Monday, 16 January 2012

Marrakech - first impressions


I love arriving somewhere new - and Marrakech last week was no different.

In six full on days and five nights we left no point of interest in the guide book overlooked. To say that I now need a holiday is an understatement. It was both amazing and exhausting.





Not overly sad to swap Manchester for Marrakech.

Even though I count myself as a pretty seasoned traveller - I found Marrakech challenging and fell in and out of love with the place on at least a daily basis.

When I felt strong and up for it - Marrakech was my favourite city in the whole world. But when I felt even the slightest bit tired I wanted to punch everything and everyone who hassled me. I guess what I'm saying is that to get the most out of Marrakech you need to be feeling on top form, have your wits about you and have plenty of places to escape the madness.

This time - instead of giving a blow by blow account of our trip, I've decided to divide things a bit differently. Starting today are my first impressions of Marrakech - written on our first morning. Hopefully it will give some atmosphere and a back drop to the following blogs:

  • Top tips for surviving Marrakech.
  • Marrakech food.
  • Secret images from Marrakech.
So here we go with Marrakech (first impressions)

Arriving in Marrakech, it was the first time I'd put my occupation as ‘writer’ on an official form. As the stern looking woman at passport control scrutinised my disembarkation form she barked something at me.  I couldn’t understand. After several goes I worked out she was saying “Books or Magazines?” “Both” I answered, wrong footed “and web sites”. She looked at me in disbelief and then threw a pen at me in order to clarify my occupation.
Never did a more unconvincing person enter the country of Morocco!
A bored looking man met us in arrivals holding up a sign.
“Blah, blah, blah – Manchester City – blah, blah Mancini” went the radio as we drove through the evening chaos into the Medina. No lights, no helmets. Motor bikes and mopeds everywhere moved by Brownian motion, each knowing, it seemed, instinctively just which part of the road to occupy in order to avoid a fatal collision. In amongst the melee were caleches (horse drawn cabs), matted looking donkeys pulling massive carts and the cast of Hogwarts in their long black Berber coats and pointy hoods cycling in sandals through the night.
We were deposited at the corner of the main square, Jamaa el Fna, a UNESCO World Heritage site rammed with humanity of every description.

Jamma el Fna taken from Cafe de France terrace.

Yes, we had truly arrived somewhere very different. Very pink and very different.
Thank the lord, we were met by a guide and an old man with a hand cart who took our bags and guided us through the dizzying craziness of the square. Hawkers hurled blue flashing lights up into a night sky which glowed orange from street lights while food stalls in the night market belched out spice infused smoke which took the edge off the faint smell of horse manure.
Dodging mopeds that missed us by millimetres we dived down one of the derbs or alleyways at the top of the square. Plunged into a dark and atmospheric world of shop keepers selling silks, slippers, lanterns and patisserie (the French leave such a great legacy) my eyes were everywhere. Every sense was under assault. It was so exciting.
I love arriving somewhere new. You feel the adrenaline running through your blood like a narcotic.
Derb Debachi.
Our guide kept a close eye on us, delivering us safely along a small series of alleyways. It was like travelling deeper and deeper into the lungs, bronchus and alveoli of the city, and further and further back in time.

Just when I began to think that maybe our guide had got lost – there was a door. A beautiful wooden carved door with ‘212’ in iron numbers on the front and a door bell. It was like we’d walked into an Enid Blyton or CS Lewis fantasy adventure.


Through the door was the nearest thing to Narnia – our Riad. A haven of tranquillity with freshly plastered walls and luscious carpets and cushions. Open to the sky in the middle with an amazing ‘brink’ (pinky brown) coloured roof terrace with rattan loungers and tables and with sumptuous sofas, I was completely bowled over. You couldn't have imagined a bigger contrast.




Feeling very pleased with ourselves that we’d managed to arrange our ‘petit dejeuner’ in rubbish French with our hosts, we plunged back out into the chaos and headed for the main square, taking photos of landmarks on our phones to help us find our way back.


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