The sights, the sounds and the smell. Everything about Marrakech is just spellbinding. Visiting the city and walking along the old town is a pleasure to all the senses.
I had an opportunity to attend a conference sometime during November 2016. The weather was way better than in Stockholm which was reeling under heavy snowfall. I was worried I could not make it out of Arlanda airport, but the flight somehow managed.
So, imagine the pleasure of boarding the flight when it was way below zero and arriving in Marrakech which was at a pleasant 20 deg. Celsius. Clear Skies. Cool Breeze. It was like landing in a different planet altogether.
Although most of my time was spent at the conference, we did sneak out during the evenings for brief walks and dinner. The hotel was well located – a couple of kilometres from the main tourist attraction of the city: Jemaa El Fnaa or simply called as Medina.
I and a colleague of mine started walking along the main street and on the way, we also visited the Koutoubia Mosque. It is the largest mosque in Marrakech and was built in 1200 AD, basically with red stones which seems to be the preferred tool for construction in Marrakech.
After a brief stop, we started walking to the Medina. Medina is basically a large open public area where hawkers sell pretty much everything under the sun. It was super duper crowded by the time we arrived. Be careful of pickpockets. And also be aware of the performers as well. There was a guy who wanted me to hold is pet python. Nope! Not interested. It is not the fear of snakes, but the fear of being fleeced for money.
We arrived just in time for sunset. There are various things one could do in Medina. One option is to sit in a nearby cafe, drinking juice/tea and just watching the crowd go by. The other option is to see the various performers – dancers, snake charmers, acrobats etc. performing in the square.
Once you pass through the square and enter the side streets, that is when the whole thing feels so amazing. The streets are narrow, sometimes barely enough for couple of people to pass side by side. It is also so crowded with people walking fast. It is not just people, but animals and vehicles competing for space and in a hurry.
One feature that strikes out are the lamps. Hundreds and hundreds of lamps. They all have the same external material, but the shapes and sizes are numerous. I remember seeing them in many tourist guides, but still was surprised at the design and the sheer number of them. More so for the fact that I could take some excellent pictures.
Although the lamps were the highlights, there were thousands of other things to buy. Perfumes, Oils, Spices, Fruits, Scarves, Ceramic Cups etc. and what not. It was amazing. Not just the sights, but the smell of perfumes and spices. I so wished to get lost in the crowd. Not knowing where to go but stopping at every shop and explore. The whole thing kind of reminded me of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, but this was way better.
One point to note is that it is perfectly fine to bargain. As is typical in Asian countries like India, the rates are increased, so start at half the price and then work towards a consensus.
Finally, the food. Being a vegetarian traveller is not easy. It was the same situation in Marrakech. There were plenty of options for non vegetarians, but I had to settle for sandwiches in the first restaurant we visited. Even then, the sandwich and the soup looked quite traditional and tasty.
Luckily, the restaurant we visited the 2nd night, they had the typical local Tagines with a vegetarian option. The name of the dish comes from the earthern pot in which the dish is cooked. The food is a stew like dish where the vegetables are slow cooked. Delicious food – soft and spicy. Unfortunately, I do not have a good photo of the dish – was too busy eating it :).
As for restaurants, there are many rooftop restaurants in the Medina. We followed recommendations in Trip Advisor and it didn’t disappoint.
Overall, a fantastic trip. The tickets were affordable although the visa processing usually takes a lot of time. As for accommodations, if you are adventurous, I recommend staying in a Riad – a traditional accommodation around a courtyard usually owned by the locals. The food was really good and Marrakech is a must visit for anyone. It is high on my list of places/countries to visit again.