One year passed after we went to Rome, Italy, for Sarahs birthday and after returning from Bali and Lombok in October 2016, the time has come to travel again and to discover new cultures and impressions.
As I told you guys in some blogs before, in 2016 we started to celebrate our birthdays with small and affordable travels around Europe, or wherever there is a cheap flight going, which is really more valuable than materialistic things you can buy anyway.
This time we went to Marrakesh for six full days, because neither Sarah or me have ever been in a oriental area for traveling.
As usual, we started traveling by visiting some friends across Germany and finally got on our plane on a cold german noon. After quiet some hours of flying (of course we reserved window seats again), we arrived in Marrakesh, which looked amazing from above. During the preparation of our trip, I have booked a room in a Riad, which represents a more moroccan way of staying in Marrakesh. Originally, a Riad is a place where multiple generations of one family live together. The name "Riad" is derived from the arabian word for "garden". You can imagine a Riad to be like a huge house, with several floors with a small garden or fontaine in the middle of the yard, which is surrounded by the walls of the house.
Most of the Riads, you can stay in, can be found in the heart of Marrakesh. I am talking about the fairytale-like and romantic old center of every moroccan city, called "Medina". Simultaneously, the Medina is the place you should aim for to go. It has loads of small authentic shops, where you can buy all the iconic oriental things like carpets, lamps or also every kind of clothing or fake brand of sunglasses you can imagine. Well, we stayed in the Medina of course, because our hearts for unknown culture and ways of living never stop beating, so we wanted to be as close as we can get to the pulse of the city.
First of all advices: If you go to Marrakesh during the months of November until early March, make sure the Riad of your dreams as a good air condition, or even better heaters (what can be a little difficult to find in a region where summer temperatures are above 40°C). We stayed in a wonderful Riad, with every kind of iconic decoration for Marrakesh as well as a rooftop terrace to have stunning breakfast views of the Atlas mountain chain. But one thing was missing, a proper working heater or air condition. Therefore the nights were really cold and hard to survive with two small and thin blankets (we had to cuddle even more than we usually do haha). But to be honest, it was not a huge downside for us, because of "different countries different customs".
On the following days, we started with an awesome brekkie on the rooftop, recognizing the heat of upcoming sun in our faces (perfect, if you think of the winter in Germany). After gaining enough power to start the day we completely went into exploring mode of the Medina...for like 30 minutes at least. The reason why we stopped being into our 100% of exploring mode and became a little more worried, or better to say attentive, was that we almost got pranked and ripped by a local, who seemed really friendly and so on. Remember, we have just returned from Bali where you can leave your house open or go for a 5 hour boat ride with your belongings staying on the beach (just exaggerating here for comparison). Usually we are really open minded people, when we are traveling. We always try to speak the language of the country (may it be some words) or try to learn different new words, we want to get in contact with locals more than with other tourists, even dress in a authentic way sometimes, try to hangout with locals, learning things of the culture and ways to live proactively, always look for a smaller path or street to follow or help out locals with small favors. But being some minutes into the Medina of Marrakesh showed us, that we will get serious problems by traveling that way.
One fact that you have to be aware of when traveling to Marrakesh is, tht you will get lost in the Medina multiple times, even if you are using GPS, GoogleMaps or a classic paper map- means that you will depend on locals- and that can break your neck (especially in the evenings). Do not get me wrong. I do not want to talk negative about the people nor the culture or anything, but there were some situations where we did not feel save anymore. Of course there also have been situation when we have been amazed by the kindness of the people or the beauty of the oriental culture.
Especially one situation was burnt into our minds, when we decided to walk away from Djemaa el Fna in direction of our Riad before it gets dark, because we were completely done after one day exploring the Medina, having awesome impressions but also multiple discussions why we will not buy anything or iving money to people, who walked in front of us and later demanding that they showed us the way to our destination, that we had found. So we walked back to our Riad, stores and shop have been closing already as it was getting darker and guess what....we lost track as the small streets did not look the same anymore. After some time of walking, locals kept saying "this road is closed due religious ceremonies". After turning back, as we respect religion and culture of ever country we are going to, locals stopped by, telling us that the road we just walked is also closed due religious ceremony...well, just imagine a crossing where you can not enter one single street,because someone says that it is closed. We were trapped in kinda way. I have had a look into the map, he worst mistake you can do, and just in time some 15 year old kind stopped by, telling us where to go and that he will show us the way...of course we expected him to rip us of because we had the same situation 10 times during this FIRST day (haha). But we kept following him, as we had no choice (we were completely lost). We followe him and at some point we had doubts, as the streets were getting smaller and darker. That is when I had a look into google maps, which could located us with a weak signal and I saw that we were going in a totally false direction. OKAY SARAH, LET US JUST TURN AROUND AND GO BACK TO DJEMAA EL FNA. We felt the tension rising. We turned around and started walking the other way again...kid following us...screaming...GIVE ME MY CHANGE..."for what?" we were asking while fastening our steps...he offered us some kinda drugs...( I just realise that this sounds super stereotypical, but that is just our experience besides many other good ones). Sarah was almost crying as we got out of the dark and small streets of the Riad...an older man was holding back the kid, who meet us on the next corner again and the trouble began again...after walking straight and fast in direction of the Djemaa el Fna square for minutes, with the angry kid in our back, following us, he gave up when I gave him two cigarettes...holy fuck are you serious?...20 minutes of trouble and almost beating each other for two cigarettes in the end? From this day and experience on, I sadly have to admit that we really have been in our Riad or nearby hours before dawn, mostly.
Another advice, a sad one for all travelers full of appreciation for every kind of things, is to learn to walk straight, never look or standing too long while going through the Medina of Marrakesh. It broke our heart to make that decision for the rest of our stay, because usually we want to get in contact and to appreciate every single small thing. But in this way, it kinda worked. :(
Places we can really recommend to visit in Marrakesh
- Djemaa el Fna (a huge square full of living, artists, but also animal cruelty :( )
- Medersa Ben Youssef ( for having insights into an old Quran school)
- Koutoubia Mosque (probably the most iconic building in whole Marrakesh,seen from everywhere)
- House of Photography (with an awesome exhibition and cafe on the roof top)
- Bahia Palace
- El Badii Palace (if you are going there, remember that everything you will see was covered in gold once)
- Les Jardins Majorelle
- Menara Gardens
As I do not want to bore you with this already long blog post, please have in mind, that the bad things in here, just happened to us. It does not have to happen for you as well. We have had nice encounters too. But we also recognized that Marrakesh, will not be a place for us to return as we had to determine ourselves to much to enjoy the hiffen beauty of this place and as this is not the way we want to travel, nor keep walking straight and to ignore every nerve-wrecking attempt to rip you off, which is not our way we want to get to know the place we are traveling, we decided to skip Marrakesh next time.
Thanks for reading! Your boy, Tommy