Marrakech: Northern Medina


Upon arriving in Marrakech, we took a taxi from our Villa Guest in Targa to the central district and Jemma el Fna (the big square). Along the way, all things were that 90’s peachy/pinky color (you know…the one that went well with teal). It seemed that all major roads were lined with GORGEOUS well-manicured parks and gardens. In fact, along one major 10 km travel route,, a manicured median spans the entire length. And all major travel routes are lined with orange trees. I asked our drivers how the city manages to keep the trees full of fruit—apparently, they planted a variety that’s not very tasty 🙂


Needless to say, our drive downtown was scenic. We first headed out across the main square to see snake charmers and others’ acts and to scan the food stalls for later. Then, off to see the souks and stalls for a bit of shopping. G and I are not big shoppers. In fact, I’m a horrible shopper. But, before this trip I forewarned G that I could be a bit dangerous in Marrakech. Luckily for G though, the clothing wasn’t really ‘me’ and we don’t currently have a house so we successfully dodged the pain of a hefty spend…


Along the way, we were on the look out for picturesque scenes. We found some. But one that stands out to me is of an older Morrocan gentleman who was a bit of our his wits or upon hard times. He seemed to be speaking to God–kept looking up to carry on the conversation. Seeing it all unfold against a beautiful backdrop, I couldn’t resist snapping this photo–just as another guy walked into frame. Darn!


Marrakech bleeds leather goods, jewelry (not fine jewelry—just silver and beads), baskets and woven items, lamps, overhead lights, sweets, wooden crafts, pottery and souvenirs (like carved camels with Marrakech painted in barely legible script along the side). Perhaps most entertaining are the spice stands, turtle and snail pedaling stalls. The spice stands glue spices onto cones and place them atop buckets outside their stalls to attract tourists. When you ask how to get the spices into the uniform shapes, they let you in on the secret. The real spices are inside the shops in air-tight jars. The turtles are meant to be pets (or that’s what they told me, anyway). I named ‘mine’ Hermit. He was cute and liked to eat lettuce. And the snails are featured in snail stews across the city.


Along the way a local enticed us to visit the tanneries. We hesitated, but gave in and followed him into maze-like alleys to find the grungy places where the area’s leather is cured in lime, pigeon droppings and toxic chemical dyes before being made into the artisan leather goods. There are countless wells of solution–they go on for acres. At about 70 degrees out, this made for an interesting experience. Funny to think that there’s a cafe directly above that offers tea as you overlook the scene–not necessary the look or smell that I like over my latte…Seeing how the leather was tanned and the conditions under which workers slaved made me even less motivated to by the leathergoods on show.


After the visit to the shady tanneries, we headed for mint tea and a snack at Café de Epices. It’s a cute little café nestled amongst an open air market near Jemma el Fna square. There we enjoyed a tuna sandwich (yum—they made their tuna salad with olives and olive oil and a slice of pickle instead of mayonnaise & pickle). We had gotten up at 3:00AM in order to catch our taxi to the airport that morning so we were feeling a bit sleepy, but we decided to persevere. We ventured to ‘Ensemble de Artisans’—a place just off the main travel route and across from the city’s Cyberpark and most notable Mosque tower. Here, we saw the wares of local artisans—and in some cases were able to see them at work.


Then, across to the Cyber park. No wonder the locals love this park and use it so much as it has free “cyber stations’ throughout–touch-screen computers with a cover overhanging to protect them from the elements. What’s even better is that there’s free WiFi from the park’s main fountain area. You can sit along the wall overlooking the fountain as you type away. Very cool.Having left our umbrellas behind at the Villa, we were concerned as grey storm clouds appeared. We sought cover under an orange tree as we made our way back to Jemma el Fna to have a dinner of Couscous. Couscous as I’ve known it in the past is the small bits of pasta-like grain that’s lightly seasoned. But, in Marrakech, couscous refers to a dish that uses this pasta-like grain as a base, topped with meat and 7 types of vegetable (most recognizably carrot, cabbage, parsnip, potato). It’s served with a broth sauce that you spoon over—most likely the drippings from the cooked meat. Very tasty—and mild.


The mint tea. It’s one of those things that you’ve got to try. We tried it earlier in the day and I wasn’t a fan. But we saw a stall that had fresh leaves waiting in glasses—and I thought—surely this time will be good. WRONG. It’s like Southern Sweet Tea only hot and with mint leaves instead of traditional tea leaves. It was like drinking toothpaste. Too sweet!Look for a post on the Atlas Mountains tomorrow…and one on the Southern Medina, as well.

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