Marrakesh, the ancient Red City
January 1, 1970
Living the One Thousand and One Nights dream
The oriental city of Marrakesh, the major city of Morocco, was nothing like we expected.
As you know, dear fellow travelers, the current political situation may discourage travelling to areas of the “Arab nation”. Therefore we were a little worried whether this Red City (red because of the colour of ramparts) would be safe enough for us.
My boyfriend says it is better not to have too high expectations; otherwise you may be disappointed at the end. He claims it is smarter to expect less to then have a good surprise if things work out well. In a way he is right. In any case our Marrakesh experience was far better than we could have ever imagined.
Marrakesh, the royal orient jewel, originally inhabited by Berber farmers has grown to one of the busiest cities. For us it was a perfect escape of everyday life of a Parisian working man, a marvelous oasis of welcoming people, rich aromas of spices, secret picturesque streets, all in all hypnotic amazing holidays which we will never forget.
“Is it safe to go out at night? Isn’t too dangerous?” Safety first, yes of course… But now I have to admit I felt safer than in most of European cities.
A little piece of happiness for everyone
The great thing about Marrakesh is that it has everything to satisfy any kind of traveler. Mysterious Medina, a UNESCO world heritage site boasts about its monuments, tombs, fortifications, mosques and numerous souk alleys; Gueliz with its large boulevards, Royal theatre, beautiful train station or Majorelle Gardens – a blue and yellow charming spot, designed by the expatriate French artist Jacques Majorelle – represents modern Marrakesh. You can admire ateliers of chic and contemporary designers in Sidi Ghanem or have a camel ride in Palmeraie, a palm oasis of several hundred thousand trees.
Visiting these diverse quarters is definitely thrilling but may sometimes be very exhausting, mainly if you come in July or August when temperatures get high above 40 degrees. Well, here comes another great thing about Marrakesh. Wherever you go, you will always find their mouthwatering mint tea. Yes, the Maghrebi mint delight prepared with spearmint leaves and sugar was a real heaven in a mouth.
The tea showed up to be a really essential element of visiting Marrakesh. Not only it serves as perfect refreshment but it is also a reason why your dear other half will be very patient when you will be spending hours and hours shopping in local souks. John just loved his sweet breaks and it was actually the first time that my question “Can I just quickly check out those lovely jewels?” drew a big smile on his face and saying “Yes, of course!” was easier that he might have ever thought.
The shopping fever
Yeah, shopping in Marrakesh quickly becomes your hobby. The labyrinth of pathways of souks in Medina seems endless and offers you anything you could possibly imagine. Aladdin lanterns, cashmere scarves, colorful babouches (Berber shoes), oriental carpets, traditional pottery, cosmetic oil, spices but also very cheap sunglasses, clothes, leather bags,…
What makes shopping a really enjoyable experience is bargaining. It is a real art that has been around since the begging of currency and the locals consider it a natural way of doing business.
The initial bargaining price is mostly set according to initial impressions. If you are wearing Cartier jewels or a stylish Sony DSLR camera around your neck, sellers are likely to set the price higher. But in general divide the initial bargaining price by six to get the price which you should pay for the product.
In a few days we became real experts in bargaining. John has great negotiation skills which was driving local sellers crazy. Funny remarks and clever bargaining techniques would always make me laugh. Nevertheless, we quickly found out that the best way to make the price drop really low was to pretend to be leaving the shop at the end. In general, if the seller knows you are really interested, he will not let you go. To our great pleasure, very often, they would rather sell below price than to see you leave their shop (and see their competitor).
“Sorry, but we don’t have time. We have a plane to catch very soon.”
“No, wait! Ok, you can take the bookmark for 30 Dirhams.”
“Sorry, but this is far too much and we really have to go…”
“Okay, okay, take it for 20…. 10….. okay I will give it to you for 5 Dirhams.”
“Well, now you are talking!”
Bargaining was fun, it definitely was a highlight of our trip.
The city’s magical market place
Shopping in Marrakesh would be incomplete without visiting Jemaa el-Fna, the old city square which never sleeps. Nothing wakes you up better than a glass of fresh orange juice that you can taste for very cheap in one of the outnumbered stalls that are set up on the square in the very morning. It was our every-morning treat.
All around the square little café terraces offer you, all together with a nice view of Jemaa el-Fna (perfect to take pictures), tasty refreshments all through the day.
The time goes by and citrus sellers are replaced by herbalists, dentists, magicians and other charlatans. Then snake charmers and youths with chained monkeys will join the performance, trying to jump into every photo you are trying to take in order to ease your wallet.
By late afternoon you can watch Chleuh dancing-boys (it would be inappropriate for girls to provide this kind of entertainment) and if you speak Berber or Arabic, story-tellers will be happy if you join an audience of locals to listen to old Moroccan legends.
Jemaa el-Fna is very busy the whole day but is the most charming by night when it fills up with unconventional food stalls and smoke from grills being heated up veils the dark sky. Music of the drums, charmers’ flutes and chants accompany your delicious dinner. People gather around to enjoy moments together.
The One Thousand and One Night dream
Nights spend on Jemaa el-Fna were really amazing. Magical aromas from home-made delights, kind-hearted Moroccans, John, the person I loved the most in the whole world by my side, oriental crescent moon looking down on us from the Koutoubia Mosque behind Jemaa el-Fna, chants unveiling the rich history of Marrakesh,… I felt I was literally living One Thousand and One Night.
We visited many nice places during our stay like the legendary Kosy Bar offering a romantic atmosphere to mostly tourist lovers, Comptoir Darna with breath-taking belly dance shows and delicious exotic cocktails. We admired palace ramparts, Dar Si Said Museum boasting about amazing architecture, the Rose Mosque or the beautiful Majorelle Gardens, a stunning yellow and blue place that had become known mainly after its former owner, famous French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, featured it in the 1997 Chelsea Flower Show in London.
Seeing those charming place, I was feeling like an oriental princess and was very grateful to John, who made me discover this fairy tale place despite my initial fears.
Yes, it was an amazing Trip Time, Baby, a place to definitely return to someday.