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Kel&Cez’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 08 Apr 2006

Location: Marrakech, Morocco


Marrakech was amazing! We stayed in a beautful riad (villa) in the Medina (Old City) called Riad Monika. Between checking out our photos and having a look at it on the net, you'll get some understanding of what a treasure this place is. Kel and I were lucky enough to have been invited to rest at this gorgeous abode for a week by my aunt and uncle, Kathryn and David.

The crew that "Rocked the Riad" was:
- David & Kathryn (uncle and aunty)
- Jack, Michael and Adele (cousins)
- Carey & Mark (uncle and partner)
- Niamh (sister)
- Kelly and I

Kel and I arrived a little late at night and apart from the others so when a dodgy taxi driver picked us up at the airport and took us through a maze of winding roads/alleyways where at the end we were met by one of his friends and told we had to walk from this point for another 10 minutes along a narrow, high-walled, unkept and mostly dirt-path/alley which was littered with garbage, waste (animal and human) and strange people openly staring at us with bugger all street lighting, well, I thought that was the end of us! After walking for about 15 minutes, we eventually arrived at a totally non-descript door without any number, name or street sign to be found close by and were told we were there. "Holy sh*t! This REALLY is the end, we're going to die! I love you Kelly!" But when the door opened, WOW! Only one word to describe the riad, "oasis." The place was beautifully finished and had the most friendly and accommodating staff I have experienced (thank-you Zouhai - our host for the week). On top of that, our room/apartment was fantastic and the hustle and bustle of outside could not be heard inside the walls, creating a tranquil get away in the heart of the Medina. Words won't do it justice so you'll all have to go and see it for yourselves!

In order for you readers to get some comprehension of what a wonderful trip this was, I would need to write a novel! As such, you will have to make do with a simple summary of the highlights. Combined with the photos, you'll get a general idea of what it was like.

Highlights included:
- The Souks: semi-open air markets trading all manner of goods and which were a total buzz of pressed humanity, light, colours and of course, scotch, I mean, action! In this ramshackle maze of stalls we got lost many a time throughout the week but had a great time doing so as we frequently wandered off the main route which was packed with tourists into pretty much 'locals-only' areas where leather auctions and weird smells were common-place. At this point, friendly children, keen to earn a bit of pocket money, always seemed to pop up and offer their tour-guide services to get you back to a main landmark - or just disappear around a corner where you'd be ambushed by their friends, hoping to cash-in on your helplessness!
Despite knowing that we were also being ripped off by the silk merchants, jewellers and other store owners, the relative price of goods was too good to resist and we all came back with beautiful homewares, quirky souvenirs and more than one pair of traditional morrocan slippers - available in an unbelievably kalaedescopic array of styles and colours!
Whilst very nervous initially, Kelly definitely developed a knack for bargaining and often got upset with me for not squeezing every last dirham (currency) from the vendor.

- Food: tagines and tangines (slow-cooked 'caserole' type dishes of mainly lamb and vegetables with delicious infused spices), mmmmmm.... Can't say much else other than bloody awesome (and very tender, hahaha!)!

- Riad Monika: the oasis. See photos and website.

- Mederssa Ben Youssef: this Islamic/Koranic college was founded in the 14th century (closed down in the 60's) and could house up to about 900 students in approximately 130 "cells" with the highest achievers getting rooms with a view over the central courtyard and fountain and the worst getting dark, dingy and very out-of-the-way accommodations. Very decorative externally with ornate timber and masonary work and walls of elaborate tiling, whilst the "cells" were extremely plain (I'm guessing to provide little distraction from studies).

- Day Trip: After having spent five days amongst the crazy goings-on of the Medina, we decided a day-trip to more remote and laid back environs was in order. So we all piled into a people mover and headed out towards the Atlas Mountains. On the way we saw mini-trucks piled high with goods, families of three or four packed onto a single scooter, ladies carrying heavy loads on their backs, donkeys, camels, remote villages, tourist trap Berber souvenir shops (which we of course stopped at!) and always, the distant snow-capped mountains drawing closer and closer through the haze of the lowlands. We passed a Coca-Cola sponsored cafe and stopped by the rapids to commence our trek into the Atlas Mountains. Our guide for the trek was a local man who had learned some English from spending a little while in the Medina. After a brilliant start, rock-jumping across the river and then beginning what was expected to be at least an hour's climb through a bit of the mountains, it was slightly disappointing when we turned back after only 20 minutes. However, this allowed us to witness the daily chores of the local villagers and we were pleasantly entertained when a group of initially very shy young girls accosted my Uncle Carey and didn't leave him alone until he gave them all of his money! I think they'd had visitors before. After about an hour of walking a short climb before traipsing through the outskirts of a village, it was time to head back into town. I am extremely glad we took this trip as it was a great contrast to the busy, cramped and pungent aura of the Medina, being fantastically desolate, barren and beautiful.

- Antique hunting: A fabulous day of fun-filled excitement! After visiting a locals-only bakery, the maintenance area of a tradtional Hamman (baths/spa) and having a traditional lunch at a rug shop with our local guide for the day, it was time for some serious shopping for antiques. After only 20 minutes in the first shop, Hafid quickly realised we were a ruthless bunch of spenders and decided more up-market and genuine boutiques would be well-received. True to his perceptions and mainly thanks to the unrelenting spending of Kathryn and David, we were then led to the back rooms of a number of shops where treasures of astonishing beauty and craftsmanship were obviously reserved for serious bidders. In these back rooms, precious Berber Silver and Blue-man desert pieces (integrated gold, silver and copper works of amazing design), along with traditional teasets, boxes, pieces of art and massive be-jewled chests were laid about like a veritable Alladin's Cave! It was in one of these rooms I spied Kelly eyeing off a gorgeous silver box. Seeing as though we had decided to postpone her birthday present-giving, this presented a perfect opportunity for a truly memorable gift. Along with a ring to match a newly purchased necklace, this present ensured I was again The Man!

- Karen's Party: a good friend of my grandparent's, Karen Day, held her 50th birthday party at a beautiful estate on the outskirts of the city. An ecclectic group of guests (scientists, artists, us...), quirky entertainment and mouth-watering traditional food (fruits, meats, vegetables and lots of spices) made for a wonderful evening which was capped off by a couple of belly dancers (obviously influenced by ABBA) who put on such a good show that everybody was up and dancing with them!

- Golf: David and I played a round at Amelkis golf resort. Whilst the golf wasn't pretty, the scenery was great! It was quite awesome driving down a lush fairway when surrounding the course was a combination of desert and slums and then pitching onto the green with the snow-capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains as a back-drop. After catching a 20 minute cab-ride back into town, we showered and then headed out to the Aman Resort which ended up adjoining the golf course! We had thought it was a gated community within the boundary of the golf course and slapped ourselves for not checking its location beforehand!

From the hand of Kelly...
This was definitley one of my favourite holidays. The dichotomy of wealth and poverty, modern and traditional, and the fascinating merging of western and arab cultures made for an unforgettable experience. In the narrow, dirt alleyways with high, ochre-rendered walls, where men and donkeys pulled carts ladened with traditional produce and children played with toys of sticks and string, it was easy to imagine Moses walking around the corner at any second. 50 metres later howerver, there's a man wearing a 350-quid smock and others selling suitcases and car parts...Fantastic! A definite must-see for everyone!