Four weeks in France flew by in an instant. I don’t really know what happen. It seemed like we arrived yesterday and it’s already time to leave. It was good to chill and relax for four weeks, but it’s time for new adventures!
So, we made it to Morocco on Saturday. Getting here was pretty uneventful, if you don’t count us getting a tiny bit lost at the airport, trying to find our terminal, which had a very strange name and spending 30 minutes running up and down the stairs with all the luggage, until we realized we had to go all the way back where we dropped off our car. Fun!
Flight was also pretty easy and uneventful. We were allowed to take a fast lane through the immigration and luggage was there pretty quickly. We were supposed to be picked up by a driver at the airport, but when we got out, no one was there…. Hmmm… We didn’t panic just yet and waited for the guy to show up. Bobby asked a security guy to make a call to the driver, which he did, but he said that the phone rings to nothing… It’s very unsettling to be told by the person you rented the property from that he will send the driver and have no one show up, the first thought comes to mind: scam!!!! And even, assuming it not a scam and the driver messed up the day or time of the pick up and we took a taxi, where would we even go? The riad we rented is in the medina, the taxis don’t go there, walking around medina with luggage, looking for something in the middle of the maze just didn’t sound like a sane option. Thankfully, the guy showed up in another 20 minutes, before we had a chance to come up with some crazy salvation idea. He took us to town and dropped us off by the side of the medina, where we were met by our house manager Samad, who had hired a guy with a giant cart to help us with the luggage.
Marrakesh medina is mostly pedestrian, with an exception of a few mopeds and scooters that drive by about 100 miles an hour on the narrow streets. How are there not more accidents, I don’t know. We have rented a riad, which is a traditional Moroccan house, or to be precise, townhouse, usually with some kind of an interior garden or courtyard open to the sky above. Our riad has a little water fountain/dipping pool in the middle, kitchen and dining room and a nice little hangout nook/living area. On the second floor there are three bedrooms, each with an in-room bathroom and on the third floor there is one more bedroom and a beautiful roof terrace.
It’s in a great location, right in the center of medina, next to souks (shops) and about 5 minute walk to the main plaza. It’s tucked into one of the quiet little alleys off the busy street, and it’s very peaceful and protected from all the hustle and bustle.
After we arrived, we were introduced to our chef/housekeeper Bhaja, who was cooking dinner for us that night. She brought out traditional Moroccan mint tea, which Samad poured, not without a great flair, into narrow glasses from a little teapot over 2 feet high. I don’t think he spilled one drop. We tried practicing that later after they left, but spent most of the time cleaning up the mess we made… Of course, according to Moroccan hospitality, the sweets came out too. Kids knew to take advantage of that… We spend some time visiting with Samad and getting a download on all the things we wanted and needed to know.
One of the reasons we picked this house was all the rave reviews of Bhaja’s cooking. So, that night we gave it a try. And right those reviewers were, the food was fantastic! She made us some Moroccan eggplant dish, with tomatoes and herbs, carrots (I think probably the tastiest carrots I’ve tried. Ever.) salad and for main dish a Moroccan meat with almonds and raisins (from what we were explained, it’s usually cooked for celebrations). Mmmm, that was so good. We felt like we hit the jackpot with her. The photos don’t do it any justice…
That night in the riad next door there was a wedding celebration, so we were forced to listen to Barry White and Bob Dylan for the next couple of hours. But we were warned, and apparently it doesn’t happen that often. Of course, in the morning, the prayers started at about 6AM, which if of course, to be expected, but not horribly conducive to getting a good night sleep.
The next morning we woke up to a delicious spread of variety of hot beverages (coffee, moroccan mint tea, hot chocolate, milk), various breads and jams and hot moroccan pancakes, which reminded us a little bit of Ethiopian injera bread, except made from regular flour. Life is good!
After breakfast we set out to explore the medina. Samad volunteered to show us around and thank God he did, otherwise we would have been lost at the first corner. He pointed out few details and explained the easiest way for us to find our way back. He showed us a hamam next door, and we got to go “behind the scenes” to see the stove that is used for heating it. The guy who manages the stove has a little cooking area where he slow cooks clay pots of tajine in a heat that is generated by hamam stove. Hamam, by the way, is a type of a sauna or public bathhouse. We used to go to hamam in Turkey all the time, I can’t wait to try one in Morocco.
Samad showed us all the good restaurants in the area and we walked around the souks for a few hours. Souks are pretty fascinating here. It’s a whole bunch of little market stall under the same roof, combined together to create endless maze of a giant bazaar. Some are fancy and upscale, some are simple and touristy. Lots and lots of interesting handmade stuff. Lots of craftsmen doing their jobs right there. Of course, souks come with their own rules – you are expected to bargain, don’t ask for price unless you intend to buy it, don’t start bargaining and then walk away half way through, unless you expect the guy to keep haggling you for the next few blocks.
Kids had fun finding all kinds of weird things: magic boxes with snakes popping out of them, playing dress up Morrocan style, visiting with animals, exotic and not so much, watching metal being melted and reworked into something else, seeing fabrics being made, looking at fossils and lots and lots of other fascinating things.
At night we went to the main plaza, Jemaa el-Fnaa, which is like a circus, combined with a food market, combined with a freak show, combined with a horse carriage parking lot, combined with thousands of people just walking around, combined with … you get the idea. It’s a madness extraordinaire, where snake charmers, storytellers, street performers all have been coming together for hundreds of years to entertain, shock and surprise the crowd.