sensory overload. it’s the only way i can describe our first day in marrakech. we had slept for less than four hours the night before after a long day of travel, and our jet lagged brains weren’t quite prepared for the day ahead. but first, breakfast.
our flight from barcelona to marrakech landed around 9:00a.m. it took us about an hour to get through customs–no complaints here, as we would much prefer to see more countries take security measures seriously–then we hopped in our taxi and headed to the riad helen for an early check-in. our host, mario, met us at a nearby street since the riad is tucked down a smaller alleyway, only accessible by foot. he had an incredible breakfast spread awaiting us, and he sat down with us to review a map and help us plan our two days in marrakech while we chugged coffee and feasted on fried eggs, m’semen (it’s a rather unfortunate spelling, i know), and beghrir. our room wouldn’t be ready until a bit later, so mario suggested we leave our bags and start exploring to make the most of our day. we probably should have changed our shoes (i was wearing chunky-heeled boots), but we were too tired to make logical decisions like these. after breakfast, he walked us back out to the street to set us on our way (and to show us one of his favorite rug shops), and he left us, confident that with our laid-back attitudes and our trusted map, we would conquer the marrakech medina.
we got lost almost immediately as we tried following the map to an ATM. once we finally found one, we plunged headfirst into the souks, accosted immediately by the sounds of bartering in arabic, french, and broken english, the smells of newly tanned leather, musty rugs, and fresh citrus juice, and the seemingly endless rows of shops showcasing local artisan goods, produce, spices, and live chickens who didn’t seem to know their impending doom. it didn’t take me long to buy a couple poufs after expertly haggling with the vendors. we wove our way through the maze-like streets, trying to find la maison de la photographie de marrakech while also trying to duck the locals trying to “help” us find our way (read: people forcing tailing and talking to us, inevitably trying to get money). we finally found the photography museum, grateful for a break, and after looking through the gallery we climbed our way to the rooftop restaurant for citronnade à la menthe and cookies. the terrace overlooked the roofs of the medina, and we relaxed for a bit, plotting how to get beyond the souks.
and get beyond, we did. after our break, we somehow managed to walk to the southeastern wall of the medina, close to nothing we wanted to see. we felt blisters forming, the afternoon sun burning, and exhaustion settling in. we had trouble finding street names as we walked, so our map was of little value to us. when we finally found our way to the palaces we’d initially set out to see (only adding in a two-ish mile detour), we didn’t even want to go in. we walked further west, knowing the riad is on the northwest side of the medina, until we found another place we could identify on our map, jemaa el-fna, one of the most popular areas in marrakech. we were so tired and overwhelmed that we completely avoided it. oops. when we finally made it back to the riad, we relaxed on the terrace and debated what to do for dinner. after getting lost, walking eight miles in uncomfortable shoes, and being completely thrown off from our eating and sleeping schedule, we decided to have an early dinner at a nearby restaurant, lest we be required to walk more. the food was terrible and overpriced, and when we climbed in bed at 8:00p.m., i found myself questioning if we’d made a mistake planning a trip to morocco, let alone to three cities in six days.
and that basically sums me up when i am tired and hangry.
thank God for sleep and a good breakfast the next morning. jonathan and i were new people in better shoes, armed with a plan and an offline map on his iphone. first up was the jardin majorelle, and we walked there with little issue, appreciating the opportunity to venture outside the medina into the new town with its broader streets, taller buildings, and more city-like feel. we arrived just after 10:00a.m., and waited in line for about a half hour. the garden was beautiful, the brainchild of french painter jacques majorelle, filled with cacti and exotic plants from all over the world. the accent colors of vibrant blues, yellows, and corals contrasted vividly against the soft greens and pinks of the succulents, sand, and the walls. i could have sat in the garden all day, but we had more to see and only an afternoon and evening left to see it.
we left the garden and walked to la mamounia, a legendary hotel on the southern side of the medina. from the second we walked through security (because yes, there is a security check), we were enthralled by the beauty of it all. apparently winston churchill frequented la mamounia when he visited marrakech, so that should help set the tone for your imagination. after spending some time admiring the incredible architectural details at the entrance, we walked through the hotel–which smelled like pure luxury, if that’s a scent–to the gardens in the back. i will provide photos instead of words to describe the grounds, though neither can do justice to it all. we stayed and each enjoyed an extremely overpriced martini at the bar overlooking the scenery, and it was totally worth the $50.
as we made our way back to the riad, i convinced jonathan it was time to shop. two of our three dogs had done a number on a couple of the rugs we’d bought back home, and i knew a trip to marrakech wouldn’t be complete without replacing them. we ended up with four. i couldn’t help myself–there were seemingly endless options to choose from at the shop mario had shown us, and it would’ve been borderline criminal not to take advantage of the incredible pricing. narrowing down our options and negotiating the prices stressed jonathan out to no end, but it is in moments like these when i shine brightest. we stopped by the riad just to drop them off, then we returned to the now-calmer evening streets of the medina, ready to redeem our dinner experience from the night prior.
both mario and the people of the internets had recommended la terrasse des épices, a rooftop restaurant in the heart of the souks that overlooks the city and its neighboring spice market, the place des épices. when mario mentioned that they serve wine, an uncommon occurrence in a muslim country, we were sold. the food was pretty good, as was our bottle of moroccan red, and the environment was fun. a dj spun tunes that would make delilah proud–i’m talking ed sheeran’s slow jams and toto’s “africa”, which i just turned on as i typed because, well, why not?–and our waiter kept us thoroughly entertained as he started every. single. sentence. with, “uh, heeere weee goooo!” it became our running joke of the trip and our new mantra. we were thankful for a fun last night in marrakech and for a quick recovery from the jet lag. the good meal was a bonus.
our second day was a 180 from the first, and it left me wanting to return to marrakech (i’ve been plotting business ventures that would allow me to do so). once we were able to adjust and get over the cultural and sensory shock, we had a great experience. our time in the city was too brief, and i was sad to say goodbye the next morning as we took an early bus to our next destination: essaouira.