Wednesday 21 March 2012
We decided to take the second day easy, after the stress of the day before. After a late breakfast we walked to the Nouvelle Ville of Marrakech, where we spent the day. The wider roads have the unexpected effect of making the traffic seem more intense; four lanes of cars, mopeds and donkeys squeeze into two lanes, overtaking, undertaking, and endlessely honking. It’s the presence of pavements that makes the Nouvelle Ville a truly relaxing experience; a welcome break from constantly leaping out the way of mopeds which will speed down any alley, however small or far from a real road it may be.
We had to walk to the Supratours bus station to buy our tickets for Saturday and on the way we passed the Theatre Royal, a pale yellow, eclectic building. I am in no way knowledgeable – or particularly interested in – architecture, but I love an interesting building in a new city. It looks like a bit of a mixture of building parts; stately pillars, a domed roof, and a slightly Roman-temple looking extension. Most bizarre, though, was a small, upside-down helicopter in the grounds. Since getting home, I’ve found out that this was an installation from the exhibition Higher Atlas – part of the art festival Marrakech Biennale. I wish I’d investigated a bit more, I guess there’s a lesson to be learnt there. The festival is on until the end of May for anyone heading to Marrakech in the next few weeks.
After the errands were all run, we hopped into a taxi to Les Jardins Majorelle. These were barely a ten minute walk from the train station, but we paid Dh10 for the journey all the same (and had to push for that price). Tourists will always pay more for a taxi in Marrakech! As soon as we were out of the taxi, we were approached by a man who seemed to be offering excursions (from a road-side trestle table and a board pinned with place names). He told us the gardens were closed until three, but that we were lucky because a market was on at a nearby mosque, a chance for non-Muslims to view the mosque which only comes around once a month. He began to lead us there, chatting about the various handicrafts which would be available. As soon as we said we didn’t want to buy anything, he stopped leading us and suddenly remembered that the gardens were open after all. Mysterious.
Les Jardins Majorelle were a perfect way to unwind; cool, shady paths winding alongside huge pools filled with fish and turtles. It cost Dh50 each to enter (less than £5) and we spent a good hour there hiding from the scorching midday sun and enjoying the intense colour scheme. Everywhere you look, the green of the plantlife and cacti is punctuated by a vivid blue wall or a fluorescent yellow flowerpot, interrupting the calm of the fauna like a crazy mirage. Please pop back to my previous post for a bit more detail on the gardens and some of my photos.
After that we took a slow walk down to Rue de la Liberté, a quiet road in the heart of the new town, which looked more like a cosmopolitan corner of Paris than a street in Marrakech. This little road is home to a fantastic array of art galleries, antiques stores with kooky window displays, and tiny little boutiques selling jewellery, fashion, or Moroccan handicrafts (a tad pricier than the souqs but with all the comforts of air-con and fixed prices).
In amongst the trendy art scene is the super chic Kechmara, where we stopped for lunch on the roof terrace. We found ourselves surrounded by more greenery; leafy climbing plants and blossoming trees block out any view of the city outside and create a lovely sense of seclusion. I will do a full review of Kechmara separately – as with all the food – but this was a perfect stop for lunch and one of my favourite places we ate in Marrakech. Wanting to relax in the sun and rest our feet, we ordered cocktails (Dh80 each), but these were absurdly strong. Sam’s ‘Marrakech Iced Tea – a minty take on the Long Island classic – tasted like spiked Listerine and although the fruity flavour of mine was delicious, I still couldn’t finish it. Cocktails here are definitely for getting drunk rather than relaxing during the afternoon! This is actually a pretty cheap place to get lunch; there are light snacks or a discounted menu of the day option for a lot less than the meals we went for. The friendly, English speaking staff and English menus make it perfect for tourists, too.
After lunch we walked down to l’Ensemble Artisanal. This is a complex of stores and workshops where you can watch Moroccan handicrafts being made. Entrance is free, prices are fixed, and I found I could browse without any of the sales pressure I’d experienced in the souqs. We visited in late afternoon, and even though there were quite a few visitors around it was so quiet that I felt like I was disturbing the peace every time I laughed. The shops are cool and dark, and after walking in out of the bright sunlight I found myself squinting at treasure troves piled high with silverware, or shoes, or leatherwork. We watched women making huge rugs by hand, an incredibly laborious process which can apparently take around a month to complete. Individual pieces of wool, around an inch in length, are looped over and around the taught strings of a loom, with the ends poking out on one side so that on the other side a solid wall of colour begins to build up. Other colours can be introduced to make intricate patterns. I had a go at knotting a few pieces of wool and really struggled with it. The lady I ‘helped’ was unbelievably fast, but I could see that it would still take weeks to finish. I should mention that we did have pay Dh10 each for the privilege of having a go, something I wasn’t expecting, but I didn’t mind as the ladies were very friendly.
We sat in the Cyberpark across the road for a while and enjoyed some more greenery. The cybercafé and free Wi-Fi seem to have made this park a bit of a social hub for Moroccan teenagers, but it’s still a pretty peaceful place to relax and unwind. We chatted to an old man for a while who said he wanted to practice his English. He marked the best places to visit on our map, told Sam he should marry me as I’d make a good wife (we got that a lot), took a few photos and eventually harassed us for money. White people seem to have an unfortunate reputation as walking wallets in Marrakech, and lots of industrious locals will try their hand at offering a service or some knowledge (such as directions) then requesting payment. It’s a bit of a culture shock; in England we’re a bit old fashioned and stick with the time-tested method of agreeing a price before we give away the thing we’re selling!
As the day began to slip away, we walked across to the Djemma El Fna and I immediately got wrapped up in a snake again. This time we only gave small change – I learn quickly! We sat on one of the roof terraces overlooking the square and watched the sunset behind the Koutoubia Minaret and the lights come on around the square, which was now full of food stalls. The Djemma El Fna is so atmospheric at dusk, smoke rolling over the white canvas food tents, store fronts bursting with glowing lanterns, people squatting by small fires on the floor, and kids chucking light-up toys four stories into the air. The air was heavy with the smells of spices and barbecued meat. It was a clear day, so we had incredible views across the rooftops and to the Atlas Mountains, and heard the minarets across the city strike up the scratchy whine of the call to prayer.
We wandered into the stalls and immediately got grabbed by the staff of Rachida Majid’s. It’s very hard to say no to a round of applause! The techniques to get passers-by to stop and eat at one particular stall range from offers of free mint tea, to jokes of “air conditioned seating”, to one shout of “come and have a butchers” in an absolutely spot on cockney accent! We sat down to bread with olives and tomato and chilli sauces, Moroccan salad, calamari, and mixed barbecued skewers with pepper and onion, beef, lamb and chicken. Bucketloads of delicious al fresco food, right in the heart of everything; surrounded by thick smoke and the sizzle and spit of roasting meat, mingled with cries of “hello, hello, excuse me, good eats, good price”. Eating in the Djemma El Fna is a real buzz and my only regret was that I wasn’t hungrier; I longed to stroll through sampling food from every stall but I was full to bursting by the time we’d finished at one! Our whole meal, including bottled water and free mint tea, came to Dh215 between us – the cheapest we ate while we were away.
This was easily my favourite day in the city, so much relaxing followed by delicious food in a real party atmosphere.
InformationLes Jardins Majorelle – 8am – 7pm, admission Dh50 (museum Dh20). Rue Yves Saint Laurent, off Avenue Yacoud Al Mansour. Kechmara – noon – 11pm, 3 Rue de la Liberté. Ensemble Artisanal – 9:30-12:30 and 3-7 Mon-Fri, admission free. Avenue Mohammed V, opposite Cyberpark. Cyberpark – 9am – 7pm, admission free. Ave Mohammed V.