Jeff Harris Travels

Madrid & Marrakech

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My trip to Madrid and Marrakech, Morocco was definitely a unique and enriching experience. On Saturday, April 11 I traveled by train to Madrid. After checking into my hotel, I took the metro it down to the Reina Sofía and Prado art museums. I first went to Reina Sofía to see my favorite painting Guernica by Pablo Picasso. I was able to snap a few photos with my phone, which I suppose is better than nothing. After checking out the other works of art in Reina Sofía, I walked over to the Museo del Prado, which houses older works of art. There I got to see my second favorite painting Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. Seeing the works in person after studying them last semester in Art History II was amazing and was something I didn’t think I’d get a chance to do. It was an interesting contrast to see these artworks the day before traveling to Morocco.

Guernica by Picasso

Garden of Earthly Delights
Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch

After a night in Madrid, I departed Spain for Morocco. It had only been a week since I had solidified the plan for the trip, and luckily everything went near perfectly. No lost passports this time!

Once I arrived in Marrakech I exchanged some euros and dollars and hopped on the bus headed into the city. For 30 Moroccan Dirhams (about $3.50) I got a roundtrip ticket for the bus. I’m sure it was much easier and potentially cheaper than trying to settle on a price with the taxi drivers!

Once I got off the bus, the loudness and liveliness of the Djemaa el Fna (the main square of Marrakech and what Marrakech is known for) was overwhelming. Carrying luggage made me a target for lots of teenagers trying to make a buck, directing tourists to their riads (like the equivalent to a bed and breakfast). I had the map in my head, so I knew I was in the right area, but after passing where I later learned I had to turn and noticing the sun setting fast, I gave in and accepted help. The lowest denomination of money I had was a 100 dirham bill (about $11.71), so I figured I had no other choice. Once I made it to my riad, the Amour de Riad, my guide’s friend showed up and said that I owed him money too. Ha! I made sure when I first agreed to let them show me that I said 100 dirhams only, not per person. No more. And when we turned into the dark alley leading to the riad, his friend stayed behind. As I refused to pay more and hoping one of them didn’t have a knife I rang the doorbell of the riad and a pleasant woman managing the place opened the door. It was a relief to be inside someplace calm. Once I made it to my closet-sized room containing a bed, a coat rack, a plastic stool, two power outlets and a window and door, I thought what did I get myself into? Seeing women covered head to toe, walking past carts pulled by donkeys, and being hustled for help was a bit overwhelming at first. I didn’t venture back out until the morning.

On Monday I walked all over the place. And again I was hustled by the young and old. They would say “the place you’re looking for is closed,” or “there is nothing good that way, follow me,” or “come look at my shop, I give you good price, best in Marrakech!” Usually I would just brush them off and tell them I was just walking, taking in the sights. Other times they were more persistent so I would just ignore them. One time a boy warned me that an area I was headed towards was closed. I pretended to know only Spanish. Surprisingly the boy replied with “my amigo, cerrado” (“my friend, closed”).

The people in Marrakech were awful friendly. They all considered me to be their friend. Whether it was the orange juice sellers or the shopkeepers, the waiters or the young Moroccans trying to make a buck by selling their knowledge of Marrakech’s street plan or their hashish, they all wanted to be my friend (in case you couldn’t tell, I’m being sarcastic : P).

For dinner on Monday night I walked the outskirts of the food stalls in the Djemaa el Fna. The waiters stood outside, along where people walked, trying to get each passerby to take a look at their menu and spread of food. Being pushed around or pressured is a real turn off for me, but every single stall did it, so finally gave into the pressuring and settled on stall 114. I ended up eating there the next two nights, partly because I didn’t feel like getting pressured by the other stalls and partly because they had pretty good couscous the first night. After making it back to the riad after my first real Djemaa el Fna experience, I settled in for the night, a little more confident that I could withstand the culture shock.

On Tuesday, after a hearty breakfast of a crepe, croissant and orange juice and coffee (with lots of milk added since I’m not really a coffee drinker) in my riad, I bought a 24 hour ticket for the hop-on hop-off double decker, open-top tour bus. After a few circuits around the city, I got off near the Bahia Palace. There were a lot of similarities between this palace and the Alhambra in Granada. The tiles and wall calligraphy were almost identical in some instances. The gardens were beautiful and lush and the courtyards were expansive.

Next, I rode the tour bus another time and took more photos from my seat atop the bus. After a thirty minute ride, I got off at the Djemaa el Fna stop and had walked the five minutes back to my riad. After a little siesta, I walked back into the Djemaa el Fna and to stall 114 for dinner. I had a chicken tagine with a orange fanta for dinner. The complimentary mint tea was refreshing!

By Tuesday night I had a change in perspective. I was disappointed that I only had Wednesday left, which was a great change from the feelings I had on Sunday night.

Wednesday morning came and I made it out into the medina to catch the sightseeing bus one last time, before my ticket’s validity expired. After the tour, I had pretty good understanding of the layout of the city, though I never traveled out of the medina by foot.

After getting off at my usual stop at the Djemaa el Fna, I decided to walk through the souks and to the Musée de Marrakech. I never found the museum and didn’t think it was worth it to hire a guide. I was offered hashish several times though.

After that little walk and getting lost in the souks after thinking I knew where I was going, I made it back to the Djemaa el Fna with the aid of the Koutoubia mosque’s tall minaret. I decided to have lunch at one of the restaurants overlooking the square. I was there for nearly two hours, I reckon. I had some chicken couscous with carrots and some sort of squash (I think). I took hundreds of photos from my seat, snapping shots of the snake charmers, monkeys, and henna tattooers. It was nice to get some photos without being hassled for money at street level.

Dinner at stall 114 on Wednesday was bittersweet. In the three days I had eaten there, me and my waiter Akheem had developed a rapport and I wished I had more days to try a variety of other Moroccan foods. After saying our goodbyes, I made by way over to the orange juice stands and sipped a glass among the locals. While on my way back to my riad for my last sleep in Morocco, I bought some Moroccan pastries I had first tried in Granada.

Thursday morning came too fast. I hastily ate breakfast and headed to the bus stop to catch the bus back to the airport to make my 1 o’clock flight back to Madrid. Everything went smoothly and I made it to Madrid’s Atocha train station with a couple hours to spare before taking the train back to Valencia, arriving back to my apartment at about midnight. My trip had been a success.

That’s one spring break I’ll always remember!

Slideshow instructions: Once you click the play (triangle) button, you can use your keyboard’s arrow keys to advance or regress through the photos. Use the space bar to pause or play the slideshow. Click the photo to see its flickr page.

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Written by Jeff

April 18, 2009 at 7:12 am

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