In a culture basically forbidden from drinking alcohol, you'll find yourself sipping (to my utter delight) many, many mint teas while in Marrakesh. This tea is delicious. Made from loose green tea, huge mint leaves and sugar. It will be served in a small, clear decorative glass. And people everywhere will be offering to you, at your riad, in restaurants, when in carpet or antique shops, etc.
If offered it, it's best not to refuse. If offered and partaken of in a shop, expect to find yourself purchasing something soon there after. I liked it best when the 'manager' of our riad prepared it for me, he'd run right out for a huge bunch of fresh mint and in just minutes I'd be enjoying this lovely warm beverage.
Catch a Caleche and sit back and relax
Impressively since the animal welfare organisation Spana, set up by a British mother and daughter in the early 60s to educate the owners of donkeys, mules and horses in the training and care of their animals, the state of these animals seems to be greatly improving.
Spana's role include the inspection and license of carriage horses used in the caleches and distribute more humane harnessing equipment.
The horses hooves are branded so apparently if you notice any problems you can report these to the police or to the Centre Hospitalier pour Animaux (visitors are welcome here too apparently!) at 04303110
Anyway check out that you are happy with how your horse seems to be cared for, check the prices for whether you have a destination in mind such as out to Marjorelle Gardens, the Palmeraie or for a sunset tour around the city walls which therefore might be best to negotiate how much per hour (and rates should be on a chart inside the caleche) which is about 80-100 dirham per hour (a bargain!!) to relax and take in the atmosphere from such a birds eye vantage point!
Get in a car
The roads in Morrocco are good - so use them. We took two trips - one up to the cascades D'Ouzoud and another up and over the Atlas on a trip through Telouet and on bu piste to Ait-bin-Haddou. Both trips were day trips, though the trip out to Ait is not for the faint hearted. It is a long day of travel (we were stopping a lot to visit mosques, but nonetheless this was never going to be a short trip) and the section of piste between Teolout and Ait is hair raising. It winds along the very edge of a steep gorge for most of the time. Apparently it was the old camel route to Tombouktu. Anyway, great trips, but long trips.
Djemaa el Fnaa
Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech's main sight... and possibly the first image of Marrakech I ever saw in a magazine... I was not disappointed when I got there, but I did not fall in love with it as I had been expecting. Being the heart and symbol of Marrakech, it is really vast and crowded - it is also full of (not always interesting) storytellers, drummers and snake charmers. I was also expecting to see magicians, acrobats, jugglers but alas, no luck.
The square has a very long tradition of partying and celebrating - it is here that caravans in the past finished off their route after having spent weeks and months in the desert. Caravan people would therefore stop in this sqaure to celebrate the fact that they were still alive.
A Tale of Two Cities
"The Medina ( Old City )"
The medina of Marrakech is as mad and evocative as every film you have ever seen about the city, with alleyways disappearing into what seem like dead ends but which open onto another equally blind looking alleyway. This can seem a bit threatening at first, but once you realise that this is just a "design fault" and realise that the people of Marrakesh are a friendly bunch ( although everybody wants a tip), you soon get into the feel of the place. There are no really accurate maps of the Medina, so the best way of navigating the streets is with a compass, especially if you are staying in a riad, as these tend to be in the smaller streets of the medina. Most street names are in Arabic so it is nigh on impossible to read the maps that do exist. We were quite lucky as the riad we stayed in was only a 3 minute walk from a taxi rank called Bab Tagzout, so we memorised the way to the taxi rank, knowing that if we got lost we could always taxi back to their and walk the rest of the way.
"The New City"
Marrakesh is very much in a growth spurt at the moment, and this has resulted in it becoming two cities in one. Obviously none of the new development is taking place inside the medina ( although a lot of riads are being converted into traveller accomodation ), so outside the walls of the medina, new international hotels are being built at a terrific pace, and as you head out of the medina along Ave Mohammed V, the city takes on a European feel, with wide tree covered avenues, lined with shops and cafes. This is a completely different atmosphere to the manic medina, and has a much more sophisticated laid back feel. head out towards Guliez and sample Marrakesh cafe society, where coffee and tea are in abundance, but it is difficult to get a daytime beer ( see entry in local customs ).
"The Tourist Police"
Marrakech is serious in it's attempts to become the new holiday destination for Europeans, and the number of international standard hotels on Mohammed V are testament to this. The souks and the medina have long had a reputation for tourists being ripped off by "guides", saying that they will show them around the medina and the souk and end up taking them to their uncles shop where non purchase is met with stiff resistance.
In response to this the government have introduced the tourist police, who as well as having a very visable presence in the medina, also have undercover agents, who dress and look like Europeans, and who can and do arrest anybody who is not a registered guide and is seen to be showing tourists around the place. And this is not idle lip service. The houseboy from our riad kindly agreed to show us the route to Jemma El Fna square. He asked that we walked a way behind him and that we did not speak to him in case the tourist police saw him, we thought this was a little over the top, however about 100 yards from the square, he was stopped by two undercover police and asked to produce his guide papers, they had sussed that we were with him and asked us to step to one side whilst they questioned him. He explained that we were staying at his riad and that he was merely taking us to the square. They gave him a stern warning and allowed him to go, however it could have easily ended up with the houseboy spending some time in prison, so if you are staying at a riad,and none of the staff have guide papers, be aware.