August is not the month one would chose to visit Morocco, but when Eitan was to be an official at the World Bridge Championships, we went. And it is hot, 46°C on our first day.
The other thing to know it is a little like being in Sinai, throw away your watch because time is slower here; registering at a hotel takes ages. But everyone is so pleasant after the initial annoyance everything is just fine. On arriving late at the Movenpick hotel in Marrakesh we wanted something to eat. Our cokes were served with delicious, not salty olives. No nuts but the waitress brought us three breadsticks which was just enough to tide us over.We flew to Morocco a few days before the Championships and visited Fez and Chefchaouen. While in Marrakech Doreen took the opportunity to visit more of Morocco's attractions, including Rabat and Casablanca..
Arriving at the
Movenpick Hotel initially was a little unsettling. A string of cars
the entrance to the hotel and no bellboys were in sight, so we had to drag our suitcases
up some stairs, walk along an elaborate approach, but couldn’t find the entrance to the hotel.
Just continue, we were told and, "open sesame", huge embellished doors swung open after which we had to find the reception. When we returned from Fes, we were in the know.
Each town has taxis of a different colour – Fes is red, Marrakech mustard-yellow, Rabat is blue – and from my experience, all will try and double the price for tourists.
Morocco generally and Marrakech especially is very clean. Boulevards with lighting and greenery on the divides line the main streets. The cars we saw looked well kept. There are of eating places along the way.
Breakfast is a jolly affair at the Movenpick hotel;
the eating area is either outside under olives trees or with the food
air conditioned. The spread was varied and tasty. It was also nice to
people we knew and even people we didn’t know from countries taking
part in the
Championships, as far away as China and Japan, South America, the
from African countries.
It is very hot and I had no plans to leave the hotel, but the concierge said it was the last day to see the Berber museum at Jardin Majorelle and I should go. What a lovely visit.
On entering you
walk around a cactus garden, containing some 300 fascinating cacti from
Americas, groves of bamboo, palms and bougainvillea, with ponds of
Jacque Majorelle, a French artist, is best known for these gardens, which are famous here in Marrakesh. The building are
in Majorelle blue, made from cobalt, reminding us of Chefchauoen. After his death the gardens were neglected until
Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berbe bought and restored the gardens in 1980.
In the garden there is a memorial to them both – a piece of a Roman column they found on the beach in Tangier.
Entry into the Berber
Museum is highly supervised and unfortunately no pictures are allowed.
Berbers or Amazigh
as they call themselves are nomadic people from Maghreb. The museum displays their material culture, everyday objects
beautifully of decorated leather, metal, ceramic, wood and silver. But it was the women’s jewelry, huge pieces of amber,
red coral and worked silver that were the most impressive. One showcase had both Islamic and Jewish ritual articles.
Laurent, although born in Oran Algeria, found inspiration in Marrakesh,
light and colour, where he often
went to design his clothes. He and Pierre bought a house next to Jardin Majorelle, which later became a museum, showcasing
Yves’ designs. Again no photos. Many sketches and clothes, some of them outrageous as well as a short movie of his life.
Even if you are not a designer, it was very interesting.
Having experience with taxi drivers here I asked how much it cost to go back to the hotel, before I got in. Yes, they are renowned for overpricing and good thing I remembered how much I paid getting there and after bargaining, paid the same price going back.
We were invited to the President’s Dinner at a delightful venue, the Beldi Country Club. The ride there took so long we wondered not only if we were still in Marrakech but also in Morocco. Beautiful gardens, candle-lit seating spaces, wood fires to light the way and a lovely eating area below beautiful chandeliers in a room open on all sides. We sat at a table with representatives from Jordan, South Africa and England, The food was typically Moroccan: salads, tajines, couscous and jawhara for dessert. The only downside was that it was very hot without a breeze. The other eating places we’ve been to so far, if they are outside, have sprays of water to cool the diners.
On the way back to the
hotel, late at night, all the spaces
outside, wide pavements, gardens, and divides between the streets were
with people sitting on chairs and eating or just on mats on the grass
running around and vendors peddling their stuff. It all looked very
reminded me of Israel on Independence Day without the mangals/barbecue.
Tajine Class at Riad Manceau
After buying a tajine in Fes and on the recommendation of a friend, I signed up for a cooking class on tajine cooking. The concierge wrote down the address of the hotel and said I should pay the taxi 50 Dirham. The taxis outside wanted 100 Dirham and when I refused, he called over another man who would take me for 50 Dirham. Well pleased with myself, I followed him to his taxi. Off he drove and after a time he stopped. "Where’s Riad Manceau?" I asked. He waved airily in the direction of a somewhat seedy looking alley and wanted me to get off. “Don’t you have a map?” he asked. I did and I also knew the general area of the hotel. I gave him my map and asked him to show me where he was dropping me off. He had no idea where to find it on the map. I got out and started walking. Half an hour later, asking about 15 people for directions and nearly stepping on the snake charmer's snake in the main square, some-one helped me find the hotel on Google maps. It seems that half price was also half the distance! But at no time did I feel threatened or uncomfortable. Just hot.
Riad Manceau was down a small alley and simple enough.
Gasping I asked for a bottle of water and was taken to a large room
stove an oven and a large table with settings for 3 people in addition
to the instructor. There was no
air conditioner and it was very hot. Spices, meat, and chicken were all
I had asked to make chicken and vegetables in the tajine but was told
it was a
sweet dish and if I wanted not sweet I would have to prepare lamb. The
young women from France were vegetarian, so vegetables were happily to
instructor showed us in what order to
prepare the ingredients and place them in the tajine.
The vegetarians got a wedge of cabbage to put
in the tajine and I got lamb bone with a little meat.
tajine was cooking we prepared Vegetable Mhancha with a
tomato sauce. After they were cooked she brought in paper thin leaves
which we filled and rolled and then turned into a spiral. This was
the oven to bake. Cooking class over.
We made our way to the terrace – more stairs, no elevator – and waited until our food was ready and brought upstairs. I think if it was cooler I may have enjoyed the food more. The dessert, which we didn’t make, was delicious – Jawhara - layers of paper thin pastry filled with cream.I decided if 50 Dirham got me half way, on the way back I would pay 100 Dirham to get back to our hotel. I was instructed to walk this way and turn that way until I would see horses and carriages and that there were taxis there too. I found the horses but there were no taxis in sight. I negotiated to pay 100 Dirham for a horse and carriage to take me back to the hotel. But it was so hot and I felt so bad about the horses that when I recognized where we were, I got off and walked the rest of the way back to the hotel; straight into a cold shower.
Another dinner we
enjoyed was the Executive dinner
at Dar Rhizlane. Music was provided by an oud player and a percussion
We were delighted when they began to move their heads with their Fez
hats so that the
tassels swung around. Our attempts weren’t as expert as theirs.
The WBF staff dinner was at Safran in the old city. It was a lively affair with continuous loud music, belly dancers, acrobats, drummers and lots of food and wine. Definitely the best staff dinner I’ve been to.
Click on the picture
below to see a video of some of the fun.
Eitan and I went to a
fancy restaurant Le Loft.
Eitan was delighted when his marrow bones and toast arrived. We are
bones that you have to suck the marrow out. This he could eat with a
had snails, remembering how Moran used to love them. My French friend
told me many years ago that it was quite alright to eat the big snails
in our garden, just give them a week’s diet of lettuce. Moran and I
we’d stick to the restaurant ones.
Mark Horton invited a few friends to have dinner with him at another fancy French restaurant, Luma, a short walk from the hotel. We were a bit wary as his last ‘short walk to the restaurant’ in Madeira was 40 minutes walk away. Fortunately Luma was close by and we enjoyed a delicious meal with much talk about wines, grandchildren and old friends.
Walking tour of Marrakech:
I was delighted when Marina Media joined me on a walking tour of historical Marrakech. After my bad experience in trying to find my cooking class, I asked Saaid, one of the greeters at the hotel entrance to come with me to the taxi driver who promised to drop us off right in front of our meeting point at Cafe de France in Jamaa el-Fnn, the large central square. People here are very friendly and welcoming especially when they heard we were from Israel. Most people speak Moroccan Arabic and French and quite a lot speak English, which they only learn in high school. So it came as quite a surprise that in the souks many speak fluent Italian and Spanish.
Abdu was our guide. At a fast pace he led us to our first stop .I would have liked less history and a more leisurely pace with time to peer into the fascinating shops on the way.
We paid the entrance fee to the Bahia Palace. Built in 1867 by the Grand Vizier Si Moussa, it was a beautiful place with meeting rooms to conduct business; some had fireplaces, a French addition. The Vizier had 4 wives and the chief one was Bahia, who gave him an heir and after whom the palace was named. Each room was delicately embellished with painted cedar ceilings, intricately carved stucco on the walls and zellige tiles on the floor. An Andalusian garden filled a courtyard with different fruit trees and flowers. The Vizier also had 24 concubines, but only had 12 simpler rooms for them!
As we walked to
the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter, we quickly admired designs of
enticing people to enter the stores. I suddenly heard the sound of a
shofar. Standing in the tiny entrance to a shop was a man with a black
blowing a small shofar. Abdu told me he was a barber. Note the
(soda) bottle in his window. A door supposedly leading to the oldest
in Marrakech was closed and looked much neglected.
Reaching the Kasbah we entered the Saadian Tombs which were adjacent to the kasbah mosque. The Saadian Dynasty ruled Morocco in the C16. Sultan Ahmad al-Mansour designed this necropolis to honour his ancestors and display his power and wealth. Many members of his dynasty are buried in beautiful structures. Outside among the rose gardens there are mosaics covering what are believed to be from the next dynasty, the Alawi. There are 56 tombstones with names and about a hundred tombs marked by multi-coloured mosaics. We also saw tortoises walking in the rose garden.
After returning to our starting point, Marina and I wandered around part of the souk. It being Friday, many places were closed, i.e a cardboard over the goods when the owner went to pray, and we determined to return the next day, which we did.
What fun it was. It seems that the shopkeepers have many Italian tourists because they chatted to Marina in Italian and to me in English. We first stopped at a leather shop where Omar a charming nomad from the Sahara Desert helped us chose purses and shoes while treating us to mint tea and fixing Marina’s sandal. When he heard we wanted spices he took us to his relative a few shops away. I bought the most fragrant sweet paprika ever and declined argan oil, again.
wanted to go to Madrasa ben Youssef. We had some difficulty finding the
and ended up following a man who led us down a quiet alley. Feeling
uncomfortable, I refused to follow him any longer. Good thing, we were
wanted to take us to the mosque. Why would he because non-Moslems are
allowed into mosques; the only one is the Hassan II in Casablanca. We
signs to the Madrasa and it was a good visit. Previously an Islamic
built in the C14 it was eventually abandoned in the C18. It has been
and is a beautiful site for tourists and Moroccans alike. Everywhere
intricately carved stucco and colourful mosaics .
It was surprising when a little boy and then his sister came up to me to be hugged. I would never dream of touching a strange child today, but this was a delightful surprise.
about 5 hours in the souks, I wanted to return to our hotel while
to the monthly Berber market.
We were delighted that
the Israeli women won the Venice Cup, the most prestigious women's
in the bridge world. Eitan was happy to help award the medals.
The next day,
with the bridge competitions over, it was Eitan’s first free day. After
leisurely breakfast we took a taxi to Café de France from
where I could
orientate myself. We strolled along alleys looking at the myriad of
bigger than a hole in the wall. The shops offering nuts and dates had a
door below the offered goods where the owner crawled through and came
the middle of his shop. Far away from the front edge of his shop, with
on a long stick he gave the shoppers the things they had bought. We
spice ras el hanout, almost as ubiquitous as argan oil. When we came to
of the souk that was unpaved we turned around and entered another
the alley thronged with people one would think bumping into someone was
only hazard, but there was a constant stream of bicycle riders, hand
carts and men whizzing around on vespa scooters who dodged between the
Now amazing displays of different coloured olives were on display
bottles of pickled lemons and onions and other delicious looking but
We found ourselves at the spice shop where I had visited yesterday. With other women we waited on a bench until we were served. We continued to the leather shop to meet Omar the charismatic nomad from yesterday selling leather goods. I was delighted when Eitan refused the 500 camels Omar offered for me.<>We made our way back to the main square Jemaa el fnna to the Café de France where we enjoyed people watching while we ate our good salads.
A little gem of the Movenpick hotel was that every day between 5 o’clock and 6 an array of chocolates was laid out for guests and staff to enjoy. Thank goodness I only knew about it a few days ago because they were delicious.
On our last day, after
we had packed I wanted to
return to the big square and buy something. The taxi driver couldn’t
hadn’t been to the Jewish spice shop. He talked so much about it that I
him to drop me off there. It was an immaculate shop displaying creams
spices, but most impressive was that the shop assistants (not Israelis)
spoke Hebrew. Sadly I needed nothing from the shop.
A few doors away was an amazing shop displaying fossilized ammonites outside and exquisite trilobites inside. If we come again as planned this is certainly an area to visit. I bought an interesting combination of pants and half skirt for one of my granddaughters and then needed a detailed explanation on how to assemble it. What fun. The way to Café De France was through an area where Moroccans shop, offering mainly clothes, electronic things and eating places based mainly on fried pastries. Crossing the big square again passing the snake charmers playing the pungi, a type of flute and metal clappers. It seems that snakes don’t have ears but are reacting to vibrations and the movements of the snake charmer.
I walked through the
souk until I found the two
shops I hadn’t photographed yesterday – the stalls selling nuts and
the other stalls selling olives.
Go to top of
Go to Eitan and Doreen's Home Page
Go to top of
Go to other pages of our visit to Morocco
Go to other pages of our visit to Morocco