Last week was my birthday and to celebrate in style my present from Andy was a trip to Marrakesh for five nights. The trip itself was booked back in March and was meant to be a surprise but he only managed to keep it a secret for five days because he was so excited. Ever since watching Sex in the City 2, I’ve been desperate to go to Marrakesh. In the film the girls go to ‘Abu Dhabi’, but, the film was actually filmed in parts of Morocco so ever since watching it I’ve been itching to explore the city myself. Armed with tips and advice from Sophie, who goes out there a few times a year to volunteer, I’ve never been so excited to go on holiday before.
There are so many amazing things to see and do in Marrakesh so I thought I’d share the top 10 things I loved and learnt over the past six days.
1. The Souks: We’ve all seen the photos, but photos don’t do this place justice. It’s a maze of colour and smells that you get so drawn into you completely forget about taking photos. Inside the souks it’s all about bartering, it’s in their culture so if anyone pays full price for something in the souks they are stupid. Once you’ve bartered the first time you get addicted to it and it becomes so much fun. Everyone takes it very light heartedly so no one gets grumpy with you because you want a really good bargain. If I had my own house (and lot more money) I’d come with all sorts of amazing rugs, lanterns, poofs and funky pointy shoes. But instead we settled with a few little lanterns, some sparkly bracelets and Andy got a traditional ashtray, all of which we bartered for and got some really good bargains. Yay!
2. Moroccan food: When you first think of Moroccan food you straight away think of couscous. But no, I had not one bit of couscous whilst I was away, it was all about the Tajine and Mint Tea. A bit like a stew or casserole, Tajine is slow cooked but in a traditional Tajine clay pot. However it tastes nothing like a stew or a casserole, it’s 10 times better because they chuck all sorts of herbs and spices into it with vegetables and even potatoes. YUM. Another Moroccan tradition is Mint tea. I’m not a tea drinker so I wasn’t too sure how this was going to go down(I’ve recently started drinking fruit tea but have never drank normal English tea). Moroccan mint tea comes in these really cool silver tea pots and little glasses and tastes exactly like mentos! You can’t go there without trying it but make sure you put a lump of sugar in it, it tastes so much better that way.
3. The Atlas Mountains: On my birthday we went on a Berber 4×4 Mountain Trip where we went off exploring in the mountains for the day to find out what life was like as a Berber (an ethnic group of people found natively in the countries of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia in North Africa). First we stopped at a little shop where they made Moroccan Argan oil so I just had to get some for myself, It would have been rude not to really. We then went to their weekly market which was insane. There were people everywhere, if you think Camden market is big, think again, it was absolute chaos! There are six villages in the Atlas mountains and every Saturday they go this market on their donkeys to get their weekly shopping. The market sold everything, you could have your hair cut, you could buy a blender and there was even a donkey park where you could park your donkey whilst you were doing your shopping! We then climbed up to 2000 meters, went for a walk to enjoy the scenery and had lunch in the prettiest guest house gardens.
4. Traffic: I think it’s safe to say, when it comes to the roads Moroccans are completely fearless. There’s no traffic in the city because there’s barely any traffic lights, its just huge wide open spaces. Everyone travels around on mopeds with standard procedure being the person at the front has a helmet and everyone else on the bike just sits and enjoys the ride. When I say everyone else, they try and pile their whole family on these little mopeds and dart around town with their kids and wife juggled on the back of it! Helmets are pretty much pointless, the majority of people drive around without them done up, we even saw one guy with his one back to front. If you’re a pedestrian in the city, no where is safe. The amount of times I nearly got mowed over by a moped on the path was countless. Like most European countries, zebra crossings meant nothing and they had green man crossings that only counted for half the road. If you wanted to get anywhere in the city you would just have to walk out into the middle of the road and hope for the best or you’ll be standing waiting around the cross the road for ages. Sound crazy right but it’s all just part of the fun!
6. Moroccan people: After going to Egypt in November we were prepared for the worst. Over there the men are sooooooo pervy and persistent when it comes to buying things and getting you to look in their shop. Morocco however was completely different. Everyone was lovely. The taxi men don’t con you, they’re all priced relatively the same, if you’re in the souks or square and someone asks you to buy something you say no thank you and they leave you alone straight away and if you are a woman, you don’t get perved on everywhere you go. Yeah men look, but all men do, it’s in their blood, whatever country you go to! They just don’t stare and try to buy you off your boyfriend!
7. Nutella Sushi: Yes you read that right. One night we were wondering around the new town looking for somewhere to eat and we came across a Sushi and Thai restaurant called Katsura. I’m not a huge fan of Sushi but with Andy teaching me the way to go about it properly I really enjoyed it! After stuffing sushi and green Thai curry down our necks along with a bottle of wine, we noticed something on the desert menu called Nutella sushi so we ordered it for shits and gigs. It just so happened to be completely amazing! Rice with Nutella wrapped in crepe. You need to try it!
8. Jamaa el Fna: The famous square in the heart of the Old city is another place you just can’t photograph to show how amazing it is. During the day there’s a handful of orange juice stands, buskers, snake charmers and monkey performers, but when the sun goes down street performers, lantern stalls and dozens of pop up restaurants appear filling the square with all these fantastic smells and sounds. As temping as it may be to eat at these little stalls stay away from them as most of the people I know who have eaten there have got food poisoning. The square is lined with rooftop restaurants so they’re a great place to sit and watch everything from a distance and the food is good so you won’t get ill. If you love people watching you’ll be engrossed by this place, there’s just people everywhere and its truly fascinating.
9. Ramadan: When we booked the holiday we had no idea it was Ramadan so when we arrived it was pretty daunting as we didn’t really understand what it was all about. After a quick Wikipedia session we realised that during Ramadan people fast until sunset. So that means no food or water for 16 hours. How they manage to do this in that heat I have no idea but I have a ton of respect for them being able to do it. One great thing about Ramadan was the fact that as soon as the sun went down the whole city came alive and it was busier during the night than it was during the day!
10. Horse drawn carriage tour: When walking around the city you will notice there are big green horse-drawn carriages everywhere, they even have designated lay-bys for them to all park in! For the equivalent of about £25-£30 you can jump in one and have a tour around the city for an hour or so. This is great because they take you around all the main landmarks of Marrakesh without getting lost or run over by a bike. It is also a great way to get your bearings of where you are and where everything else is in relation to the main square. Once again the driver was lovely and it is definitely worth the money.
Lastly, one thing the city does lack is Alcohol. I think I have to say this was one of the most sober holidays I’ve had in a long time. Because Muslims don’t drink finding a licensed bar or restaurant is rare and when you do come across one it’s quite expensive so don’t plan to go there to party hard.
I really have fallen in love with this city and there’s no wonder why. If you love exploring new places make sure this is on your list of places to go, it’s great!