Friday, November 27, 2020

MARRAKECH - THE GATE KEEPER

 

If there was a system to the streets in Marrakech we never figured it out.  Prepared with Iphone Maps, Printed Maps, directions from reception, shopkeepers and other tourists we always managed to get lost. ...

Thursday, November 26, 2020

MARRAKECH - SUNSET

 


Sunlight washes the Medina in gold and lights up the "The Red City" of Marrakech. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

MARRAKECH - MOTORCYCLE FOR THREE

 

If there were any road rules in Marrakech they were not obvious to us.  Not only was being on the road often hair raising but just walking along the street as a pedestrian had its issues.  On one occasion we were walking along a narrow lane with many other people when we came across workers repairing underground pipes.  They had dug a hole almost the width of the lane and about 1.5 metres deep.  A narrow board had been placed from one end to the other and one by one each pedestrian "walked the plank" to the other side.  My turn arrived.  As I neared the end a tractor almost as wide as the lane appeared and headed straight towards me.  It wasn't about to stop.  I hot footed it to the end and dashed around the corner before the tractor entered the lane.  Mrs J was not so lucky.  She had to negotiate her way off the plank on to a small ledge and press herself against the wall to allow the tractor to pass!  It was that night that we got out of the Medina and headed for the modern city - Ville Nouvelle.  We found an Italian Restaurant (Bistro Romain) and ate non-morrocan food to our hearts content. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

MARRAKECH - PRICKLY PEARS FOR SALE

 

Street traders are not only in the square but set up on any street corner or in any lane way. This old gentlemen has his knife ready to peel and sell the prickly pears to any passer by.  We saw many hand made carts like this being towed by donkey. We also saw many being towed by their owners.  Life looked tough in the Medina of Marrakech.

Monday, November 23, 2020

MARRAKECH - WHICH WAY?

 

After our second day in Marrakech we learnt how to identify the brown signs high overhead which marked the way to the Square.  The return trip to our Riad was not so easy.  Not once did we travel the same route.   Twice, upon entering a new lane way youths standing on the corner yelled "You cannot enter.  It is forbidden.  Street closed because of Mosque!" Wanting to respect their culture we promptly turned back and they offered to show us the way only to once again confuse us in the lane ways and request money to point us in the right direction.  We only fell for this ploy once.  Marrakech was a daily challenge but one we are pleased to have met. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

MARRAKECH - BEN YOUSSEF MADRASA

 

It was 45 degrees Celsius when we entered the Ben Youssef Madrasa.  Like many other tourist we sat on the cool tiles beneath the enormous arches in a vain attempt to escape the oppressive humidity.  The vastness of the pool centred patio seemed to absorb all noise. Silence prevailed.  Slowly the height of the walls, the intricate designs and  infinite blue sky overhead replaced our exhaustion and we wondered how we came to be sitting on the floor of a Marrakechi religious college originally built over 900 years ago.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

MARRAKECH - THE WALL

 


The reddish brown clay and chalk walls surrounding the ancient Medina span some 19 kilometres and seeing them we could appreciate why Marrakech is sometimes called The Red City or The Ochre City.  Contrasted with the blue sky they were constructed from 1126-27 over 800 years ago.  Their purpose was protection but travelling both within and beyond them we could not help but question whether today they are walls of protection or confinement.  Inside the walls contain palaces, mosques, museums as well as poverty, confusion and chaos. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

MARRAKECH - SPICE

 


One edge of Jemaa El Fnaa is lined with souks, traditional North African Market stalls.   It was the colour that hit us first.  Yellow, deep blues, vibrant greens in the pottery, the leather goods and the spices.  As we approached the souks the smells invaded us; cumin, cinnamon and vanilla.  Hands reached out to greet us.  “Where are you from”, the common hook.  Every trader wanted us to enter their stall.  Before we knew it we were buried deep within the souks agog with the sights and sounds avoiding the carts when a local called out “Balak” meaning “get out of the way”!  The alleys narrowed and the darkness increased and we found ourselves at a dead end with several locals approaching us offering to show us the way out.  “Thank you but No!”  We turned and meandered until daylight and the fragrance of the spices returned.    

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

MARRAKECH - JEMAA EL-FNAA

 


We saw the main square in the Medina, Jemaa el-Fnaa several times during our stay in Marrakesh and each time it was different.  In the morning caravans selling orange juice, water and dried fruits dominated.  In the afternoon locals vied for customers for photographs with their monkeys or their snakes, for henna treatments or more traditional souvenirs; wooden camels, scarves or Moroccan plates.  Cavernous cafe’s with verandas shading chairs facing the Square allow the tourist to escape the heat of the day, have a drink and observe the chaos from a distance.  It was at night when the square really came alive.  Food stalls, barbecues, African  drummers, dancers and soothsayers with a backdrop of a golden sun setting behind a mosque exaggerate the commotion with shadows.  Many of the cafes have rooftop dining areas providing a ringside seat to the spectacle.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

MARRAKECH - MOUSTAFA

It was our first morning in Marrakech and with the assault to our senses from the previous night still fresh it was time to brave the streets on our own.  Jemaa el F’naa, the famous market square, was our destination, apparently only a 15 minute walk away.  With some apprehension and as much of a mental map as possible, the Riad vanished as we turned the corner.  The tourist map was buried deep in my camera bag.  All the travel blogs warned not to take the map out in public as it was a signal that you were lost, a prime target to a Marrakechi that you needed directions for a fee.  This advice was puzzling to me.  Without the ability to read the map I knew I would most likely be lost anyway.  Chances were that even with the map in my hand the maze that is the Medina would be unnavigable.


Within minutes of leaving the Riad a boy about 11 years of age cycled up beside us and with a grin informed us his name was Moustafa.  “Where you come from?” he questioned affably.  Chatter ensued and somehow we ended up with a guide.  We knew he would ask for money at some point but if he got us to the Square I was more than happy to part with a few Dirhams.   Off we trotted with stilted talk about his family and his life in Marrakech.  My inner GPS was uneasy.  I heard it saying “turn around when possible”.  Sensing we were going the wrong way I repeated our wish to go to the Square. “Tanneries” was the response.  I’d heard about the tanneries where cow and camel hides are bashed and softened in clay pits full of water and stench and had decided before our arrival it was not a place I want to see or smell.  Moustafa got the message and somewhat reluctantly changed direction for what we hoped was Jemaa el F’naa.  Within minutes we were in narrow laneways bordered by red clay buildings with iron doors.  At each corner I turned around and took a photograph in a vain attempt to provide a breadcrumb trail for our return.  It proved useless, every corner looked the same.  

Moustafa maintained his pleasant banter. He was a likeable little fellow.  A taller, older boy stood in the doorway ahead. As they past, he and Moustafa exchanged words in Arabic.  It didn’t seem like a social exchange but to my ear Arabic is not a particularly melodious language.  A couple of corners later another boy walked towards us.  Moustafa stopped and with what appeared to be complete sincerity explained he was late and had to get home, could we spare a few Dirham for him.  His friend, Khazin, would take us the rest of the way.  I had a 10 Dirham note ready (AUD $1.20) and on seeing it Moustafa implored that 10 Dirham was nothing in Morocco and could we spare some more.  After giving Moustafa 20 Dirham we were entrusted to Khazin.  Khazin was not as talkative and before long he made his excuses too and we were palmed off to another Marrakechi.  Seventy Dirham later we were abandoned amongst the donkeys and the dust with a “Go straight, turn right”.  We were lost.

We did find Jemma el F’naa eventually and once we knew what to look for we realised it was quite well signposted from every direction within the Medina.  Perhaps Moustafa and his cohorts were working in collusion or maybe each boy had their own territory not to be encroached by another. We never worked it out but we were thankful that we did find the Square.  We bumped in to Moustafa several times later.  Not once did he ask for money. We hope he does well. At only about 11 years old he had the charm and the street smarts to succeed even though he didn’t get us to the Square!

The photograph of the laneways with this post is one of my favourites and perhaps provides some indication of how easy it was to get lost.
 

Monday, November 16, 2020

MARRAKECH MEDINA - 7 YEARS AGO

 


After 35 hours of travelling from Melbourne via Dubai, London and Lisbon we arrived in Marrakech, Morocco.  Exhausted from the flights, transfers, long queues in the cavernous, officious Marrakech passport control we arrived at our Riad in the north western section of the Medina.  A Riad is a building with a collection of rooms surrounding a courtyard open to the sky.  The Medina is the maze is of streets and buildings imprisoned by some 19 kilometres of tall red clay and chalk walls.  Nothing could prepare us for what lay ahead.  To complete the assault to our senses our first foray into the Medina felt like we had each been hit in the head with a sledgehammer.  It was hot and humid, communication was not always possible as the primary languages were Arabic and French with English sometimes a distant third.   We were after an adventure and it began as soon as we set foot outside the front door. 

Totally unfamiliar with the area we asked our receptionist for a recommendation for dinner.  “Le Foundouk” was the response and having read how easy it is to become lost in the Medina we ordered a taxi.   It was dark and after winding around the streets the driver collected his fee and pointed us down an alley so off we went.  Fortunately Le Foundouk loomed above us not too far ahead and the waitresses directed up several flights of stairs to the roof top.  The evening prayer call was whining through the street speakers, lanterns flickered red and kaftan wearing waiters directed us to a table.  The atmosphere was definitely Moroccan. 

Keen for the taste of Morocco we ordered mixed Moroccan salads, a chicken tagine and a lamb tagine.  The salads were delightfully sweet but surprisingly the meat in the tagines was stringy and stewed.  Perhaps they were just not for our pallet but most of the main course was returned.  

Having no idea of the direction of our Riad we requested the waiter to order a taxi.  He directed us to the doorman, a rather large man wearing a brown kaftan and a red fez.  The doorman promptly picked up a yellow lantern and waving it in front of him we followed him through the narrow alley ways in single file to avoid being collected by the occasional motorbike which zoomed past us in a cloud of dust with only an underfed Moroccan cat's whisker to spare.   The alleyway widened slightly and there miraculously were two beaten up old taxis. We tipped the doorman, folded ourselves into the back of the taxi gave the driver the address and the ride of our lives commenced.  I don’t think I will ever forget the yells from the street traders as they picked up their merchandise to prevent it from being hit by our taxi, the yellow melons rolling along the ground, the white teeth and eyes flashing by the window, the banging on the bonnet, the boot and the roof as the traders and pedestrians objected to our driver's route.  What a scene!  Somehow we arrived at the right destination and after recognising the alley way which led to our Riad we paid the driver, headed down the lane and knocked on the big brown wooden door.  It creaked open revealing the tranquil courtyard beyond and we retired to our room wondering what the days ahead would bring.

We were not game to take any photographs of our harrowing taxi ride but the photo with this post provides a glimpse of the chaos which was to come.  Ciao J.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

PONT D’AVIGNON REFLECTIONS

 

Separating the colours.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Friday, November 13, 2020

PONT D’AVIGNON



Once upon a time in d’Avignon.