Weaving and winding in the narrow streets of Marrakech, finding my way back to the little Riad was one of the delights of my stay. Never sure whether I had taken the correct alleyway, I meandered down narrow, dusty streets full of people.
I loved this shed – bursting open with a random collection of tyres and bike parts. I don’t create too many black and white photos but this one called for it, so that the textures and tangles became the focus rather than a mess of colours.
A shoemaker must surely be one of the oldest crafts in existence. After all, I just read on the internet that humans first started wearing footwear 40,000 years ago.
In this photo, taken in Marrakech, I feel the echoes of centuries past, as if time has stood still. Shut your eyes and those leather souls, drying in the sun, could be the base of 15th century slippers, 12th century boots, 8th century shoes. At the same time, they are a story of what is to come; who will fill these footsteps and where will they lead?
I love those moments in photography when you do manage to lift the camera to your eye in that quick moment and get the shot on the hoof that really works.
I couldn’t believe my luck when this man strolled past an arched window in Marrakech. I try to keep my camera in hand, with the strap wrapped around my wrist to avoid any accidental drops, and switched on whenever I’m in a photogenic place and it really paid off here.
To me, he looks like a medieval monk on a secret mission, hunched over, hurrying and not wanting anyone to know who he is.
Possibly my favourite photo of the year but I’ll see what you all think!
On the second day in Morocco my friend Liz and I decided a day trip out of the city was in order. A lovely couple from our Riad decided to join us and I imagined a trip for just the four of us. I should have realised that for 200 dirham it wouldn’t be quite that exclusive!
We were taken by taxi to a petrol station near the Koutoubia Mosque, where we joined about 15 others on a minibus.
It was a nice trip but rather cheesy. We headed into the Ourika Valley.
Our first stop was at a herb/argan oil place. Although touristy, it was genuinely interesting and I bought Amber perfume, which I love (still haven’t quite worked out what Amber actually IS though!).
Onto our next stop, which was truly cringe-worthy. A beautiful Berber man guided us round a ‘traditional Berber house’. I don’t like being shown round people’s houses when I’m not a real guest. What need do I have of gawping at someone’s bedroom or storeroom? I was glad to leave simply because I felt it was a plastic experience.
We headed up the valley to go see some waterfalls. This was huge fun, with local daytrippers as well as international visitors.
Clambering ensued, to reach a small and then a larger (just) waterfall. They weren’t spectacular but it was fun watching our guide scamper around sure-footed as a mountain goat, helping everyone from slip-sliding middle-aged women to a five-year old girl. Moroccan men showed off by leaping from rock to rock, while women with high heels or backless slip ons tip-toed up and down, much to our amazement.
I have no photos, as they died in my memory card crash. Hot and thirsty, we tripped back to the city and headed for our rooftop haunt to watch the sunset and the world going about its business.
It was a touristy, fun day. I wouldn’t particularly recommend the trip we did but it’s a nice punctuation if you’re only going to be in Marrakech and want to see something else of Morocco.
Our third and final day started early-ish. The Majorelle Garden was top of my list of things to do as, along with the Ben Youssef Medersa, I had missed it last time. I had read that it’s super busy by 10 a.m. so my original plan was to be there for eight. That didn’t happen but thankfully it was still quiet when we got there at 9 am. I really would recommend being the first in, as by the time we left, it was getting busier.
You can read about the gardens here. It’s a gorgeous walled garden, filled with water features, the famous ‘majorelle’ blue at every turn and urn, and is delicious in its clever walkways and bowers.
It is also very difficult to photogrpah! Here’s my poorly attempts at capturing some of the delight.
We returned to the square – well, it was time for coffee and, of course, more people-watching!
Next up was some actual shopping rather than simply ‘souking’ up the atmosphere. Liz wanted a rug. I didn’t, as there is no space for any more. We headed for the carpet section and I was immediately distracted by a cute little kitten.
Liz bought a rug and, inevitably, I did too! I have a high atlas one (traditional deep red kilim) but simply couldn’t resist the Berber colours and designs.
Once you have decided to buy a rug, it’s a hugely enjoyable process. The key to it is to start with a rough budget in your head. If you can afford to spend £100, for example, don’t go crazy and spend double the amount!
Choose your shop, accept a glass of mint tea, sit back and let the show begin. As many rugs as you want to see will be arranged in front of you. Then you narrow it down to two or three. If you don’t think they’re quite right, look at more until you stumble across ‘the one’, the rug that makes your heart sing.
Once you have it sight, start the negotiations, keeping hold of your budget and feeling confident that hard-bargaining on both sides is all part of the fun. If you can’t get down to a price you’re comfortable with, then be prepared to walk away.
But don’t walk away too early as a tactic!
I don’t know why I thought I would come away empty-handed. As Liz bought her big rug, I salivated over another that she had rejected. Alas, it was way outside my budget so I negotiated on a smaller one instead. We were all happy!
We couldn’t leave before trying out a traditional Berber wedding cloak!
More shopping and then lunch. Yes, you’ve guessed it – more people-watching.
We wandered around and deliberately got lost. Now that we had done our essential shopping, we were happy just to discover.
By this time we needed a rest. On the way back to our Riad, I took three of my favourite photos of the weekend.
Our pretty Riad was the perfect place for a rest.
Before we knew it, it was time for our final night in the Jemaa el-Fnaa. The food from the stalls is far more interesting than what we had eaten in restaurants and I only wish I hadn’t been so chicken before!
And so the long weekend drew to a close…back home to cold old Britain!
Last weekend I was in Marrakech. My friend and I arrived after dark and after storms, so we woke on Saturday morning unsure of what would await us outside.
This was the wonderful blue sky that greeted me as I opened the door of our room.
I was happy and couldn’t wait to start the day.
First stop was to find our way back down to Jemaa el-Fnaa, as we had become pretty lost the night before. After many digressions into souk alleyways we made it and headed straight for the Cafe de France balcony, which gives a great view of life happening down below. It was to become a regular haunt in our short stay.
I could have stayed there all day – not only was the people-watching magnificent but the coffee was superb. Best of all there was shade for me and sun for Liz – the perfect arrangement! But the Ben Youssef Medersa, the tanneries and the souks were calling.
When I visited Morocco in 2002 with a travel company that still claims to be all about ‘small group travel’, even though we were in a group of 24 (begins and ends with ‘e’), our local guide promised we would visit the famous Ben Youssef Medersa (or Madrassa as it used to be – why the change, I wonder?). He failed to deliver on his promise two days running, so this architectural gem was top of my sight-seeing list.
I could quite happily have spent a few days contemplating life and studying in one of the tiny rooms off the courtyard. Here are my snaps. If you go to Marrakech, I would recommend it as a ‘must see’.
We had a lovely lunch break nearby and I couldn’t resist taking sneaky snaps. There are so many interesting, craggy and beautiful faces in Marrakech but it’s not a place where I feel comfortable asking to take people’s photos – it’s hard to get your hands on small change and many people who would make for the best pictures would need a little ‘thank you’.
So these are my sneaky lunchtime ‘world goes by’ photos.
We strolled through the streets to go and visit the tanneries. My advice? Don’t bother! Before we could find the classic views of the vats of colourful dye we were gathered up into an impromptu tour of one man’s ‘patch’. It was interesting enough but the photos weren’t even worth keeping and I can’t say I learnt anything about the process that made it worth the smell. If anyone knows how to find the section that gives the classic views (I visited them last time I was there), do post a comment with info!
A bit more ‘souking’ followed – we weren’t necessarily interested in buying. Rather, wandering around the ancient alleyways is a major sight-seeing joy in its own right. Here’s today’s selection of pictures. There will be more tomorrow!
Our final stop in our crammed day was the Menara gardens. Personally, I wouldn’t bother going again but I imagine if you went in the early morning or at sunset, the view would make up for the fact that this is a rather dull garden with a big resevoir and a building that frames pictures of the snowy mountains rather nicely.
The highlight in these gardens was being ‘mobbed’ by a group of about 30 very enthusiastic school children who all wanted their photo taken with us. While we were joining in and finding it good fun, when their teachers arrived, they were horrified that the kids had ‘bothered’ us. They explained in French (and I was chuffed to understand) that the children were from a rural area and hadn’t met many tourists!
We forfeited the sunset on our second evening in favour of going for a beer in a hotel off the square. It was an expensive stop (about a tenner for two beers served with lots of gorgeous nuts and olives) but absolutely worth it, as it had been a hot day of wall to wall sight-seeing! If you find yourself needing a beer stop, then head for Hotel Les Jardins de La Koutoubia
Tomorrow – a trip to the mountain waterfalls with no photos, the Majorelle Gardens, rug-buying and some sunset pics.
Getting lost in the souks is an absolute must in terms of the Marrakech experience. To be honest, you probably won’t have a choice! If you do, then do just go with the flow. Worst comes to the worst – accept a tag-along ‘friend’ and pay them a bit to help you find your way again.
My friend Liz and I arrived at our Riad at about 8pm, so by the time we were ready to go out and eat, it was pretty dark. Armed with a hand-drawn map of the ‘short cut’ to the Jemaa el-Fnaa we set out. Within seconds we were confounded. I had been so laid back and ‘non preparing’ about the weekend break that I all I knew was that we were somewhere north east of the souks. Beyond that, I simply figured that we’d find our way with what the Riad staff provided us…should have known better as I’ve been to Marrakech before.
The alleyways around our Riad were straight out of the middle ages – dark, narrow and mysterious. At night, with lads lurking and eager to ‘help’, it could have felt dangerous. But do you know what? It just wasn’t. We smilingly shook off offers of help and found our way into the souks. At the northern end some were beginning to pack up for the evening. Eventually we stumbled upon the main artery, still packed with people at 9pm.
And out into the heaving, smoky square. The Jemaa al-Fnaa is a sensual feast. Musicians and story-tellers attract huddles of locals, keen to enjoy the evening’s entertainment. The smoke rising from hundreds of food stalls forms ever-shifting clouds, stinging the eyes and making the mouth water (and I’m not even a meat eater!).
I was a right old chicken on that first night, refusing to eat the street food in case my stomach rebelled. How foolish I was. It was the best food in the city, something I only found out on the last night. Take it from me, eating in the square offers the best choice, particularly if you’re a veggie who gets bored of unseasoned five-veg couscous and tagine after a couple of days!
Here’s some night time photos of the Jemaa el-Fnaa.
Tomorrow, it’ll be onto souks, sunsets and people-watching!
I went to Marrakech for a long weekend last Friday. First off, I have to recommend cheap breaks website Ice Lolly. My friend Liz had used them before and she found a brilliant deal – just £350 for four nights and flights.
It was the perfect getaway. Liz has lovely children and they are now old enough for her to have a girls’ weekend away without feeling guilty or starting to miss them.
We both needed a break from the miserable weather and we couldn’t have timed it better. Marrakech had storms and rain on Friday but we didn’t arrive until about 8pm, once they were over. We woke to brilliant blue skies on Saturday and they stayed that way all weekend.
You can’t expect too much from a £350 break – our Riad is billed as four star but was a bit dusty and worn around the edges. For us (keen backpackers, not bothered about luxury touches) it was absolutely spot on.
I don’t have pictures of Riad Amsaffah yet, as I have temporarily lost my photos, but I should be sorting out the photo issue tomorrow and will gleefully post as many as I can. And by the way, the ‘delete after download’ option will now always be unticked by me; I’ve learnt my lesson the hard way. My download failed but the delete went ahead despite this. I understand from the ever helpful internet that they will still be on the memory card (as long as I don’t use it). Unfortunately the free software I downloaded didn’t recognise my camera as a drive, so I’m waiting for a card reader to arrive tomorrow before I can sort it out. I mention all of this, as I hope that other bloggers can learn from my mistake!
So until I have sorted out my own photos, I’ll resist writing of my sun- and souk-filled days in Marrakech.
In the meantime, here are my top tips:
1. Take a canny bottle of your favourite spirit from duty free if you’re partial to a sunset drink. Mint tea is glorious but there is something so lovely about a ‘proper’ drink at that time of day and the rooftop locations around the Jemaa El Fna don’t serve alcohol.
2. The gates to the souk all close by 10pm at the latest, so if your Riad requires you to walk through them from the square, make sure you leave yourself enough time! We did but it was very close on the last evening. Taxis are surprisingly expensive and the drivers aren’t keen to haggle.
3. Budget to buy a rug. Sitting down to drink tea and be presented with a fulsome range of kilims is a great experience.
4. Visit the Majorelle Gardens, as they are stunning. But go early. By 10 a.m. they get busy and it’s a small place.
5. Get lost. Allow a whole afternoon simply to wander the souks without worrying where you are. It is like stepping back into the middle ages and is the most absorbing sight-seeing possible.