17/07/2013 - 21/07/2013
On Wednesday 17th July we donned our new backpacks and headed to Stansted airport. We flew by Easyjet to Marrakech. Unsurprisingly it was hot, though our 2 weeks in the UK had actually prepared us slightly, which isn't something I'd ever have imagined saying.
From the airport we were planning to take the bus, so made our way to the bus stop. Taxi drivers were keen to offer us taxis but we kept declining. It was only when they offered us a taxi for the same price as the bus that we accepted. Unfortunately, once we arrived at the destination, the taxi driver and his mates claimed ignorance and demanded 100 dirhams instead of the agreed 60. As we didn't have lower than a 100 dirham note it was impossible to get the rate we'd agreed. It was only the equivalent of about £3 extra though, so we chalked it up as a learning experience. The main problem was that we'd been dropped off somewhere different to where the bus would have dropped us off, so we didn't know how to get to our accommodation. Thankfully one of the guys said he'd show us the way. I was slightly concerned he'd take us to the wrong place, but happily he didn't. He did of course want paying for it though, so we gave him a token amount. Maybe not the best introduction to a country, but an accurate one. People will constantly try to offer you things, or even try to force them on you, particularly within the Medina, which is where we were staying.
We stayed at Hostel Riad Fantasia. It was a nice little place and the owner and her dog were really friendly. We had an en suite double room for a good price. There was a small additional charge for use of the air conditioning but we were happy to pay that. The only strange thing about our room was that the doorway to the bathroom had no door or curtain or anything. It's just as well we've been together a while so aren't too shy about such things.
After checking in we went in search of some snacks and some bottled water. That ended up being quite easy. However we then went out to the main square for a bit of a nose around. That's where you find the snake charmers and the people with monkeys. It's also where you'll find women offering henna tattoos; or more accurately where they'll find you. I said I didn't want one but the woman grabbed my arm and did one anyway, making out like it was a free gesture but of course wanting payment for it. As we'd just popped out for snacks we didn't have much cash or anything on us, so we got away without paying, much to her displeasure. But hey, if you grab someone's arm without their consent, what do you expect? We headed back then and I did try to wash the henna off but some had already sunk in quite well on my hand. It's mostly gone now though.
On our first full day in Marrakech we headed towards the new town. You get hassled a lot less once you leave the medina (the old town with all the souks etc.). We popped into the Cyber Gardens briefly, which are what they sound like - gardens with some computers in. The weather in Marrakech was generally in the high 30s and often into the low to mid 40s. That first day was quite exhausting just due to the heat, plus it took a while to adapt to the different culture. We went to the train station in order to book our onwards tickets for Fez, plus we booked bus tickets for a day trip to Essaouira on the Saturday. We then had a bit more of a wander around the new town before we decided we should get some lunch. We found a handy hotel entrance-way with free wi-fi and Jamie looked up possible places on his Tripadvisor phone app. He found a place that sounded perfect, so of course we got there to discover it was closed for renovation. We then looked up 3 alternative places in the hope that 1 would work out. The first was closed, we couldn't find the 2nd, but thankfully the 3rd was open. It was fairly late for lunch by the time we got there, so a lot of things were sold out, but Jamie had a veggie sandwich and I had a chicken tagine which was pretty nice.
After that we went to Jardin Majorelle. The gardens were nice, especially as they were quite shaded, but they were much smaller than I'd expected, which made the entry fee seem a bit steep. Still, we spent a while there before heading back to the medina.
For dinner we went to a highly rated restaurant called Un Dejeuner A Marrakech. It has a rooftop terrace which is probably its biggest draw. The food was decent but not amazing and seemed a bit overpriced for the amount you got. I had a tomato and mozzarella tart thing that came with a small bit of salad and a small amount of lemon sorbet (with some basil coulis on top). I wasn't convinced that the sorbet really went with the tart, but I did really enjoy the sorbet.To be honest I'd have been happy to have had a whole load of sorbet and not bothered with the tart! As you mostly can't get alcohol within the medina, I had a virgin Mojito. I wasn't expecting too much from it to be honest, but it was really nice. My only qualm was that there was too much ice and too many pieces of lime in the glass, so you didn't get a huge amount of actual drink. I could have happily drunk about 4 of them, but as they were about £2 I stuck with just the one.
On our second day we headed to Medersa Ben Youssef. It's a student accommodation that's no longer used and can be looked around by tourists (for a small fee of course). We spent quite a while there, exploring the various rooms. We then also went to the neighbouring museum as you just need to pay an extra 10 dirhams, which is less than a pound. That was really good to walk around as well - mostly for the architecture.
Medersa Ben Youssef:
After that we'd fancied a relaxed afternoon in a rooftop bar. We headed to Cafe Arabe, which seemed to be the only licensed bar in the medina with a rooftop terrace. It was a really nice place but drinks were far from cheap. We went for small bottles of Heineken (only 25cl) which were about £3! It didn't seem economically viable to spend the rest of the afternoon there so we just had the one drink and then got some water and snacks to enjoy on the terrace of our riad.
In the evening we went out for dinner - this time to Baganziz Cafe which was also highly rated on Tripadvisor. It was quite a contrast to the restaurant we went to on the previous night. It was pretty basic looking, with wobbly chairs and tables out on the street. However, it was a lot cheaper and the food was really good. For the same price as our drinks were in the other place, we each had a vegetable tagine, which was hearty and really tasty.
On our final full day in Marrakech, we headed out of the city and spent the day at Essaouira. It had been recommended to us by a couple we'd met up Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro. It was about 2 1/2 hours each way on the bus, but definitely worth it. It seemed much more relaxed, plus a lot cleaner than Marrakech. You'd still get hassled in the medina, but not as much. There also seemed a lot more tourists around - possibly because it's coastal. Anyway, we had a bit of a wander around the medina before we went for a late lunch / early dinner. We'd researched in advance and had written down 2 possible places to go. Just as well we had as our first choice place was closed for no obvious reason. Thankfully our second choice was open. It was Ginger Cafe, which is currently the top ranked eatery in Essaouira on Tripadvisor. It was a cosy little place and the guy serving us was really nice. I had a 'gourmet' sandwich of turkey, cheese, tomato, basil and a supposedly small amount of mustard (which was rather strong in places). I'm not sure I'd go as far as to call it gourmet, but it was very nice. I also had an espresso which was greatly enjoyable. The coffee we got at breakfast in the riad was quite strange tasting - not bad, just different - slightly cinnamon like. The breakfast in general was decent though - fresh bread, butter and jams, a laughing cow cheese triangle, sometimes a little cake, a yoghurt, coffee, fresh orange juice and some mint tea (a traditional Morrocan thing). I'm not keen on teas that aren't just regular black tea, so Jamie would get double mint tea. He had some at this place in Essaouira too.
After food we wandered around the medina a bit more before heading down to the beach. The temperature was generally a bit cooler in Essaouira, which was nice, plus it was really windy by the sea, which made it even cooler. We walked right along the beach, up to the castle in the sand that apparently inspired a Bob Marley song. Walking back was more of an adventure as we were walking into the wind. Unsurprisingly it's a popular spot for windsurfing, so we watched the people attempting that. One guy was trying to do it without the surf board element, so basically trying to just get lifted out of the water by the wind - mostly unsuccessfully! Weird. The bus then got us back to Marrakech in a fairly timely manner. Only bad point of the day was that I got slightly sunburnt on the backs of my shoulders. On my right shoulder you can actually see the outline of my hand from the part I did manage to put sunscreen on. Doh! I was worried they'd cause me problems the following day (the day I'm writing this) as I needed to carry my backpack to the train station. However they've thankfully been ok - I put cream on them last night and this morning and that seems to have been sufficient.
We're now on the train heading to Fez, which is about a 7 hour journey. Sadly there's no wi-fi, so I won't be able to post this for a while, but we did pay the small amount extra for first class so we've got air conditioning - phew.