Ah, Marrakech

As you can see, we did make it to Marrakech, and it is a beautiful day.  Thankfully we got a little sleep on the plane, but we were still pretty exhausted.  Our poor driver had slept in the airport as he had waited 15 hours for us to arrive.  He didn’t get the information about the delay either.  At least he was there and ready to take us to the hotel.
Lots of cactus around here.
This is the front of the airport there.
I was impressed with the amount of flowers for something in the dessert.
In case you are not too familiar with Morocco, it is in the north of Africa, just south of Spain, and can easily be reached by a short ferry from the Rock of Gibraltar and a few other spots in Spain.  They had been under French rule from 1912-1956, so the national languages are French and Arabic.  The original type of people here are known as Berbers, but they also had other tribes and people, including a Jewish population.  The people now are predominately Muslim, and most people dress in the traditional dress where females are covered.  Throughout my posts on Marrakech, I will give more information on the people, the culture here and the food.
Driving to the hotel I immediately spotted some camels.  When I was younger I did get the chance to ride a camel in Israel.
Wow, we finally made it to the hotel.  This is the Sofitel Spa and Lounge.  It is a very beautiful resort like hotel.
These are the fountains out front as you approach the hotel.
They have tons of roses here and everything smells so fresh.
While waiting to check in they brought us some tea.  It was very sweet and I was glad there was no mint in this so I could try it.
Here is a hall for one set of the rooms.
This is the tea service area in the hotel.
Can you guess what this is?  Probably not!  These are the elevator doors.
Ah, here is my room.  Boy was I ready to lay down.  Our tour guide was supposed to pick us up to go out at 9 am, but we weren’t even at the hotel yet.  Thankfully she was flexible and changed things around.  This allowed us to eat lunch and then relax.  Oh, and if you are at all planning to go to Marrakech and are looking for a tour guide, please email me and I will give you her contact information.  She speaks English, French, Spanish and Arabic.
Then we came back to the lobby, where I could not resist taking lots of pictures.
This is heading out to the pool area.
They had a restaurant right by the pool, so we decided it was best to eat some lunch.
We started with some nice breads.
This was served with olives and an olive tapenade.
The musicians were serenading pool goers.
I could not stop taking pictures of all of the beautiful flowers and the hotel grounds.
This is up close of the roses in the lobby.
  At this point I came back to the table to eat lunch.  It took so long because we sat down before the actually opened, but we had not really eaten in such a long time that we had to get something to eat before we could do anything else.

My mom and Joe both ordered the Nicoise salad.
I ordered a vegetable pizza.  It was interesting because I ordered this without the ham and she asked if it was OK that the cook had touched meat earlier.  I asked jokingly if he had washed his hands since then assuming of course he had and there was no problem.  This was very nice to ask, even though I am only a vegetarian, I know her true concern was if this was for religious reasons.  Morocco is a Muslim country and many places are halal.  Pork is not allowed in their religion either, so this is taken seriously.
After a dip in the pool, a shower, and a quick nap, the driver and tour guide were there to pick us up.  I took some pictures while we were driving around.  Hopefully nothing is too blurry.
Here we are in the Medina, which is the old section of Marrakech.
This is very traditional for this area. 
First up was a visit to the Saadian Tombs.
If you notice any tombs in a different direction than the majority, these are non-Muslims.  Only those who are Muslim were buried facing Mecca. 
There are 3 kings buried here.  This is the traditional architecture and art work.  It should look similar to my pictures from the Alhambra because this is where this style was developed and the Moors brought it back to Morocco when they were expelled from Spain.
I love the tile work they use.
As we were leaving I saw these vendors, but there are some major markets in Marrakech so there was no use looking around here.
Next up was the Jardin Majorelle, a major sight to see in Marrakech.
These gardens are beautiful and contain not only flowers, but a section for palms and a section for cactus.
The tour guide was a great help in taking pictures and she is very good with a camera.
They have a memorial to Yves Saint Laurent here.  He owned a home attached to these gardens.
These looked like roses, but they were leaves.
I love the reflection off the water.
Leaving I spotted this and thought OMG that is too crazy.
Again, the camels are laying by the roadside.  Someone will be happy to give you a ride, but of course it costs, and like all things can be bargained because they will always start the price too high.  I did not ride on one so I do not know of the cost.
As far as money is concerned, they use Dirhams.  Right now $1 US is about just over 6 dirham, and 1 euro is just over 10 dirhams.  I kept it easy by thinking of whatever price they told me divided by 10 to get roughly the amount of euros and since I use euro on the island, I had a good idea of what this was in dollars. 

Again, some pictures while driving around.
This is some of the newer stuff.  They do have a new section where new things are being built.  This section is known as the Ville Nouvelle.  The Jardin Majorelle is in this section.  I believe this was the only thing around for years in this area, but with expansion, things are now being built here.
Then it was off to the Medina for a visit to the Souk.
The Souk is a huge labyrinth of shops filled with Moroccan goods.  If you have ever seen movies where people are in tightly packed markets (like I think in the last Bourne movie) and there are people running by and then people on motor bikes and just a lot of hustle and bustle, well, that is 100% accurate and exactly what this place looked like.  Tiny aisle ways and lots of motor bikes driving right at you.  You must go inside the little booth to look at the goods.
The main items were dried fruits, spices, scarves, shoes, purses and their traditional dress.  There were sections that also focused on a specific craft.  Hand woven rugs were available and very beautiful.  They also had wood working and iron goods too.
It can be very stressful in here if you do not know what to expect.  Everyone will come at you trying to get you to buy their goods.  They can be very pushy and always start with a price that is way to high.  You must have cash and you also need to have smaller bills so you can avoid making change.  There is less of a risk of a thief stealing money from you without you knowing than there is of you being flat out robbed in a deal with a one of these locals selling their goods.

You need to have a good understanding of what things should cost.  Our guide came in handy as she helped in all deals.  Also, as with all tour guides, they take you to people they know as they likely get a commission from your purchases.  The other thing to pay attention to is the packaging of your goods.  They are fast and will swap out what you pick with something different without you even knowing.  Try to watch your item from the time you selected it to the time it goes in the bag.  There are so many people and it is easy to get confused.  If they are out of your sight, make sure you check your purchase before leaving, even if this means unwrapping it.

Here is a selection of their traditional Moroccan shoes.  They sell these everywhere.  I was curious if these were really traditional or just tourist gimmicks, but I did see many Moroccans wearing these around town.  Mostly it was tour guides and people in contact with tourists, so this is likely advertising the product to us tourists anyway.
Here is some metal work that I think was being turned into furniture.
Next up we came across some dried fruits and dates.  Joe bought tons of dates.  We even sampled some and they were really good.
Then we entered a section with lots of spices.
Here are purses.
Then we wound up in Djemaa el-Fna, which is the main thing to see to really experience Marrakech in all it’s glory.  This is the giant square and it is filled with various forms of live entertainment.  I learned quickly to put my camera aware.  If you want to take a picture, they want you to give them money.  I tried to get a picture of a guy with a monkey, but I deleted it for him to avoid a problem.  This is very important to remember.  If you are in large open areas, you can take general pictures.  This is where the zoom function came in handy.
At night this square really comes alive with so many people you can’t even imagine.  They have story tellers and snake charmers too.  One main thing that was nice was the live music.  Multiple circles formed with performers using all kinds of instruments.
I believe these were snails.
Here is a good shot of the size of this square.  It fills with people the later it gets.
Fresh squeezed orange juice is a major set up and seller right in the square.
Here is the tower of the Koutoubia Mosque.  This is the tallest building in Marrakech and is a major site to see.  This tower is a sister tower to La Giralda, the tower in Sevilla at the cathedral.  This is where you can hear them over the loud speaker when it is time to pray.
After walking around in the almost 100 degree heat, which actually could have been worse because it is late June in the dessert, it was time to rest at the hotel before dinner.  The tour guide took us to a place that was clean, safe and easy to find, just off Djemaa el-Fna.  The square does have many open air food places, but these can be questionable, unless you are a lot braver than we are and have minimal food restrictions.  The place the tour guide took us too confirmed they had a vegetarian option for the set menu.
At the Souk earlier in the day I did make a few purchases.  I picked up two pairs of shoes.  These were too cute to pass up.
Then I had to buy a pair of their traditional shoes.  These are for outdoors, but they have similar as indoor slippers.  The difference is the sole.  I went with a funky color and decoration because I was really feeling the culture and I think they are fun.
Around 9:15 we headed to the restaurant for dinner.
This is a night shot, but it is a little blurry from the movement.  They have tons of horse drawn carriages everywhere and this works just as well as a cab in most cases.  You can even negotiate the price for this as well.
Here is Djemaa el-Fna at night.  It is hard to see, but there are tons of lights and even more people.
This is the restaurant, Al Baraka.  We just missed the belly dancing, but in reality, we were just too tired to go any earlier.  I belly danced for many years, taking classes at various gyms and I do already own some traditional dress, but I bet they are really good in Morocco.  Still, we needed the rest.
I absolutely loved their place settings.  I apologize if things look bright, but we were sitting in very low light, so I used my flash.
Here is the outdoor patio seating area.  The temperature was perfect.  They even had some musicians to serenade us.
The way this worked was by sharing large plates that were part of our set menu.  We started off with 6 salads.
This is cucumber salad.
Tomato salad, which had a really nice flavor.
This is an orange salad.
Here is the carrot salad.
This is potato salad.  I hate American potato salad, but this was divine!
Last up was the eggplant salad.  All of these were very good and all were vegetarian.  Again, they were very understanding of what this meant and had many good options.
Here is the bread.  It was ok, a little doughy, but I ate this as I wanted to try their traditional bread.  It also tasted like it had some sort of spice in it.
Here is my sampling of salads.  There was way too much food, and we still had tons coming.
These are meat (in the triangles) filled and then rice filled.  The powder in the middle was not cocaine, as the waiter joked, but rather powdered sugar for dipping.  It was a really nice, sweet combination.
The server also gave us a plate of only the rice filled.
Here we are just as the tagines were served.  A tagine is the traditional Moroccan cooking apparatus and then the dish made inside the tagine is called a tagine.  These are usually terra cota and are placed in the oven or stove, where the food is inside the cone shaped cooker and the juices just circulate inside to cook the food.  It keeps things very moist.
This is the tajine.
My mom had the chicken with green olives.
Joe and I had vegetables.
We also had couscous, which many of you have had before, but in Morocco it is the traditional dish, so it is a must try while here.  This was a vegetable couscous and it was better than any other couscous I have ever tried.
Again, way too much food.
After the meal, they brought us this fruit tray.  The melon was perfect.
We also received a tray of sweet dessert.  One was like a pastry with rose water, one was a macaroon, and one was almond biscotti.
The meal was fabulous and I am happy we ate a full on traditional Moroccan dinner on our only full night there.

After dinner we walked around the square and looked at things.  We went into the Souk too and made a few more purchases.  I will post pictures in of those later.
This is the mosque tower at night.  It was very nicely lit.
At this point it was almost midnight and the city was just coming to life.  We were tired and full, plus we had the next day which would be long too, so we headed back to the hotel by taking a horse drawn carriage.  Things here move fast, so there was not enough time to take a picture of our carriage between making the price deal and heading out.  Instead, I took a picture of someone elses!
This is our hotel at night.
I guess it is later, so here is a picture of my other purchase at the Souk.  This is a cute bag that I saw around at a lot of vendors.  It was tough bargaining, but I got it for about 30 or so euro.  It is so hard when they start at 80 euro for things.  The key is to stay firm and do not show that you might be uncomfortable.  It is a game, you must play along.
Well, that was a quick tour of Marrakech.  There is more to come as we have one more day of touring.

QUESTIONS:  Have you ever been to Morocco?  Have you ever been to Africa?  Do you like markets where you have to haggle over the price to get it lower?


Astra Libris said...

I so enjoyed reading this gorgeous post! I read it leisurely and happily, savoring every beautiful photo... I really wanted to visit Morocco while I was in Spain, but ran out of time, and was very sad that I didn't make it after being so close - thank you for giving me a virtual tour! I love love bargaining, especially in big open-air markets - I had a great time bargaining for spices in Spain, and bargaining in Israel is even more fun, where there's definitely a sense of a good game on both sides! :-) Bargaining in Morocco sounds much more stressful, though! You're quite brave! :-) Your shoes and bag are soooo gorgeous! And oh, my, the incredible salads... I can't wait to hear about your next day! :-)

Unknown said...

that looked yummy! I have never been to Morocco. I have been to Egypt - that's in Africa, right? I do enjoy haggling over the price of a faux Prada bag in NCY :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a wonderful post Melinda! I would have been all over those spices :D

That hotel is gorgeous - glad you got to rest and relax a bit.

I have only been to Canada - how boring am I?! I like to think I am a good at haggling - but I have to know I can walk away if I don't want to pay what they are asking and they won't come down!

Anne @ Food Loving Polar Bear said...

Ah! I really have always wanted to go to Marrakech (I always want to go everywhere in the world!) :D

Once again your hotel room looks so chic!

chow and chatter said...

oh wow what fun great snaps looks like a fun and lively city

eatingRD said...

Oh my goodness, where do I begin?! Wow, I'm so jealous of all your travels, especially Marrakech. Oh how I love Moroccan food and all that beautiful architecture and markets (dates!). Yum! Well, the closest I've been is the Marrakech restaurant here in Vegas :)

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