Walk on the Right Side!
When wandering around the souks/ Medina/ Mellah areas, I was often advised by locals/guides etc to keep to the right side of the road/alleyway. Which suddenly reminded me of a line from 'Midnight Express' which I'd seen on TV a few days before my holiday (Yes, those Christmas/New Year TV repeats!) when the hero of the film decides to walk in the opposite direction to everyone else of his 'inmates' and he's reminded that '"a good Muslim always walks to the right"
I've since found out this is also the practice in Venice, another city with narrow, crowded streets
Taxis from the airport
Marrakech is just like any other city in the world. Guidebooks and travel websites are full of cautionary tales of travellers being "ripped off" by unscrupulous taxi drivers just minutes after setting foot outside the airport.
With this in mind, I did a bit of research and found out that I should expect to pay about 80 Dhs (5 GBP) for a taxi from the airport to my hotel (Hotel Islane) near the Djemaa El Fna in the centre of Marrakech. If the taxi driver quoted me a higher price, I'd simply ask him to turn his meter on. Faultproof!
And so it was that after getting off my flight, tired, in a strange city and carrying a couple of heavy bags, I wandered into the airport's car park and made my way over to the waiting queue of yellow taxis.
"How much to Hotel Islane?"
"Can you turn your meter on?"
"I don't have one!"
And that was that! Maybe I should have paid just 80 Dirhams for the 5km journey to my hotel, but what choice did I have? Was I going to stand there arguing over 50 Dirhams (3 GBP)? Of course not, I just wanted to get to my hotel, dump my bags and start exploring the city!
Later in the week, I spoke to people who had paid 150 Dirhams for their taxi ride from the airport.
Don't let worries of being fleeced out of a few Dirhams ruin the start of your holiday in Marrakech. Keep things in perspective - a few extra dirhams on the taxi fare is a lot more significant to the taxi driver than it is to the majority of holidaymakers!
El Bahja is one of the best value restaurants in the medina, and hence it's always busy here. They offer a number of good value menus from 52-65 Dh and all include, starter, main course, dessert and mint tea. We weren't hungry enough to eat all this so we just ordered from the a la carte menu which was equally good value. I had a tomato salad followed by beef tagine while Ruth opted for merguez, delicious lamb sausages. The restaurant is on rue Bani Marine, near Djemaa el-Fna.
at some places the workers were begging for money and certainly got more "tip" by the tourists than for their work - but mainly they were working under high stress and very quickly and always watched by some guards or rather "bosses"
The Pink City
"Where the king lives."
Marrakech is a fantastic place. It's old, full of mystique, utterly beguiling in the most thoroughly exotic way and epitomizes the idea of a true exciting travel destination that puts the traveler - especially first timers - in a frame of mind as tho waking up to a land so characterized by a timelessness. It's pink mauvish color comes from the type of building material they call 'pise' which is a mixture of clay, mud and rubble that the citizens use to build their homes with and other tenements all around, exuding a particular architectural style. In recent couple of years especially, the city has undergone massive infra-structure buildup, refurbishing and catch-up never before seen in the history of this North African country. So far, all the building projects have further beautified and enhanced the peculiar enchantment of this city and catapulted her into a magnet as a new exciting tourist destination. And of all Moroccan cities, Marrakech seem uniquely enjoying the status of a favored site, and rightly so, as the young king Mohammed has chosen this city as his principal residence. As a result, Marrakech nowadays is gleaming with well-paved streets, widened avenues lined with the obiquitous date palm trees, a further expansion of the outer city of Guilez while keeping intact the traditional enclave of Moroccan medina and its hypnotic souks.
...the souks of Marrakech are pathways between heaven and hell. Early afternoon in the Souika - senses are strapped to a thick air of dizziness. An open cauldron of soup disbursed by an admixture of heady exotic spices, slaughtered animals and nervous chickens. The ever-present mint, oils (argan being the most sensuous) and the unforgiving odour of red sand meeting dusts. Mysterious eyes and flitting smiles, discarded trash, long long black lashes, the curse of the Quran in the beauty of the individual, intrusive modernity, unwashed djelabas. Muhammed starts to lead me into and around the uncrowded labyrinth of streets. The air here is different, it reduces itself into thin shafts to hover slowly down to squeeze within alleys of tall pink-colored walls. The houses inside falling into a meditative state. You walk one turn and a cool sensation from the air's oily liquid which you feel moisten the nape of your neck. We walked the circuitous walled-in alleyways, round and round of endless seduction. Along the way, earth-baked breads, motionless arms propped lazily for alms, a covey of loner cats, men fully covered up - their faces cancelled out by a hooded darkness. They appear to walk towards you, turn swiftly to disappear, their strong scent lingers only to be smelled out by the next passerby. They reappear again in the next moment and so swiftly like a treason of lightning, they're gone at a corner their sumptuous shadows lunging inside your desires.....