My beautiful Riad is in the northernmost part of the Northern Medina, close to a launderette, a number of scooter repair shops, some foundry workers and an Islamic saint’s tomb which non- Muslims are not permitted to enter. The riad’s rooms are gorgeous, the service friendly and the hot water plentiful. The breakfast includes crepes with honey and lemon, and bread with homemade orange marmalade, fresh orange juice and coffee. Today I also got two fried eggs. Every day starts well, but I go to bed hungry more often than not. The Riad has only a small number of rooms and only a few are filled at this time of year. Although their website boasts a restaurant and room service, any evening meal would have to be ordered a day in advance. While sitting alone in a busy restaurant is something I enjoy– the perfect combination of eating and people watching– it would feel a bit bleak to hurry home at night for a lonely tagine in a dark and deserted courtyard. If I were better organized, I would buy bread and oranges while out and about, and supplement those with dates or figs and nuts. If I were more energetic and less stingy I would book a central restaurant and cabs and go out every evening at 8pm. In fact, I walk home as it gets dark about 6pm, rest my aching legs, and then decide that going out again is too much trouble, for no restaurants are walkable from where I am staying. For this reason I recommend accommodations closer to the action in the Medina when you come to Marrakech. The rest of my tips may be useful only to other middle aged white women with bad knees but I share them here nonetheless:
- When shopping the souks, decide what the object of your desire is worth to you. Ask the vendor to name his price. Offer in return about half of what you are willing to pay, regardless of what he says. Bargain with a smile. If it makes sense to take home two or three of the desired purchase, reduce the unit price by bulking up. Above all don’t be a jerk. That last 50 pence you are haggling over will probably mean more in their pocket than in yours. Once you’ve bought want you want, don’t fret about the price you paid, or compare it in other places. You decided what your must-have was worth to you, remember? If you can’t make a deal, move on. Someone else will have what you want at a price you will be happy to pay. If they don’t, it suggests your expectations may be entirely unreasonable
- Negotiate cab fares before your journey starts. I have been quoted 350 dh for journeys then completed happily for only 50dh. 20dh is often plenty.
- Know you will get lost when you are walking. Accept it. Enjoy it. Sit down and have a cup of mint tea. You may want to ask the waiter to hold the sugar. Look at your map. Don’t assume that everyone who offers directions is out to scam you. Equally, don’t assume that any directions given are accurate. (See previous post on this vexatious subject).
- Don’t yell or be otherwise abusive to any would-be guide or salesman. You will bump into them again and again.
- Don’t assume that anyone who calls after you”remember me?” or “you came back, you promised you’d come back” has ever laid eyes on you before. I have a particularly good memory for faces and so when this was tried on me I said “I don’t think so– tell me where it was we met?” My alleged chum muttered something about a hotel and moved on. On the other hand, people you have bought from WILL remember you when you next walk past and will run joyously after you. “You like your scarf?” “You take tea with me?” I always do. You can’t have too much tea, the young men are easy on the eye , and if you can help them move their use of English beyond “only look, no buy” you will be doing them a lifelong favour.
- If you seek strong drink, be prepared to climb stairs for it. Very few restaurants in the Medina are licensed and those that do sell booze are bound by law not to do so within sight of a mosque. This means that bars are built on rooftop decks. Stairs are uneven and hazardous even on the sober ascent. When I first arrived in Marrakech I wondered where all the tourists were. One afternoon I scaled the heights of the Cafe Arabe and found half of Europe encamped on the terrace, sucking on bottles of beer and double vodkas with sprite. You do NOT want to be one of those people. Stay on ground level and stick to the tea.
- If you want to visit the Majorelle Gardens get up early so you don’t have to queue. I failed to do this today and am thus having–yes you guessed it– a mint tea while hoping that the crowds will subside. There are some high end Moroccan designer shops near the gardens on the Rue Yves Laurent ( he used to own the gardens) which I liked better than those on Rue Mohammed V. Overall, I see little to recommend the Ville Nouvelle, unless you have an overpowering need for a MacDonalds or a trip to H&M. It, like the Jemaa el Fna is more depressing than delightful
- Hammans. Do it. You will never feel as clean again. They will give you your hand-knitted scrubbie to take home. Forego this. You can use the space to stuff in an extra scarf.