Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Morocco: Marvelous Marrakesh

Marrakesh, possibly thanks to the Crosby, Stills and Nash song "Marrakesh Express," is the one city in Morocco that every American simply has to visit. We were warned about pickpockets in Jemaa El Fna, the medina's huge square famous for its snake charmers, trained monkeys and a couple other forms of what might be seen as animal abuse. Zipped pockets, a bit of awareness of one's surroundings and a wariness about joining the throngs surrounding acrobats and other street performers should keep wallets where they belong here.
     We were also warned that there's something of a tradition in Marrakesh of people striking up a conversation with you, asking where you're going, walking with you and then insisting that you pay them for their services as a guide. If you have to ask directions, approach someone working in a stall or shop -- someone who won't be able to walk with you.  Our first hours in Marrakesh we encountered this problem two or three times, including once with a pair of 11-year-old boys who assured us they just wanted to help and would not ask for money. They did. Stridently.
    That said, Marrakesh is a pretty interesting place. It is Morocco's third-largest city (after Casablanca and Fez) and it has the largest medina. Our hotel here, Riad L'Orangerie, is in a relatively quiet part of the medina, though just a short walk from several good restaurants and one of the medina's gentler attractions, Le Jardin Secret, a lovely walled garden. Our riad's outdoor pool was inviting but the weather just wasn't  warm enough. One night, at dinner in the riad, even in a dining room with a roaring fire, we were chilly. A member of the excellent staff went to some trouble to set up a portable heater by our table, which worked quite well.
     Outside the medina, Marrakesh is a modern city with its own charms, not the least of which is the Majorelle Garden, a 12-acre Eden created almost a century ago by the French artist Jacques Majorelle and more recently restored and enhanced by the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. The gardens contain loads of plants, especially cacti, from all over the world, along with a small museum about Berber culture. Definitely worth a visit. It's maybe a half-hour walk from the medina and has a few cosmopolitan cafes nearby.
    Any guidebook or map of Marrakesh will have loads of recommended sights. We went to a bunch of those -- the Koranic school and an old palace, for example -- but the one that I'd recommend most is the Maison de la Photographie, the photography museum. Photos of Berbers and other Moroccans from the mid-1800s look as crisp and fresh as if they were taken yesterday. One of the best photo museums I've ever visited.
    Below are some of my snapshots from Marrakesh.
Our first meal in Marrakesh was at Dar Cherifa (click HERE), a posh restaurant serving a wonderful
lunch; in Morocco, lunch is traditionally the major meal of the day. It's a very short and not too
confusing walk from our hotel, Riad L'Orangerie.

Also close to our riad is Le Jardin Secret, a small walled garden
in the French style with an interesting tower to climb. 

Cacti are a major attraction at Yves Saint Laurent's Jardin Majorelle, a few blocks outside the medina. 

Snakes, charmed or not, at Jemaa El Fna.

Street food is a big part of the Jemaa El Fna experience.

Inside the mosque at Medersa Ben Youssef, a former Koranic school.

A hallway at Medersa Ben Youssef.

A crowded street in the medina. Motorcycles are common, loud, fast and scary.

Care Arabe is near L'Orangerie and a good place for drinks and
snacks. Our dinner there wasn't so great, but maybe we ordered

Jemaa El Fna as seen from a rooftop at its southern end. 
This is Marrakesh, not the movie set for "Casablanca," but
doesn't this fellow remind you of Sidney Greenstreet
in the movie? He's a rug merchant and was sitting
outside his shop.

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