Palaces and Mosques and Spices, oh my!

We had an excellent first day in Marrakech despite the the awful experience on the plane.  After a night of rest, we woke up to enjoy the beautiful buffet breakfast at the hotel.  Here were some of the options.
Here was my breakfast plate.  I tried a little of everything, which was a mix of traditional Moroccan breads and then French pastries too.
I also had a nice bowl of grapefruit.
We wound up with a basket of goodies at the table too.
After that our guide picked us up and took us to the Menara Gardens.  This is considered an oasis in the dessert because it offers some coolness.  The original gardens date back to the 12th century.  They tried to make a water show here and put in bleachers, but it just didn’t work.
There is a pavilion that overlooks what is a pool, used in ancient times as a bath for soldiers.  There were people feeding the carp and so the fish were flopping around and jumping out of the water.
Here you can see the pavilion.  Although we did not walk all the way to look at this head on, that is the scene typically shown in photos of this location, often with the snow on the mountains behind, taken during the winter months.
I even took some pictures of the flowers.  I loved all the beautiful colors that Marrakech had to offer.  I was not expecting it to be so colorful.
As we left, i saw more camels.  I think it looks so uncomfortable the way they sit.  My knees would be so bruised!
This is a newer road and we kept passing it, so I took a picture of the street sign.
As we headed back from the gardens, I took another picture of the tower from the mosque.  As it is the tallest point in the city, you can practically see it from anywhere you might be.  It was a good reference point because if we were lost we could easily head in that direction.
The next stop was the Bahia Palace.  It was originally built at the end of the 1800s for the king.  The king had 4 legitimate wives and then 24 concubines.  He was allowed 28 women total and these women came from different tribes as this helped to keep the peace among the people since every group had representation in the palace.  This place was named for his favorite wife and the word Bahia also means beautiful.
This is a major tourist site to visit, so it was really busy.  Here are some photos from inside.  A lot of pictures are of the architecture and ceilings, sculptures and painted aspects of the palace.
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Here I am getting some time in the shade as it was nearly 100 degrees outside.  Lucky for us, the weather was not as hot as it usually is during the last few days of June.
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The ceilings here were absolutely amazing.
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Here is my mom and Joe.
Again, I get to sit for a moment and take a break.
This was my favorite decoration inside the palace.  I did take a photo just underneath it and hope to use it as a screensaver or make it into a poster.
These are from the rooms used for the King’s concubines.  The new King now, who does not live here, only took 1 legitimate wife so he could set an example for the people.  His wife is the head of a foundation and I suppose is seen more in the public, just like a president’s wife would.

After the palace, our tour guide was kind enough to show us the oldest synagogue in Marrakech.  It dates back to the 14th century.  We were allowed access to take photos, but of course they expected some money.  This was fine because I wanted to see inside and get some pictures.
This shade of blue is both representative of the blue in Marrakech and the blue in our religion (like on the Israeli flag).
This is inside.  They still hold services (minyan) here daily.
There were at one time many more Jews in Morocco and they did lots of trading with the Berbers.  As with many places, the Jews were expelled and only a small population exists there today.
After that we continued to walk further and looked at another synagogue from the 16th century.  We did not go inside, but I did get to take a picture of the outside.
We continued on with our walk and found street vendors with prickly pears.  They peeled them for you and handed you the fruit inside.
It was so good.  I was surprised I had never tried this before.  I do not think we have this available now on the island, so I am glad I tried it here.  Later on we saw many locals sitting in groups munching on these.
This was the inside of the small square we passed through, and they were selling a lot of produce.  At this time I knew if I took a picture, the vendor would expect payment, so I decided to only take general pictures.
Our last stop with the guide was a herbalist, or as they call it here, a herboristerie.  Although I do not use herbs, partly due to allergies and partly due to my strong belief in science versus ancient home remedies, I was interested in buying spices, which they also sold here.  
We were taken inside a very clean building, as opposed to the spices sold on the streets.  This place seems as though it is often used for tourist groups to give them the chance to experience this in a cleaner and well educated environment.  We were given a private lecture and explanation of what the products and spices are commonly used for.  Then we had a chance to purchase products.  If you are at all interested in some of these things, I have their email address and they do ship products.  Or, you could always book a trip to Marrakech and check it out for yourself.

Like I said, I personally do not use herbal remedies, but it is still interesting to learn how they are used traditionally in other cultures.  I took these photos of the display jars of all the herbs and spices.  You can see how clean and organized it was inside.
I did purchase some goodies, including a tajine spice, fish spice, Moroccan curry, and some Argane (or in the US argan) oil.  I bought the one made for use on food and then one for the skin in a spray bottle.  It is made from the seeds of a fruit that grows there.
At this point our tour with the guide was over and we had a few hours before being picked up to return to the airport.  We sat and rested at the hotel and took one last look at the pool, which now had on the fountains.
Then we walked over La Mamounia hotel which is the most expensive in Marrakech and where famous and wealthy people come to stay when visiting Marrakech.  While inside we learned that every 10 years they renovate the inside and work on restorations.  At one point, this was a palace.  It has of course since been turned into  a lucky hotel.
We continued on our walk back to Djemaa el Fna, and on the way passed by the Koutoubia and this time looked at the actual mosque.
Now we were very hot and sweaty and needed a rest, so we stopped at this place, Marrakech Ground Zero.  They served food, but I think their specialty was ice cream treats.
We ordered fresh squeezed juice to start since we needed something very refreshing.  Mine had kiwi, pineapple, and orange, with maybe one more fruit, I just can’t remember.
Then I had a cheese panini.  This place had the menu completely in French, which I do not know anything about, but the food words were pretty easy to navigate.
Joe and my mom had some white chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce.
Since we were now refreshed and relaxed, we headed to Djemaa el Fna for a final walk through before leaving Marrakech.  I really wanted to see the snake charmers although my biggest fear in the word is snakes.  I did not want to get close, I really just wanted a picture and I knew this would cost me a little money.  The snake charmer insisted I get close, stand with him, and yes, he put the snake sound me at one point.  My mom was taking pictures, so here at the shots.
In the background you can see all of the snakes and their baskets on the ground.
Then he sat me over on the rug, and I was still terrified.  Later my mom and Joe asked if I noticed the cobra in front of me, and thankfully, I did not notice this.  I think you can see it in this picture.
The unfortunate part was that when I went to stand up and leave he told me I had to give in 200 dirhams, which is about 20 euro, so just a little over 20 dollars.  I was freaked out and called for my mom and Joe.  In the end I gave him 20 dirham, or just over 2 dollars, which was of course more reasonable and I did not mind this so much.  He was very friendly again and shook my hand, which is what they always do after a deal or when you are leaving.  They are very big on scamming you out of money, but that is just how it is and you need to be prepared to deal with this.  if you know this going in, you will have no problem and less stress.

I had one more incident before we left.  I was buying another pair of leather shoes, and they wanted 800 dirham for 2 pairs, which is about 100 dollars.  This was outrageous.  Even though the quality was better than the traditional slippers I bought the day before, it was not worth that much.  I only wanted one pair and in the end I got him down to 200 dirham for one pair.  This was about $25 US.  Not too bad.  Oh, I will take a picture and post this later.  I had trouble deciding on the size and finally picked the pair that fit best.  They are known here in the markets for being fast and can quickly switch your item for something else.  You MUST watch them closely and look if they wrap something up.  We left the shop, turned the corner and I tried on the shoes.  Too big!  Oh no!  So we turned around and went back to the other gentleman who was helping us with something else.  The traded it out for the correct pair and all is well.

In the markets it helps to be vigilant and know what you are doing.  They may have friends or relatives with similar stores and will find what you want somewhere else.  Be aware that they are probably working together and they do like a “good cop, bad cop” routine to either gain your trust or make you feel like you are getting a deal.  The only real way to actual get a deal is to know what that item is worth to you an what you will not pay more than.  Start out lower and then if you get if for the price that was your maximum, then it will be a good buy and you were not ripped off.  Make sure in advance you understand the currency and how it translates to your own.  If you have to do calculations while bargaining for your goods, they know you can be easily confused and therefore easier to rip off.  Just stay focused and do not show you are confused or stressed and it will be an easy process.  If you go to Marrakech and the square and the Souk, keep these tips in mind and you will go home with great gifts.
Speaking of going home, that was what was next for us after our short, but fantastic trip to Marrakech.  I hope you enjoyed reading about something a little more exotic than Europe.
At the airport we picked up some pastries for the flight.  We had a flight on TAP, which is the main Portuguese airline and they were also voted best airline by Travel and Leisure magazine (I think this was where the award was from).  They often serve meat, so we wanted something in case we were hungry.
Sad goodbye to Marrakech.
We actually lucked out.  I think since we were leaving a Muslim country, they did not serve pork, which is the usual snack on their flights.  Instead it was smoked salmon, which I love.
Welcome back to Portugal.  Here we are approaching Lisbon.
Finally, we checked in to the Holiday Inn Express at the Lisboa airport.  We had an early flight out the next morning for the island.
QUESTIONS:  Are you afraid of snakes?  Have you ever visited a Mosque?  Have you ever been ripped off in a market?  Have you ever heard of Argane oil?  Do you use herbal remedies?


FoodFitnessFreshair said...

That camel sitting style does look rather uncomfortable...This looks like a great trip! So many wonderful sights...ahh, and it makes me even more excited for London!

Kristen (swanky dietitian) said...

Those pastries look delicious!
I think it is uncomfortable how camels sit also. They are too cute though!

Ameena said...

Your trip looks fantastic! I have always wanted to go to Morocco, ever since my parents went and loved it.

The mosque looks beautiful, as does all the Moroccan the mosaic tile work so much.

All of the food looks delicious too...paninis? I am surprised to see those there for some reason! I guess I thought they were Italian??

Gina; The Candid RD said...

This place is so beautiful. Thanks again for sharing your pics. I have never had a prickley pear either. The name just freaks me out. Snakes do too, YIKES.
I have not been scammed at a market (or at least I don't think I have!). But I definitely expect it, like you said. I mean, this is how they make their money!! Nothing is free, as you clearly displayed. Glad you got away with only giving him $2!

Simply Life said...

oh I'm so jealous- looks like a great time! I spent a day in Morocco and have been wanting to go back since! :)

Unknown said...

lox on a plane? cant beat that!!

Special K said...

Thanks for the heads up about the people being relatives...wouldn't have thought that!
I hope to go to Egypt in the fall (AGAIN!) any chance you'd like to go??? You can be my bargaining buddy!

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