Marrakech Day 4

Thursday 3 November 2022

I wasn’t going to write a blog today. All we are doing is getting up, having breakfast and leaving for the airport. What’s to write about? Well…

Riad Lhena Rooftop
Riad Lhena Rooftop

We get up to a message from EasyJet saying our flight has been delayed by 75 minutes. So we head for the Riad roof top for a leisurely breakfast as we have all the time in the world, right?

Medina cat
Medina cat

The old man, who usually baulks at the idea of using public transport, agrees that the new departure time leaves us with enough time to travel to the airport by bus. We have all the time in the world, right?

Medina cats
Medina cats

We pay the bill and depart. As we reach the end of the alleyway, the Riad manager appears. He has forgotten to add the airport pick up to the bill. The old man returns with him to pay the bill part two, while I wander around the alleyways taking photos of cats. We have all the time in the world, right?

Medina cat
Medina cat

The airport bus actually goes in a circle from the airport to the medina, the new town and back to the airport. This means that if you board in the medina, it is still full of arriving passengers heading into town and you must travel for several miles in the wrong direction before actually heading to the airport. Traffic is terrible and progress is painfully slow as we head further and further away from the airport. It’s a good job we have plenty of extra time…

Medina cat
Medina cat

Finally, we reach the station, the last of the arriving passengers alight and we can head for the airport. Luckily, the road is clearer in this direction and we reach our destination shortly after.

Medina cat
Medina cat

We are already checked in and don’t have any bags, however we still need to join the large queue at check in to get an official stamp on our boarding passes. It should be OK, we have plenty of time, although funnily enough the airport screens have our flight departure as ‘on time’.

Marrakech Airport
Marrakech Airport

Once we have the all important stamp, we join the large queue at security. The couple in front of us have a pushchair. It won’t go through the x ray machine because the wheels stick out. The security staff determine to remove the wheels. Everything comes to a grinding halt. I ask an official who is sitting doing nothing next to the x ray machine which is also doing nothing if I can pass in front? She says it’s not my turn. So we wait and wait until finally the wheels come off and security reopens.

Next, the equally long queue at immigration. Finally, some considerable time after arriving at the airport, we are in the departure lounge and walk to the gate. The airport boards are correct, our flight is not delayed and we arrive just as the plane starts to board. I have been on plenty of planes which claimed to be on time but departed late. But claiming to be delayed and departing on time is a first for me.

Just enough time to dash into a shop and purchase a very expensive bag of crisps and 2 cans of coke (12 Euros!) before boarding. We then have to sit on the plane a while as, not surprisingly, some of the passengers haven’t realised the plane is ready to depart and have to be prised out of duty free.

We take off for our three hour flight to Gatwick. It’s fairly uneventful, apart from a bout of turbulence over the Channel, and I am relieved to finally spot Brighton Pier out of the window, as we head towards our destination and begin our final descent.

We’re very nearly on the ground when the pilot announces that another aircraft has had an engine damaged by hitting a bird and must make an emergency landing, we must abort and circle the airport for 5-10 minutes until the stricken aircraft has landed and cleared the runway.

So we fly round and round and round south east England. Every time we pass Brighton Pier, I’m a little less pleased to see it. Finally, the captain again; the damaged plane leaked a large amount of hydraulic fluid onto the runway, which is now closed for cleaning. We must circle until the runway reopens.

Round and round we go, the airport won’t give a time frame for the clean up. Finally, the pilot announces that he is running short of fuel and has asked for permission to land at Bournemouth. Can you imagine? It’s been a long and day, and now we’re detouring to land practically in sight of our house, whilst our car is parked 120 miles away.

I’ve had enough and determine to disembark at Bournemouth. The old man says we won’t be allowed off the plane. I say I shall kick up a fuss and get myself arrested – that way they’ll have to take me off the plane.

Anyway, we shall never know if I am stupid enough to go through with the aforementioned plan as the captain announces that Bournemouth has reached capacity and we are off to Stansted. So, 25 minutes later we land at Stansted. We are now 160 miles from home and 70 miles from our car.

We sit on the tarmac for a while. The captain explains that we are waiting for the ground crew to deliver some steps. Apparently it will take a while as they weren’t expecting us. Here’s a clue ground crew, it’s an airport, expect aeroplanes!

Finally, the steps are delivered but the captain says that Gatwick has reopened, so we will now turn around and fly back there. We must just wait 40 minutes for a push back, as they weren’t expecting us.

People start to get up and stretch their legs. We have been on the plane a lot longer than anticipated and it’s been a long time since the fasten seat belt signs came on for our planned landing. I am really thirsty but the cabin crew seem to have gone into hiding.

The toilets, which were locked for landing are reopened and I join the long toilet queue. It seems like pretty much everyone on the plane needs a wee. Finally, it is my turn and the man before me emerges and says he cannot flush the toilet. I dart in quickly while I have a chance. Just as I sit down, the captain announces that the waste disposal is full and the toilets will be closed again. No matter, we have our push back and we’re off to Gatwick.

We fly back to Gatwick, where we should have landed some hours ago, land and sit on the tarmac for a while. The pilot explains that we are awaiting ground crew to operate the air gate. We have landed unexpectedly and they weren’t expecting us. Here’s a clue ground crew, it’s an airport, expect aeroplanes!

Eventually, we parked up and can make our way up the air gate into the airport. Only we can’t because the door to the terminal is locked and the staff cannot unlock it. We must stand in the corridor while security is called to release us.

Eventually, the door is opened and we can get into the airport and join the very large queue waiting to use one of only 4 working e-gates at immigration.

We have parked at a friend’s house. The last bus that passes nearby is at 7.20. We were due to land at 3.50. It seemed like a no brainer at the time. We run the final part of the route to the bus stop and just catch the 7.20 bus. It has been a long day. All we have left is the 120 mile drive through torrential rain and wind and we will be home…

Marrakech Day 3

Wednesday 3 November 2022

Today we have an early start as we have tickets to visit the Jardin Majorelle. According to my guide book, this is the most visited attraction in Morocco, so lord knows how crowded it’s going to be. I thought yesterday’s trip to the Bahia Palace was crowded enough.

Jardin Majorelle
Jardin Majorelle

After a most substantial breakfast of omelette, pancakes, bread, yoghurt and pomegranate, we go in search of a taxi. Everything I have read about Moroccan taxis tells us that we should haggle over the fare. The old man is not very good at haggling. And to be honest, even when he does negotiate a price downwards he adds a tip on top, often reaching or even surpassing the initial price. But he has been practicing hard all morning, so I am intrigued to find out how much the journey of a little under 3 miles ends up costing us.

Jardin Majorelle
Jardin Majorelle

We walk as far as the square, locate a taxi and ask how much to take us to the garden. He says 50 dirhams, the old man says OK and we jump in. So much for haggling!

Jardin Majorelle
Jardin Majorelle

Jardin Majorelle

Jardin Majorelle

Open daily 8-6

Entry 120 dirham (including Berber Museum 150 Dirham)

The exotic former garden of French artist Jacques Majorelle, created in the 1920s, fell into ruin after his death, until it was purchased by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner who had it restored to its former glory.

Jardin Majorelle
Jardin Majorelle

I’m looking forward to the Jardin Majorelle because everything I have read leads me to believe it’s magnificent and not looking forward to it because everything I have read leads me to believe it will be extremely crowded.

Jardin Majorelle
Jardin Majorelle

We have purchased a time specific ticket online in advance. This means we can skip one of the two queues. We have selected 9 am in the hope that it will be less crowded.

Jardin Majorelle
Jardin Majorelle

It was a good decision on both counts. We arrive at 9 am, don’t actually have to wait at all and the number of other people is tolerable.

Jardin Majorelle

We take a wander round the garden, which is full of hundreds of species of cacti and exotic plants interspersed with pergolas and water features. In the centre is Majorelle’s studio, painted an electric ‘Majorelle blue’.

Jardin Majorelle
Jardin Majorelle
Pierre Bergé Museum of Berber Arts

Majorelle’s psychedelic blue studio is now the Pierre Bergé Museum of Berber Arts. Set up by Yves Saint Laurent’s partner, the museum was founded to preserve elements of the Berber culture.

Yves Saint Laurent’s The Four Seasons
Yves Saint Laurent’s The Four Seasons

First, we walk past a series of artwork by Yves Saint Laurent; ‘The Four Seasons’ and his ‘Love’ collection which he produced annually going back to 1970.

Yves Saint Laurent’s Love
Yves Saint Laurent’s Love

Inside the museum are photographs, clothes and many other items. however, the pride of place is a jewellery display in an octagonal (maybe more sides) room lined with mirrors with a ceiling full of many mini lights. It’s like entering an infinite universe of jewellery. Photography is prohibited in the museum so here is a picture I found on the internet.

Pierre Bergé Museum
Pierre Bergé Museum

Back outside, things have really cranked up a notch and it’s tour group hell. There are people everywhere all trying to take photos and getting angry at other people getting in their way. As if to add to the general commotion, the toads in the water features have joined in and are now croaking away loudly.

Jardin Majorelle
Jardin Majorelle

We take one more circuit of the garden. The old man and I have differing opinions on how long it is acceptable to wait patiently because the path is blocked by photographers. Things come to a head at the Yves Saint Laurent Memorial. The path is completely blocked by a lady lying on the floor shouting at passers by who get in the way as she tries to photograph her friend posing in front of the memorial. I huff and climb over her. She is not impressed and huffs more. I think it’s way too busy to be attempting to keep out of other people’s photographs . Either way, we’ve had enough of the Jardin Majorelle and, after the obligatory purchase of a postcard (it’s a very expensive post card but it comes in a fancy Majorelle Blue envelope) we depart.

Jardin Majorelle Yves Saint Laurent Memorial
Jardin Majorelle Yves Saint Laurent Memorial

We catch a taxi back to the medina. The old man is very proud of himself as he manages to knock a full 10 dirhams off the price. The driver explains that he can only take us to within a 5 minute walk of the museum. He goes on to explain (3 times) the route to follow from the drop off point.

Souk of Marrakech
Souk of Marrakech

The first line of instructions; walk straight until you reach a gate, don’t go through the gate, turn left. He drops us at the edge of the medina, we walk straight until we reach a gate. The old man proceeds through the gate. A discussion ensues. Eventually I win and we turn left instead, reaching the madrasa without further incident.

Medersa Ben Youssef

Medersa Ben Youssef

Open daily 9-6

Entry 50 Dirhams

I used to be a big fan of Lonely Planet, each time I planned a trip I would purchase the relevant book and pour over its contents and. But they’ve really dropped the ball recently. Even the online Marrakech guide states that the Medersa is “currently closed for restoration that’s scheduled to finish in Spring 2020.” In reality, 2020 has come and gone, the refurbishment is complete and Lonely Planet is shockingly out of date.

Medersa Ben Youssef
Medersa Ben Youssef

Meanwhile, back at the recently refurbished, beautifully ornate 14th Century medersa, we purchase tickets and take a wander around. Like many buildings in Marrakech, it is build around a central courtyard, with a pool in the middle.

Medersa Ben Youssef
Medersa Ben Youssef

You can climb to the small rooms on the second floor for a bird’s eye view of the courtyard.

Medersa Ben Youssef
Medersa Ben Youssef

As non Muslims are not allowed to enter the mosques of Marrakech, this decommissioned school is a rare opportunity for un infidels to see the ornate interior of a religious building.

Medersa Ben Youssef

Museum of Marrakech

Entry 50 Dirhams

Open daily 9-5

Last on today’s list is the Museum of Marrakech. I have read mixed reviews about the museum; exhibits inside a former palace with courtyard decorated with tiles and stained glass. The general consensus seems to be that the displays aren’t up to much but the building is pretty cool.

Museum of Marrakech
Museum of Marrakech

Either way, entry is 50 dirhams each, we only have 70 dirhams left and there isn’t a cashpoint to be seen anywhere along our route. One more circumnavigation of the nearby square and the roads leading off it unsuccessfully attempting to locate a cashpoint, then the old man suggests that he waits outside while I go in.

Museum of Marrakech
Museum of Marrakech

The museum is as I’d expected; rather naff but in a beautiful building. I don’t stay too long, just wander round the main courtyard and look at some of the art in the side rooms. Then I attempt to relocate the old man. A downside of Marrakech is the lack of tourist infrastructure . There are no benches or bins etc and I finally find him sitting on a step in an alleyway playing Candy Crush (yes I know). We set off back through the medina.

Museum of Marrakech
Museum of Marrakech

In an ideal world, we would have found a pleasant little café to sit in along the route, where we could enjoy a cold beer and watch the world go by. But the Riad is the only place we’ve found that actually sells beer, so we set off there instead.

Souk of Marrakech

In any case, that’s the plan. After walking through the souks of the medina for some considerable time, I mention that I recognise the hotel we just passed. The old man tells me I’m mistaken as we haven’t visited the area north of the main square beforehand and ploughs on. Some more time passes and I stop to check my phone GPS. We have somehow managed to walk straight past the enormous square a while back. We retrace our steps, stop in the square to get more cash, and finally make it back to the Riad for a nice, cool beer.

Riad Lhena

Dinner at Chez Brahim

We briefly consider being adventurous and try somewhere new for dinner. However, Chez Brahim is close, has good reviews and we enjoyed last night’s meal. So we decide to return there again. This time, we go a little earlier before the kitchen closes for its evening break.

Tagine at Chez Brahim

We opt again for the set 3 course meal. Today, as it’s technically still lunch time, 3 courses is only 85 dirhams. The old man goes for another tagine, while I have briwats, which are similar Indian samosas, but with a different spice combination.

Briwats at Chez Brahim

And that is the end of our final evening in Marrakech. It has been interesting, but I think 2 days in the medina was probably enough. I have found the crowded confines of the old town to be rather claustrophobic. And I’m pretty much over constantly having to jump out of the way of motor cycles. We walk back to the Riad past the many cats who live in the labyrinth of alleyways.

Medina cat

Marrakech Day 2

Tuesday 1 November 2022

We wake for the first time at 6.30 when the call to prayer sounds. Not being very religious, I find it hard to understand quite why one would feel the need to get up at 6.30 for anything let alone to pray. Once the faithful have been summoned, we settle down to a couple more hours sleep.

Riad Lhena Rooftop
Riad Lhena Rooftop

Finally, it’s 8.30 and time for breakfast. We climb to the roof of the riad, which has a seating area, plunge pool and a good view of the medina. By now I haven’t eat for 18 hours, so am pleased and relieved to find that breakfast is substantial; breads with cheese, jam and honey, fruit, yoghurt, an omelette and some very freshly squeezed orange juice.

Breakfast at Riad Lhena
Breakfast at Riad Lhena

This morning we are walking in a kind of square (theoretically, although to be honest we do get lost a few times) with 5 points of interest along the way.

Alleyway to Riad Lhena
Alleyway to Riad Lhena

Djemaa El Fna

We head first (or second, to be more precise, as we start off in the wrong direction) to Djeemaa el Fna, where we walked last night but were unable to stop as we were following our porter.

Djemaa El Fna
Djemaa El Fna

This morning, it’s somewhat less frenetic. Some stalls are open but many aren’t yet. It’s thinned out enough to be able to see the snake charmers and monkey owners, which I don’t really want to see, so we pass straight through to Katoubia Mosque at the far end.

Djemaa El Fna
Djemaa El Fna

Katoubia Mosque

The boards outside the Mosque explains that this 12th Century mosque is in fact the second to be built on the site. The first was a similar construction but did not facing Mecca. Oops.

Katoubia Mosque
Katoubia Mosque

The tall minaret topped by a spire of brass balls can be seen across much of the city. Non Muslims are not allowed to enter. So take a walk around the perimeter, then cross into the gardens opposite.

Katoubia Mosque
Katoubia Mosque

Katoubia Gardens

The palm lined gardens with their fountains and flower beds with the mosque in the background make for a great photo op.

Katoubia Mosque
Katoubia Mosque

Saadian Tombs

Open daily 9-5

Entry 70 Dirhams

Next up, we head for the Saadian Tombs, a 16th Century Sultan’s tomb complex. My guide book says that the entrance to the Saadian Tombs is unmarked and provides directions how to locate it, which we manage third time lucky, primarily because a tour bus pulls up at the side of the road and we have a group to follow. The complex, in a garden filled with tombs of women and court staff is lined with a row of buildings containing the more splendid tombs of the men.

Saadian Tombs
Saadian Tombs
Chamber of Three Niches and Prayer Room

The first building you come to is the the Chamber of Three Niches. These tomb rooms with prayer niche to indicate direction of Mecca are all intricately decorated.

Chamber of Three Niches
Chamber of Three Niches

Chamber of the 12 Pillars

Next is the even more intricately decorated Chamber of the 12 Pillars. The chamber with its multi couloured tiles, plaster inlaid with gold and 12 marble pillars is the final resting place of Sultan Al Mansour.

Chamber of the 12 Pillars
Chamber of the 12 Pillars

There’s quite a queue to see the Chamber. I’m getting airport déjà vu, but we get into line anyway, like the Brits we are. A mere 20 minutes later, we have reached the front and get our chance to see (and of course photograph) the chamber. While we were waiting, I overheard tour guides telling their clients that it wasn’t worth the wait. Either I have a different opinion to the tour guides or they were deliberately misleading their clients to avoid standing around for half an hour.

Chamber of the 12 Pillars

Badi Palace

Open daily 9-5

Entry 70 Dirhams

Next on the itinerary is the 16th Century Palace Badi Palace ruins, which promise storks and views from the ramparts. Again, we follow the directions of my guide book which says that to reach the palace entrance, head through Place des Ferblantiers and turn right along the ramparts. The first entrance we come to is blocked and a man tells us the palace is closed, so we move on. However, as we continue along the street, we notice people on the top of the palace and work our way along until we discover the entrance.

Badi Palace from the rooftop
Badi Palace from the rooftop

Subterranean Chambers

Upon entry to the palace, we are in a small courtyard lined with subterranean chambers. These contain some displays of photographs of the Kasbah and conditions of slaves and prisoners who used to live in the chambers. There are, indeed storks watching on from the ruined walls.

Badi Palace
Badi Palace
Courtyard

On through a gate and we find ourselves in a large courtyard consisting of sunken gardens and reflecting pools. The pools are pretty empty but you can get a feel for how grand the palace must once have been.

Badi Palace Courtyard
Badi Palace Courtyard
Room housing the Katoubia Minbar 

One room houses the 12th Century Minbar (similar to a pulpit in Christianity) which is decorated with gold and silver calligraphy. Apparently, the reason it ended up here is related to the whole Mosque not facing Mecca saga. To be honest, I lose interest when I spot the ‘No Photography’ signs. But not before taking a sneaky photo of the minbar, which also features a reflection of me taking a sneaky photo. Caught in the act…

Room housing the Katoubia Minbar
Room housing the Katoubia Minbar

Bahia Palace

Open daily 9-5

Entry 70 Dirhams

Last on today’s ‘To Do List’ is the Bahia Palace, an ornate 19th Century Palace. The palace consist of a series of buildings and courtyards. We purchase our tickets and step into the first courtyard. There are so many people crammed into the palace we can hardly move, let alone see the highlights of this complex.

Bahia Palace
Bahia Palace
Petit Riad

First, we enter the Petit Riad. Here, white plasterwork inscribed with verses from the Quran. To be honest it’s so crowded it’s hard to see much at all. We move on to the Grand Riad.

Bahia Palace
Bahia Palace
Grand Riad 

According to my guide book; ‘this Riad built round a courtyard of fountains and foliage was conceived by former slave who became Sultan’s top aide’. I’m sure he’d be impressed at how many people were currently milling around his grand courtyard taking photos of other people taking photos of his grand riad.

Bahia Palace
Cour d’Honneur

Supposed to be the piece de resistance, this 1500 square metre marble floored former harem is being refurbished. So it is so somewhat of an anti-climax as only one end of the courtyard is accessible, the rest is a building site.

Bahia Palace Cour d'Honneur
Bahia Palace Cour d’Honneur

It’s been a long day and we’ve walked 6 miles already, so we decide to head back through the chaos of the Medina to our Riad for a rest. We’re getting the hang of the Medina now, and make it back to our Riad in its tiny alleyway without even making a wrong turn.

Riad Lhena rooftop pool
Riad Lhena rooftop pool

With so many miles covered today, my feet are killing me, so we head to the roof to relax for a while. Apart from a covered seating area and some sun loungers, there is, theoretically, a plunge pool. It has no water in it, but we have been told that it can be filled upon request. Someone has obviously requested it, as the water has been turned on. Some considerable time later, there is a few inches of water in the bottom of the pool. Some guests appear in swimsuits, take photos and leave again. It all looks like too much effort for too little reward. We order a beer instead.

Riad Lhena rooftop beers

Suitable rested, we set off in search of dinner. Hooray – today I get dinner! We head along our alleyway to Restaurant chez Brahim which gets reviews on Tripadvisor, where it claims to be open from midday until 11.45. We are told the kitchen isn’t ready and to come back in an hour.

Medina Cat
Medina Cat

Djeemaa el Fna at night

So, we take a wander back to the main square to see it in full evening swing. I order some really tasty freshly squeezed pomegranate juice from one of the many juice stalls and we wander round, trying to give the snake charmers a wide berth.

Pomegranate Juice in Djeemaa el Fna
Pomegranate Juice in Djeemaa el Fna

Dinner at Chez Brahim

After an hour we head back in search of dinner. The kitchen still isn’t quite ready, but we take a seat and spend some time perusing the menu. To be honest, Morocco isn’t the best culinary choice for someone with a nut allergy. And the narrow alleyways of the medina aren’t the place to be taking a risk. How on earth they would get an ambulance anywhere near the place is a mystery to me.

Eggplant Salad at Chez Brahim
Eggplant Salad at Chez Brahim

So I order an eggplant salad which tastes amazing, followed by kofta kebabs and chips. The old man’s tagine, brought to the table still sizzling looks amazing, albeit laced with almonds. He obviously agrees as he gazes at it lovingly before tucking in. I round dinner off (the 3 course menu costs 100 Dirhams) with fruit of the day; pomegranate. I’ve certainly had my 5 a day, and most of them were pomegranate!

Tagine at Chez Brahim
Tagine at Chez Brahim

Marrakech Day 1

Monday 31 October 2022

Flight to Marrakech

It’s my first time flying EasyJet for a while. I haven’t missed it. What I do miss (today) is the seat back entertainment, USB chargers and general sense that the plane was cleaned recently. However, they get us to Marrakech just a few minutes behind schedule.

Next it’s time to make our way through the airport. The queue at immigration is frightful. It takes an almost record time of 2 hours and 3 minutes (and that’s with hand luggage only!) Not that I was counting – that’s a lie, I counted a lot, comparing the time it took us to cover each of the 7 zigs and zags we had to negotiate to finally reach the front of the queue.

The only plus side is that I downloaded and completed Moroccan health forms at home, which enables us to beat most of the others on our flight to the arrivals hall. Otherwise the wait could have been a whole lot longer.

Finally, we make it out of the airport and are pleased and somewhat surprised to discover the driver we’d booked is still waiting patiently outside.

The driver takes us into town, but we are staying in the medina, so he cannot take us the whole way. We reach a petrol station near the Djeema el Fna and are dropped.

Djemaa el Fna

A man with a hand cart is waiting to walk us and our luggage the rest of the way to our accommodation.

Djemaa el Fna at night
Djemaa el Fna at night

By now it’s almost midnight and the main square, dating from 11th Century, is alive with music and dancing and vendors of food, drink and pretty much anything else you can think of.

Djemaa el Fna at night
Djemaa el Fna at night

There are people and motor bikes everywhere and we have no idea where we’re going, so we trot along behind our guide/porter, trying to not lose him whilst also trying to not get run over by the constant stream of bikes down narrower and narrower alleyways until finally we reach a wooden door.

Entry to Riad Lhena
Entry to Riad Lhena

Riad Lhena

We have made it to Riad Lhena, a traditional style house in the medina. We are tired, hungry and thirsty. We are offered water, tea and cakes while we check in. There are four cakes, all dipped in nuts. Now only one of us is hungry.

Room at Riad Lhena
Room at Riad Lhena

We are shown to our room which is basic but decorated in a traditional Moroccan style. It’s too late to venture out again, so we crash without dinner. As mentioned above, one of us has just eaten four cakes. One of us had a sandwich 10 hours ago and is less thrilled with the situation. But the alternative is heading into the medina alone after midnight, so I opt to go to bed hungry. I suspect I can live off my fat for one night…

Bedroom in Riad Lhena
Bedroom in Riad Lhena
Bathroom in Riad Lhena
Bathroom in Riad Lhena