we returned to the riad the children had taken to camping outside our window banging on their drums. What have we done? This can't go on all night. Luckily it didn't.
So we are off to Africa. I can't believe we are going. Steve checked a book out from the library so we could do some research. Based on the book I had imagined that Marrakech would be like Tijuana, Mexico. A poor place with a lot of haggling and begging. So I hoped I had the mindset to venture into this incredibly foreign place.