Morocco to Madrid 2: Casablanca to Marrakesh

Crashed HARD last night after what was just about 36 hours with no sleep.  Well worth it for the wake up, though.

Now, typically, I think splurging on a room you’re staying in for just a night is a bit wasteful, but it’s also night to get something comfy when you’re coming off a plane and crossing time zones.  Found a solid deal on the Gray Boutique Hotel & Spa, managed to buy it on points, and them we were upgraded as well!  Suite with a kitchen, could, separate sleeping quarters, fruit and cookies plate on arrival, plus a massive breakfast buffet this morning.  Fantastic staff, too.
Grabbed a Little Red Taxi to Casa Voyageurs for our train ride, which was comfortable enough once we got to the shady side of the train.  Three and a half hours and a can ride later, and we were into the winding streets of Marrakesh.  
The medina of Marrakesh is know to be a bit confusing and, considering our directions to our Riad (which is a type of old, traditional medina home, with rooms coming right off a courtyard) involved phrases like “look for the Donald Duck painting” and keep going, I can say it’s a bit earned.  After some “Berber Whisky” (mint tea) and a nap, we made our way down to the Djemaa El Fna, the medina’s main square.  
We were definitely passing though on a down time, as the square topically comes alive at night, but it gave us a good lay of the land before heading to the Koutoubia mosque and an unexpected dental excursion.  
Now, nothing happened to anybody’s teeth on this trip, but Daina’s been sporting braces for a while and forgot his elastic  at home.  So, when we were crossing the road and I saw the French words for orthodontist and dental surgeon, we figure we’d check it out.  My French navigated us through a request for elastics and “hook”‘and, 10 minutes and 50 dirham later, we kept on moving.
The Koutoubia mosque’s minaret is considered a textbook example of Moorish design, and there’s some gardens and laneways around it that make for a good stroll.  You also get to see the foundations if the old mosque that stood one sight which, supposedly, was torn down because it improperly faced Mecca.  Which, for mosques, is a big deal.

We wandered back towards our Riad, making a stop at a lovely little hole in the wall cafe called Cafe Havana.  Grabbed some water to take back, then went back out onto the streets of the medina, checking out various shops, old arched gates and cats.  More sickly looking cats than Turkey, but still, lots of stray cats.

We decided to get a bit more rest before heading out to the square at night, having heard that it’s quite the high energy place.  That’s underselling it for sure.  It’s street performance turned up to eleven, with snake charmers, water salesmen, men in Arabic drag (not that exciting, actually) and people selling all sorts of knick-knacks.  Sadly, there were a few “take a picture with my monkey or bird” people as well, and the birds had very obviously had their flight feathers removed and didn’t look too pleased.  We did make a prolonged stop at some contortionists/gymnasts who had set up a stand near the pathway to Koutoubia.  More a couple of kids than anything else, but pretty awesome to see.

So with both of us being aspiring famous photographers, we knew we wanted to get a good view of all the action, and there were plenty of cafes offering rooftop views of the square, with purchase.  One of them was literally called Le Grand Balcon du Cafe Glacier, which actually translates to The Large Balcony of Glacier Coffee, but I think they were trying to point out that there was ice cream below.  As with all the places, you have to buy something to get the balcony view, so we bought some ice cream from the first floor, specifically asking the guy “can we buy this and take a picture upstairs”, to which he said “yes”.  So we go to do this upstairs and immediately get hassled by a man I can rightly call a gatekeeper, since he was literally keeping a gate closed.  We told him that we bought the ice cream on the first floor and the guy told us that we could, so he muttered something about “English being the problem”.  Unsure if he meant the language or the people, he let us through and said “On the way back, then” for drinks.  We took our shots of the square, finished our ice cream, and made our way down.  Daina got out first and the guy started saying “Hello?” and then I tried  to make my way through and the man literally stood in front of me.  He said I needed to buy a drink, all with a giant wad of cash in his hand, and I re-explained what he said before, this time with my “Angry French”.  He let me bye and again mumbled something about “English being the problem”, so I shot back, in French, “No, the English is fine, and I’m speaking French to you anyway.  The problem is you said one thing and did another.”  So then we left.

Nice view, though.

We went  back into the square, checked around some wares before headed to the restaurants in the middle.  Basically, all giant grills serving the exact same thing, with the occasional “sheep face” being the only item we saw that was different.  We were stopped first by “Number 1”, who seemed very nice and not too pushy, and said we’d come back if we didn’t find something else.  He put on the airs of sadness, but I’m pretty sure he got over it at some point.  We tried to walk deeper into the stalls, where the pattern of standing in front of Kirk and occasionally touching him continued to the point I was getting a bit pissed off.  I think one of the touts from “Chez Mohamed”, or Number 15, picked up on that and actually came up and said “Hi, I’m not going to touch you, I just want you to look at our menu.”


Food was good, nothing too fantastic and, if I’m being honest, overpriced for what you get, plus they soft sell a lot of extras without telling you they cost extra, but worth it for the experience, at least.  Check it off the list.

Back to the Riad to wash off the smell of grilled meat.

So today was a very surface-level view of Marrakesh, and we plan to get a bit deeper into it tomorrow by actually checking out some of the historical palaces, mosques and museums within the medina itself.  At some point, I think somebody will try to sell us goods at an inflated price.


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