12.03.2010 - 12.03.2010
After an early breakfast we made our way to the old town of Marrakech. I have to say that where we were staying was very busy- so much traffic on the roads, loads of scooters, taxis, busses. It's a death wish to cross the road but you have to do like the locals do and just cross the road and keep your fingers crossed that you make it to the other side in one piece!! Our hotel is also near the bus station which is good if you want to get to other parts of Morocco using the local transport. Bear in mind that the drivers only speak in Arabic (although most Moroccons also know French) and it's jam packed on there - sometimes looked as if you would be lucky to get a seat.
The old town is surrounded by the walls of the Medina with various 'gates' to enter into the old town.
We had planned our route to walk and had made it to the Kotoubia Mosque fairly easily. The minaret of this mosque is the icon of Marrkech and can be seen from almost anywhere. It's redish in colour and has intricate designs. It's very pretty. We walked through the courtyard to get to the other side to make our way to Place Jemaa el Fna which is the main square. We had taken a slight wrong turning and decided to ask a local woman for help. She was so helpful and asked us to follow her into the square as she was going in hat direction anyway. Her generosity continued when she asked us where we wanted to go to after and I told her Ben Youssef Merdersa. As she wasn't sure herself, she stopped at one of the many orange juice stalls int he square to ask the man. At the same time she bought us each a glass of orange juice. My Mum had wanted to buy her one and pay for ours but she refused the money and said it was her pleasure. We couldn't get over her generosity and kindness. Once we finished our juice we proceeded to follow her through the souks (they are confusing as there are many entrances and many slide lanes that lead you in different directions), there she asked someone else to explain the directions to us in English as she had to go a different way to work. Once she knew that we got the correct directions she left us and we made our way to our destination. We are forever thankful to her and I only wish I had thought to take a pic with her. if ever someone stops me to ask for directions I will think of her and try to be as kind as she was to us.
Ben Youssef Merdersa is the largest koranic college in Morocco. It has the capacity for 900 students who stay in the small chambers. I heard that there could be up to 9 students in a small cell. There was a beautiful marble courtyard with a rectangular pool. The entrance costed 50 dirhams (approx £4). It's open from 9am to 6pm. After walking around for a while we headed back to the square through the souks. We had a browse around but nothing really caught our eye as there were similar if not better things in Turkey. It was still nice to see and to experience the 'souk culture'.
Place Jemma el Fna is something else and I have never seen a square like it before. There is a lot of hustle and bustle and it really comes to life at night which I'll talk about later. We stopped for lunch and sat on one of the terraces on the upper floor with views overlooking the square. Whilst eating our lunch, at the sound of the prayer call, a lot of men congregated ont he square to start their prayer ritual. It was fascinating to see. For those few minutes everything stopped and all was quiet until it was over and then everything carried on as normal as if nothing happened.
We had decided that we would go and see Palais Bahia when it opened in the afternoon. This was pretty straightforward to get to as you just had to take the side alley next to Cafe de France (Rue des Banques) and follow that. It only took us 10 minutes or so to get there. It costs 10 dirahms to get ther (just under £1 - bonus!!)
Palis bahia when translated means 'palace of the favourite'. It was built at the end of the 19th century by 2 great viziers to the sultan. The palace coomplex consists of two parts built at different times. Both sections have beautiful courtyards and apartments with beautiful intricate designs.
After looking around for a while we headed back to the square for refreshment. We decided that we would stay until dark to experience the square at night and we did as many tourists did and sat on the terrace of a cafe overlooing the square. I think one of the best views is from Cafe De Grand Balcon. This is where we spent most of the evening.
As night approached, the square came to life. Makeshift food stalls popped out of nowhere. Soon smoke was billowing out from the cooking of the foods. Everywhere you looked on the square was a feast for the eyes. The sounds, smells, and sights were amazing. There were snake charmers, entertainers, music, men with monkeys, women doing henna trying to get peoples custom. One thing I witnessed which I didn't like at all was when I saw a man punch his monkey. He really treated it badly and the monkey was so scared. I had talked to someone else on another ocassion who also saw the same sort of thing. I would say that if you don't like snakes, don't walk too close to the snake charmers as they tend to put the snake around you so that they will take a pic of you and charge money. the same goes for the men with the monkeys. Even if you just casually watch them and take pics they will go after you for money and will follow you for some distance. I saw all this from the balcony. Also if you don't want mehindi on your hands then be careful as the women sometimes can grab your hand and start doing them before you even say yes or no. It was really beautiful at night as all the stalls and the square was lit up as well as Kotoubia mosque.
We stayed for a while and then caught the taxi back to the hotel as we were told not to walk back at night as it was just the two of us women. You have to barter with the taxi man but as long as you know roughly how much it should be and when they know that you know they won't try to rip you off. Our journey costed 40 dirhams (just under £4) . In the evenings you can expect to pay more as the journey during the day costs about 15-20 dirhams.