Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Out and About in Marrakech

The flag of Morocco, bigger than life! 

“I believe that Marrakech ought to be earned as a destination. The journey is the preparation for the experience. Reaching it too fast derides it, makes it a little less easy to understand.”

― Tahir ShahIn Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams

I had originally wanted to save Marrakech for a little later in our trip, easing into Morocco a bit more gently. I looked for a place to stay further out of the city, but couldn't find anything that met the criteria I had. (Reasonably priced, room to spread out, access to inexpensive food, relaxing environment.) There were plenty of more expensive, "resort" options, but I didn't want to be stuck eating costly restaurant food. In the end, I'm the time we had in Marrakech was perfect, due largely to our stay at Dar Kalam, which was only a short walk from the action, yet quiet and secluded feeling. We were able to rest and relax, but also step out the door and explore. It was a good introduction to Morocco, and I'm glad we started there.

These men in colorful costumes hope you will notice them and buy some water to drink from the brass bowls they carry. All this and more you will find in Djeema el Fna, the main square in the Marrakesh medina. Apparently the show here has been going on for centuries, and while there are plenty of tourists joining the fray, it's largely Moroccans out and about. There are musical acts, acrobats, storytellers, snake charmers, sellers of all sorts of untold wonders, as well as food and drink. I found the square to be a bit on the overwhelming side. The first evening we were in Marrakech, we found our way to the square after hearing it was a good place to find supper. The food booths were arranged in two rows that faced one another, so we had to make our way down the "gauntlet" of hungry crowds mixed with aggressive hawkers each trying to convince us to choose their place to eat. Erik and I each held tightly to the hands of the little ones, while Peregrine and Poppy stuck close to us. Pressed on every side by the throng, we made our way down the line, first politely refusing the offers, and then matching their aggression with the force required to shake them off, sometimes literally. We emerged triumphant and still hungry, and ate at a little place around the corner where we gave our business freely and under no compulsion. I'm not big on crowds at the best of times, but in a new city, at night, and with my children, this is an experience I'd rather not repeat. We kept subsequent visits to the square limited to daytime hours and avoided the food area and the snake charmers. 

Of course there are taxi stands, where you can choose from a petit taxi or a grande, or you can wait for a bus to take you to your destination, but why would you when you can take a horse drawn carriage? Not just for tourists, this seems to be an enjoyable way for Moroccans to get around as well. My animal loving kids were thrilled to take a ride around the city.

Is it okay to text and drive if you're driving a team of horses? I hope so.

The snake charmers were anything but. They would cheerfully offer to let the children hold their snakes and then encourage mom and dad to take a picture. Of course we would expect to bestow on them a little money for this privilege, knowing it's their livelihood, but when they started hissing (figuratively) and demanding the equivalent of twenty dollars, we felt pretty taken for a ride! Especially when one man, as Peregrine protested, draped a snake around his neck and then grew angry with Erik for refusing him money. From this time we kept a wide distance between ourselves and the snake-y snake charmers, knowing not even to catch their eyes as we walked by. 
My stolen picture.... somehow I snapped this while Erik was wrangling over money with the other snake charmers. I'm sure fangs would have been bared had they noticed me.

We spent a pleasant afternoon strolling around the Bahia Palace, former home of a Grand Vizier. It appeared that no expense was spared, and he had all the finest craftsmen at his disposal for over a decade. The results are still jaw dropping. Everywhere one looks, gorgeous and intricate tiles, carved and painted ceilings, grand archways and pillars, courtyards, and gardens fill the spaces of the palace grounds.
None of these photos even begin to do the palace justice! Don't forget to look up, as  even the ceilings are designed to  delight and awe you.

This beautiful fireplace was surrounded not only by tile work, but with intricately carved built in shelves. Sigh. And those kids? I like them a lot.

Beauty, beauty, everywhere!

This building was the harem. It was hard for me to imagine how the palace must have looked when it was still inhabited. The buildings are mostly large rooms, some with one or more alcove rooms. There were no furnishings or draperies to hint at how it was set up. Apparently the Vizier had four wives and twenty concubines in his harem.

A magical garden to explore, like a fairy story!

An alcove room off of one of the large open rooms.

Beautiful tile work everywhere, this fountain was in the large garden.

A rare photo of the man behind the magic!

The cats of Marrakech. We were pleasantly surprised by how clean the city was, and there was a noticeable absence of the roaming street dogs so often found in many cities. The cats more than made up for it, and my kids had a very hard time not petting them! 

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