Marrakesh was absolutely fantastic! The media does a good job of portraying Morocco as being incredibly unsafe; however, I would beg to differ-completely! I had an amazing weekend! Because we didn’t quite know what to expect or what we were getting ourselves into, my friends Jordan and Amanda and I arranged an airport transfer to our hotel. We stayed at the Riad Alamir. The hotel was a four-minute walk from the Medina, the room was adorable, there was a terrace with views that looked out toward the Koutoubia Mosque, and a swimming pool. The hotel served a full breakfast, which was amazing; the proprietor was incredibly helpful and gave us multiple “orientation sessions”; and staff made us the best mint tea! (I paid about 55 euros for all that!)
We spent the entire weekend exploring…Marrakesh has the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco and also has one of the busiest squares in Africa-Jemaa El Fna Square. The square bustles with snake charmers, henna tattoo artists, monkeys, dried fruit vendors, etc. At night, when all of the food stalls open up, the whole square turns into an open-air restaurant. They sell halwa shebakia: a pretzel-shaped dough deep-fried and dipped into a hot pot of honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds. There were large vats of soup, plump dates, snails (which we were told to try; I promptly spit mine out!), meat and veggie kebabs, mounds of couscous and Moroccan salad (a mixture of tomatoes, green peppers, garlic and spices), various types of tajine, and some delicious-looking sweets.
Throughout the weekend I tried many different dishes, but I think my favorites were the Moroccan tomato salad and the chicken tajine with almonds, raisins, onions, and garbanzo beans.
We also tried some “sesame and gingerbread (?) spiced thing” that was delicious, and I wish I knew the name of it.
On Sunday we ventured to the tanneries where the men prepare the leather. We went to one that was for large animals and one that was for smaller animals. Both smelled horrid but, luckily, we were given fresh mint to smell throughout our visit. The reason for the stench is that they use pigeon poo, cow urine, fish oils, animal fats and brains, chromium salts and sulphuric acids, which all contribute to the marvelous array of colors of leather which are produced in the tanneries. Unfortunately, there are no nice viewing galleries at the tanneries; it is a perilous journey between large vats of dyed water and vast piles of skins. I really really don’t want to think about all of the germs that my shoes have picked up!
We also checked out the Museum of Marrakesh and the Madersa Ben Youssef, which is a beautiful Islamic College. Apparently, at one point, it was the largest Medrasa (school) in all of Morocco.
We took a tour of a spice/pigment shop; we learned about the pigments that they use to dye leather, beads, thread, etc.
We meandered through another part of the city to the Majorelle Gardens.
We covered a lot of ground; I truly feel like I saw the city. Moreover, I felt like I go to know the culture. We spent time talking to vendors, the men who offered us tours, and other hotel guests. I used my French, my Spanish and, of course, English. Actually, I was astonished at how many languages the vendors knew. They would shout: “Français? Italiano? Español?” I would shake my head after each question. “Nope…keep guessing.” I was also given various nicknames by the vendors: Shakira, Maria (apparently a very typical Spanish name); someone even called me “fish and chips.“ I have no idea why! They would cat call all day long…we were expecting it, so it didn’t phase us. The cat calling wasn’t meant to be rude…it is just the way they do it in Morocco. In fact, I felt very welcomed and I found the people to be incredibly friendly. People smiled a lot and they seemed genuinely happy to meet us. We were offered free tours (even though “nothing is free” in Morocco—I’ll get to that later); vendors made us tea (it is honestly the BEST).
Anyway, what I mean by “nothing is free”… In Marrakesh, if someone in the square comes up to you and puts a monkey on your shoulder and your friend takes a picture, then, you have to pay. If someone leads you in the direction that you want to go, you have to pay. Thus, it is imperative that you agree on a price before the deed is done! Otherwise, you will be ripped off…You see, Morocco is a very poor country (1 dirham=0.08 euros), thus, what seems like very little is actually very helpful. Luckily for us, this also means that things were incredibly cheap. A water bottle in Spain can cost 3 euros and change. A water bottle in Marrakesh costs about half a euro. (Good thing, because under no circumstances should you drink the water in Morocco!) Also, we were able to have multiple course dinners that were about 25 euros for three people.
Speaking of currency, bargaining is a must in Morocco. At first a vendor will probably tell you a price that is 4 times higher than what you should actually pay. Over the weekend, this proved to be a very fun game for me. I bought gorgeous leather purses, intricate pillowcases, spices, and cushions. (Top quality, hand made things for unbeatable prices!) I am going to set up a little Moroccan sitting area in my room when we move houses!
Anyways, that’s all for now!