Monday, March 28, 2011

Magical Marrakech

We just spent a weekend in Marrakech, Morocco. It was our first trip to Africa and our first trip to an Islamic country. We fell completely in love with the place.

We stayed in a riad, a B&B in a traditional Moroccan house. We began a new love affair with Moroccan food which is nothing like I thought it would be and so much better. We heard our first call to prayer. It was actually quite pretty.

We went on a camel trek through a forest of palm trees. I, of course, got the grumpy camel. We also did a hammam, a Moroccan bath ritual that combines steam, hot and cold water, and lots of scrubbing (in the nude!) by hammam ladies who robbed us of several layers of skin.

We explored the souks or markets. It turns out we aren't very good hagglers. When we got tired of shopping we ducked into cafes for incredible Moroccan mint tea which almost made up for the strict no-alochol policy in this Islamic country.

We visited only one museum but discovered that Islamic art is incredibly interesting and beautiful.

We ate all of our meals in Place Jemaa el Fna, the main square in Marrakech and the heart of the city. We felt the most "Western" in Jemaa el Fna surrounded by monkeys, snake charmers, fortune tellers, henna wielding ladies, beggars, musicians, magicians and dancers. At night the square came alive and dozens of family run food stalls sprang up offering a mind boggling array of cheap al fresco dining options. Our favourite Moroccan food was tajine, a meat and vegetable dish named for the clay pot it is cooked and served in.

Being in an Islamic country was much more pleasant than I thought it would be. Of course it was different. No "suggestive" clothing allowed, no male-female physical contact in public, and like I said, no booze. And the 5 am prayer call is best described as a good alarm clock. But it was also really interesting. The Morrocans were the most hospitable locals we have met on our travels so far this year. I can't say enough nice things about them, they were simply the loveliest people (and they speak French, bonus!)

The conflicts in North Africa have not affected Morocco so far and we felt safe the whole time we were in Marrakech. This was the first time we knowingly traveled somewhere out of our comfort zone and this was also the first time this year that we were sad to come home from travelling. Of course we still love our home, but we really loved Morrocco. We lost a (crappy) cell phone there, and as the saying goes, we might of lost our hearts there too.

Our first day at the Riad et Palais des Princesses in Marrakech

Main courtyard of the riad

Roof terrace of our riad
Breakfast on the roof - Moroccan pancakes, French bread, freshly squeezed orange juice and mint tea


Our first dromedary experience

 My camel "danced" (kicked and jumped) a lot. M's did not.

Les Palmeries, palm tree nature area outside of Marrakech where we went camel trekking
One of Marrakech's golf courses (looking at you, dad) with the Atlas Mountains in the background
@ CyberPark, Marrakech's city park

@ CyberPark, aptly named for its free internet access computers
Bahia Palace, a late 19th century palace built by the vizier to a Sultan for his concubines

Incredible ceiling paintings

The "wife's room" - no concubines allowed here

A resident stork of Marrakech

Haggling for spices

Haggling for shoes

Magical mint tea

Koutoubia Mosque

Snake charmers in Jemma el Fna

View of Jemaa el Fna towards the Koutoubia Mosque

View of Jemma el Fna towards food stalls

Jemma el Fna by night

Tajine and Tanjia, Moroccan salads and bread, and freshly squeezed orange juice
Souksat night
Tajine, salads, bread... again

Moroccan meat on a stick

Food stall in Jemma el Fna

The end!

- J