Monday, July 23, 2012

Morocco (2007), part3: Marrakech



Marrakech is one of the cities to which you want to return for its atmosphere. It’s without a doubt one of my favorite places. Maybe someday I’ll have an opportunity to go there again. Ryanair offers many connections there, from London, Girona (near Barcelona), Milan, Frankfurt – but you need to get there first. The prices of plane tickets are getting higher what makes such a combined journey more expensive than it was several years ago. In addition, you may need to spend a day or two at the transfer point, which may not necessarily be the place of your dreams.

Enchanting Marrakech

Theformer capital of Morocco has over one million inhabitants. There are many places worth visiting, but I fell in love with (if I can say so) the main square - Jemaa al-Fna.
Marrakech is one of the most popular cities among tourists coming to Morocco. There are plenty of hotels, hostels, restaurants, cafes here. There’s no problem to eat up even in the middle of Ramadan. Nobody looks at you ominously when you walk around with a can of coca-cola in your hand or with a cigarette in your mouth.

While in Marrakech you can drink hectoliters of freshly squeezed orange juice, it's very cheap
It’s easy to find accommodation here, just don’t succumb to hagglers who lead you from place to place, and then - if you choose one they try to draw on their own commission, explaining that they have a large family to take care of. It’s best to ignore them and enter a couple of hotels on your own. Of course, you have to try a few places and check the prices. And remember: haggle!
As in other Maghreb countries, locals believe that a white tourist, no matter what country he or she comes from, is rich, and they can ask them to pay much higher prices. Finding accommodation in a hostel for 7€ per person (with private bathroom and hot water) shouldn’t be a problem.
On the main square and in its vicinities there are plenty of venues where you can eat cheaply and have a coffee or a mint tea. It’s excellent, made with black tea with a few leaves of fresh mint added.

Jemaa al-Fna viewed from one of the roof-top cafes


Stalls in Grand Souk by night
GrandSouk - a huge market where you can find everything your heart desires. Contrary to appearances, stalls and stores are very logically laid out. If you’re looking for shoes, look for shoes souk and there are at least a dozen shops and stalls selling only shoes; if you look for jewelry - a dozen or so shops and stalls, etc.
It’s said that about 11,000 shops are located here, in alleys of a total length of 9 kms!

Jemaa al-Fna – it’s a large square in the heart of the medina, founded in the eleventh century, on UNESCO World Heritage List. It’s impossible to describe this place! It looks exactly like in the movies: stalls with spices in hundreds of colors, magicians, acrobats, fakirs with cobras, women doing henna makeup, poets without legs and musicians playing various instruments.
The square is the most interesting at night when dozens of stalls with food and drink add to its atmosphere, everything lit up like during New Year’s Eve in Europe. I don’t know whether it's always like that, after all it’s Ramadan - so life goes on here at night.

Koutoubia Mosque
Koutoubia Mosque – built in the twelfth century, very close to Jemaa al-Fna, with its 77-meter minaret tower, it’s hard to pass it by.

Menara Gardens, Agdal Gardens – founded in the twelfth century, good places for relax among green trees and bushes.

Madrasa Ali Ibn Yousuf – Koranic school, beautiful architecture.

Saadian Tombs – close to the Royal Palace which is not available to the public as it’s a residence of the royal family members during their stay in Marrakech.

Defensive city walls and numerous gates.

Apartfrom the souks, you can go shopping in one of the “regular” stores. The locals rarely go there, what for?, you can find everything in the market. Most tourists get attracted by street vendors exhibiting their products just on the street. You must walk through one of such a shopping alley. You don’t have to buy anything, but it’s no harm in watching the goods. What a choice! Belts with big shining buckles straight from “Armani”, “Dolce & Gabbana” watches, “Versace” pants, “Vuitton” handbags. I know, I know, this should be forbidden and punished because they’re all fakes, probably from China. But who talks about buying? It’s just another attraction…


Whilein Morocco going to hammam is a must! It should be noted that there are generally two types of them – one for tourists, more luxurious, like our spa facilities, and another for locals – this is the real deal. Choose the latter!
Afew words about a hammam. You can take your own toiletries, or rent them or buy on the spot, but then you can get not so clean a towel, so it’s better to rely on your own utensils. Of course, men and women enter separately – through separate doors or at different times. Good advice: use your tongue as a guide, baths for locals usually are not marked. It’s good to ask at your hotel for a price. If you don’t know it, they would ask much more from you than from the locals. Although it’s still cheap in terms of Polish or European currency, you’d better spend the money on something else.

Avisit to a hammam consists of several stages. The first room is a large room with a heated floor. You lie down on the marble benches or just on the floor. It’s better to decant it several times with boiling water (buckets are available). This way you prepare the skin for washing. In addition, hot air helps you to relax and loosen. Thus prepared you can proceed to ablutions. First you wash yourself on your own. Then it’s time for a proper washing - in the next room. Locals use a specially crafted soap and a rough linen glove. You can ask a bath man to do it (for an additional fee).
Ifyou go to a hammam alone, you can ask anyone for help. Then it’s time to return a favor. You shouldn’t see in this any ambiguity. It’s a normal practice in a hammam. First I brush your back and then I ask you to do the same for me.

Aftera proper washing, you can still ask for a massage. Then, in the next room, you rinse once again the entire body; you might prefer to do with cool, even cold, water.
After such a visit, you are like reborn! After such treatments, especially with a rough glove, you really feel that you’re clean. What we do in our baths compared to what is done in hammams is like flushing in the still water...
Even if someone doesn’t like public baths, you should try at least once. After all, you can sit for a while in the lobby and have a cup of tea.

On a street in Marakech
Read also:
Morocco (2007), part1: Fez
Morocco (2007), part2: Merzouga, Tinghir
Morocco (2007), part4: al-Jadida, Rabat, Tanger


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