Marrakech, MoroccoWe arrived in Marrakech, Morocco at 12:15pm. Another continent and country crossed off of our long list!
After making it through immigration, we exchanged our Swiss francs for Moroccan dirhams and walked out into the arrivals hall to meet our driver which the riad (our Moroccan hotel) had scheduled. I was told to look for the sign with the name of our Riad. Immediately, I spotted a man holding a sign with my name. No doubt about it, it was my full name, but standing directly behind this man was another man holding a sign with the name of our riad. Long story short, I had requested quotes from several travel companies and one had sent a driver either incorrectly (maybe) or in hopes that we would just ignorantly hop in and decide to use their services after all (more likely). Someone was trying to scam us and we hadn’t even left the airport!
Once this was sorted and we were with the correct driver, we made the 20 minute drive from the airport into the old city walls, past one of the King’s 3 palaces and we eventually stopped on the side of a very busy side street. As I had previously read, nothing in Morocco was free. Any kind gesture or advice was only given with the intent of receiving a tip. And it began as soon as we stepped out of the van. People immediately spotted us (white people with backpacks) and were trying to ‘help’ us with our bags. Thankfully, we grabbed the bags first. Since our riad (Riad Matham) was on a narrow alley not accessible to cars, the owner met us at the van and showed us the way. He led us nearly half a mile to the riad, taking us through narrow alleys, right turn at the barber shop, left turn at the carpet stand, straight at the mosque. I felt like Liam Neeson in Taken trying to memorize signs, buildings, eclectic door knockers… anything that would help us remember the way back. Eventually, I just accepted that at some point, we would get lost.
The city was loud, bikes and mopeds sped by nearly taking your foot with them and had there not been donkeys and a thousand narrow alleys, I would have sworn we were back in Naples. When we finally reached the riad door and stepped inside, there was absolute silence. It was truly a tiny oasis inside. The owner poured us our first of many cups of hot mint tea and tried his best to explain our location in the labyrinth of streets inside the medina. He arranged a tour guide for us for the afternoon and our first stop was the Ben Youssef Madrasa.
This Islamic school was built in the 14th century and was in operation until 1960. It’s now open to the public as a historical site and the architecture and carved cedar, stucco and marble were absolutely stunning.
We also took a stroll through the Marrakech Museum, again “wow”, and then the Maison de la Photographie. The view from the roof was great! You could see the entire city.
The tour guide then led us deep into the souk (the thousands of alleys that make up the market). I had mentioned my obsession with Moroccan rugs to him and he quickly escorted us to a hole in the wall shop that had rugs piled sky high.
The large man who greeted us looked exactly like a character out of Aladdin and he had sales tactics that would have made Billy Mays proud. His helper probably unfolded over 100 rugs for us to see. It was hard for me to keep that ‘poker face’ because I wanted every single one! But once we heard his absurdly high starting prices, we knew even the best haggler wasn’t going to leave with a good deal from his shop! He insisted that I had “Champagne taste on a beer budget” (which may be true) but we were not ready to spend that kind of money! Our tour guide led us back into the souk where we passed snake charmers, men with pet monkeys and henna artists galore. But don’t get too close and don’t dare take a picture unless you’re ready to pay a tip!
We walked around another corner to food huts ( a Moroccan food court if you will) complete with Lamb brains in bowls and calf heads on plates. We opted out, but I’m sure it was delicious (insert sarcasm *here*). Our tour ended walking through the blacksmith quarter which felt straight out of Game of Thrones. Our night was completed with dinner Dar Tazi with Veal Tagine.
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