Thursday, March 03, 2016

Three Days in Marrakech, Morocco

Europe is small. Hopping between countries is like scooting between medium sized states in the USA (but with 3-4 times the population). On top of that, Morocco is just nine short miles across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain. That makes it an ideal spot for a quick getaway.

 A plaza market in the medina, the old city in Marrakech.

 The central courtyard of our riad (a peaceful escape from the medina chaos). The riads were generally a central courtyard with an open air roof that was surrounded by guest rooms on 2-4 sides.

 The street to to our riad.

Originally, KLS and I were going to go for a ten day jaunt across the entire country, but my ear infection at Christmas disagreed. We could not get refunds from our budget airline so we decided to explore one locate for a few days instead. That stop was Marrakesh, but we did not take the Marrakesh Express.

 There are so many oranges that people just let them fall to the ground.

 Medersa Ben Youssef, an Islamic College from the 14th century.

 The main attraction in Marrakesh is the medina - the old city. It has thick defensive walls that clearly divide it from the rest of the city. The main streets are bustling with shops, motorcycles, bicycles, carts carrying goods, and enough people that you'll never be more than three feet from someone. It will assault all of your senses.

Each night, we were able to escape the chaos by returning to our lodging, a peaceful riad inside the medina. The drastic difference between walking along a shopping street and the atmosphere in our riad cannot be overstated. Chaos to calm. The riads in the medina were a little more expensive. Some of this is due to the proximity to attractions, higher quality of maintenance, and great amenities. However, I think the key piece is that after a day working your way through the crowds, fighting off scam artists, dodging motorbikes, and breathing in enough dust to wish you had a surgical mask, you just want a quiet retreat. The riad provided that in spades. While we loved exploring, we were always very happy to get home.

 A tannery where they turn goats into leather.

 KLS educating the local populace, much to the dismay of the hustler who took us to the shop.

Palais de la Bahia, finished in 1900.

Palais La Bahia

KLS starts eating the local fruit at Palais La Bahia.

After a quiet night, recuperating, we were off to see the sites. Palaces and souks (markets), then more souks and palaces. The palaces were a curious site. The buildings were ornate and fun to explore, but they were also virtually empty of anything (exhibits or even basic furniture) inside. It wasn't quite what I was used to, but neither were the prices. The 'major sites' only cost $1-2 to get in. It gave me a better appreciation of the attractions and costs in other countries to develop an engaging historical attraction.

A small alleyway that I think was in the Jewish quarter. They locals make a big deal about how the Jewish section of the Medina is different, but our untrained eyes only noticed small differences.

El Badi Palace completed in 1593

Just over the wall of the palais there was a huge pile of garbage.

European White Storks make huge nests.

KLS being cute.

Kutubiyya Mosque

Happy cats ate when and where they could.

A souk, an old city market.

Majorelle Gardens

On our second full day, we kept exploring on foot. We headed out to Palais El Badi, Kutubiyya Mosque, Majorelle Garden, the Jewish quarter, souks so KLS could negotiate for argan oil, and to the newer parts of the city.  The Palais El Badi had groves of orange trees inside the walls. KLS went to picking again. The newer parts of Marrkesh were so different than the medina. They were peaceful. While it was definitely a Middle Eastern influenced city, you could see plenty of European elements as well. It was not dedicated to helping tourists offload their dollars and consequently a lot more peaceful. One of the highlights of the new city was the quiet Majorelle Gardens (donated by Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre BergĂ©). Noticing a theme? The medina was really wearing me down.

Fancy french restaurant.

Kutubiyya Mosque at night from the rooftop of the french restaurant.

Random street in the new city.

Downtown Marrakesh, outside of the medina.

More downtown Marrakesh.

A park with its over Dippy.

Our final day was a quiet day. We woke up early, enjoyed how peaceful the medina could be before businesses were open and took in our favorite culinary treats before heading back to the airport. For KLS, this meant visiting a fried spiced bread stand near our riad and then chasing it with some fresh made orange juice. Orange juice is to Marrakesh what gelato is to Italy.

This single photo is the essence of our trip.  Each dirham was 10 cents so that made each amazing fresh made orange juice just 40 cents. We had SO many each day. Think gelato in Italy levels.

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