Marrakech Weekend

“Marrakech is a long way to go just for a weekend,” people said when we told them what we were doing the first weekend in March (Friday to Sunday). But actually, it isn’t. It takes less than three and a half hours to fly there from London – it takes longer to drive to Manchester.

Our room in the Riad

Geographically Marrakech might be close, but culturally it’s a world away from the UK. Morocco is the fifth African country we have visited in the last 12 months, so it wasn’t a complete culture shock, but even so, it does take some getting used to. Being a Muslim country it’s offensive to people to show too much female flesh, and no one drinks alcohol. It’s illegal for a restaurant to serve alcohol if it is within site of a mosque. In the old part of Marrakech this is pretty much everywhere. I understand things are different in the new city, which has plenty of bars and night clubs, but on our two-day break we were based within the city walls and reliant on foot power to go everywhere, so we accepted we were in for an alcohol-free weekend. I did, however, become quite partial to the sweet mint tea that is served everywhere, in silver-coloured tea pots poured into small sturdy glasses.

One of the odd things about Marrakech was to be in an Arab country and have everyone speak French. Morocco was once a French colony, so everyone speaks Arabic and French. Very few people speak English. I learned French in high school over 25 years ago, and it’s decidedly rusty. Fortunately hubby speaks French quite well, and he was the one that everyone talked to first. Morocco is not exactly progressive when it comes to feminism. Much as I could rant on at length about this subject (and frequently do), just for this weekend, I decided it was easiest to play the silent female and let Chris do all the talking.

Me in Le Jardin Majorelle

We were staying in a traditional Riad just off the Souks. It had only five guest rooms, which along with the living quarters of the family who owned it were arranged around the exterior of the building, overlooking a lovely enclosed courtyard where breakfast was served. The courtyard had a glass roof to let in natural light, as there were no windows in any of the bedrooms. This is the usual way of traditional Moroccan buildings, or indeed of any Muslim country – it’s considered immodest for people to be able to look in at women in their homes, I understand.

The Riad was very nice, and was an oasis of calm, being as it was just off the Souks. The Souks is a labyrinth of winding streets, full of stalls and vendors selling all manner of weird and wonderful items. As such, it is always busy, and it can be very harrowing trying to navigate your way around. The streets are too narrow to drive cars down – but that doesn’t stop people from doing it anyway. Donkeys and carts also travel the streets, and you have to squeeze past them, too. Motor vehicles are too expensive for most people, and a lot of the locals ride around on bicycles or light motorcycles. And they ride around at hair-raising speeds, with the attitude that it’s not their responsibility to avoid hitting pedestrians, it’s up to the pedestrian to get out of the way. Several times I jumped out of the path of a motorbike coming one way, to narrowly avoid being hit by one going the other way, which then prompted an impatient scowl from the latter driver who was obliged to swerve.

Nobody wears helmets on their motorbikes, and there are often quite a lot of people piled onto one bike. I saw, on one occasion, a family of four on one motorcycle. The father was driving, the mother was sitting behind him with a little girl of maybe two or three in her arms, and a baby strapped to her back. I couldn’t help but wonder how many motorcycle accidents there are every year – or if indeed anyone’s keeping count.

Student Room at the Medersa Ben Youssef

The whole experience is quite exhausting, and you have to look like you know where you are going, even if you are quite lost in the maze of winding streets. If you stop to check directions, look at a map or even pause to look for street names (and often there aren’t any), you get pounced on by a variety of young men who will insist on giving you directions to where you want to go, and of course they want to be paid for their trouble.

Once we navigated our way out of the Souks, we were able to hop on the ‘Tourist Bus’, which looks suspiciously like a red double decker London tourist bus. It stops at most of the major attractions outside the city walls, and once you have a ticket you can hop on and off all day. It’s a very good way of getting to all the tourist sites.

In two days we managed to see just about all of the recommended sites in the tourist book. The Jardin Menara, with the world’s grandest reservoir. The Jardin Majorelle, with its cacti in colourful clay pots. This garden was bought and restored in 1980 by Yves St Laurent, and there’s a suitably grand memorial for him there. The Medersa Ben Youssef, used as a Koranic boarding school until 1960 with its tiny student rooms that are more like prison cells than student quarters.

Palais El Badii

We went out sight-seeing on the Saturday, and unfortunately for us it was pouring with rain – very unusual for the time of year, I gather. Just as well we didn’t go to Marrakech for the weather. The stone steps of the Palais El Badii were treacherously slippery when they were wet.

There’s not much left of the Palais El Badii, actually. It was built in 25 years by one sultan, and then stripped bare in half that time by the conquering sultan. Now, apart from some impressive ruins, it seems to be a haven for storks, who build their nests around the ramparts.

Musee de Marrakech

The Marrakech Museum is housed in a more complete palace. There aren’t a lot of exhibits in the museum, but it’s worth going there just to see the magnificent building.

We enjoyed Marrakech but you do have to be aware of what to expect. As a city break, there’s lots to see, but I am not sure I would want to spend a week there. As always, it was good to come home to the modern comforts of the Western world – particularly after being reminded that not all women in the world enjoy the freedoms that I do in the UK. Not a bad thing to be reminded of, that.


1 comment so far

  1. Kirsten Lesko on

    What a cool weekend trip.

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