The further adventures of Anne brown
Anne describes her recent visit to Marrakech
"Marrakech", in the centre of Morocco, sounded like a warm place to spend a few days before Christmas.... so I packed my bag !!!
Arrived at Gatwick early, in case I had to help with snow clearance, but runway was clear, so I sat to wait for flight, and fell into conservation with a young man, who was also flying at the same time, in the same plane, and going with the same travel company, to the same hotel (as were four others, whom I had yet to meet).
First meal on plane, yesterday's bread roll (no butter), tea (no milk), cold pasta and curried chicken, tasty yoghurt and two almond cakes Well it got better the more I ate. Hotel and bed by 2am.
Breakfast 8 am, buffet I tried what looked like Danish pastries, but they were hard and dry so I settled for figs with yoghurt, a roll and butter and several cups of coffee.
A guide then took us away from the wide, palm lined streets to the centre of the 'Pink City'. Here the streets were narrow, to cut out the direct rays of the summer sun. and painted the traditional pink colour. We visited a traditional souk, which had been the home of a wealthy trader and now converted to three storey holiday rooms with a communal dining room, surrounding a small pool and garden, all behind a small street door. Then to the Bahia Palace. After picking and eating oranges from the garden we saw many painted cedar ceilings, ancient carpets and a pottery rat trap. I tasted a roasted cork nut (cross between roast chestnut and cork) I learnt that until 1999 it was legal to have up to 4 wives and 28 concubines..if you could afford it. Being a concubine was a great honour as by the time you were 20years old, and discarded for a younger model, you had made your family rich and could then marry a man of your choice. From the age of 8 French was the language used in schools (all free..even university). I wish I had brought my phrase book !
Another walk through narrow streets, dodging a few cars, many motorbikes, donkey carts and lots of people. Big tubs of brown goo intrigued me...olive oil mixed with herbs, used as soap in public baths. Then another museum with low doors, old costumes and decorated chests, all in a beautiful palace, with green roof tiles which symbolised peace. Next the Djemma el-Fna Square. The surrounding buildings were everyday shops but the very large space in the middle sold everything from fresh orange juice to clothes. There were jugglers, colourful musicians, snake charmers(all insisted on money when you took their photos) and dentists. From the third floor cafe, while drinking mint tea (fresh mint in a glass of sweet tea) I could see the flat roof tops covered in sky TV aerials, palm trees in the distance and the outline of the Atlas mountains.
Then a meal to remember in the Moroccan restaurant, lamb and prunes, followed by delicious marzipan sweets. Accompanied by a two man band and a belly dancer (not sure how she stayed in her costume) The diner, whose chair collapsed, was not part of the floor show!
After breakfast of pancakes (made from flour and water), puffed wheat and yoghurt, back into the city to see the Medersa Ben Youssef, a 14th C college. The students lived one or two to a cell (sorry room) with enough space to cook their food and study. Lectures were in an ornate hall. All of which surrounded a pool, and a few palm and orange trees. Famous Yves St Laurent gardens next, no flowers, just cacti of all shapes and sizes, 20ft tall bamboos and water lilies in a blue pond. I saw it all in 10 mins. Lunch of some great bread (asked for butter..we English!) salad with grated spam (but not pork) on top, chicken with olives, beans, meatballs and marrow, followed by oranges. Group taken to a carpet warehouse and a pharmacy I did not buy, but enjoyed a free cup of tea. We saw the Minaret, which appears to tower over the city as no other buildings may be taller than a palm tree. Mobile phone masts are invisibly disguised as concrete palm trees!
Took myself off to an internet cafe..slight problem..key board was not qwerty..but Arabic ! And the pavements were so high I had to ask a passing lad if I could borrow his arm to get up off the road. It's a good job I like challenges. Then tea of chicken,fish,pasta,spaghetti, tomatoes topped with soft cheese and small almond pastries.
Salty porridge and mint tea for breakfast before going to Southern Atlas mountains. Saw barley, olive, plum and cherries trees. Men were using donkeys and wooden ploughs (made by themselves) The good roads turned into tracks with steep drops at the side. Stopped for lunch, chopped tomatoes and peppers, bread dipped in oil, a fatty beef casserole which tasted good, followed by pomegranates, dates and tangerines. While by myself I was invited to look round a Berber home (what an honour!) kitchen, living and bedrooms all opened onto a central courtyard with plants in the centre. But I had to decline a cup of tea as rest of group was waiting. Italian meal tonight, spaghetti, calamari, cheese and chopped bacon. Glad I was not hungry, if not I would have had to have eaten it!
A long drive to the port of Essaouira. We stopped to see goats climbing aragon trees (or rather doped goats which had been put among the branches). As aragon oil is very expensive the goats are no longer allowed to climb these trees to feast on the nuts, but tourists still wanted pictures! This oil may, amongst many other things, stop nails cracking, (I should know by Easter). I looked around the old walled city with its Jewish quarter. It is the port for the Timbuktu trade route, so sells silks, silver, fruit, vegetables and live chickens (one way to keep the meat fresh if you have no fridge). I had a view of the Atlantic while eating salad, a mixed fish platter and fruit salad. Then saw the many fishing boats, large, wooden, painted blue and rowed. Also some proper ones with motors and cabins. On the return we passed a large, dusty cement works in amongst juniper trees and yet more olives. Just chicken, couscous and small sweets before going out on the town. Met some really friendly people in the markets at midnight.
Just me on trip today (so I did not have to visit any of the compulsory tourist shops) going to the Ourica valley in the foot-hills of the Atlas mountains. I met ladies carrying pretty lambs over the bridges made of sticks, and after cuddling a day-old one, was invited to be a Berber lady! After successfully crossing one of these bridges (not too many gaps, and most of the side wires were there) the guide said 'brave lady'. Lunch, and I had restaurant to myself, for more salad, 1/4 chicken, beef and couscous, oranges, tea and biscuits. I was asked what Norfolk was famous for, and after the usual things, I said we hold the World's championship snail races! Do they think us mad? Back at the hotel I walked to some popular gardens....about 15 acres of olive trees..equivalent to our Thetford forest....with a central, large, carp filled pond.. Tried wafer thin pancakes with creme anglaise, freshly squeezed orange juice and a hot drink made of 24 spices..which nearly blew the top of my head off.
Nothing planned for today, so Oz, the guy I met at airport, was my guide! We swam in the pool...nearly died of hypothermia...but dried off in hot sun...then to a Hamman !!!! Paid my money and used the ladies' entrance to a white tiled corridor, where I left all my possessions, except my pants (this was the uniform for all). Then to a hot steamy room where I soaped myself, sitting on a stool (as if I used the floor as the others did, I knew I would never get up again). Before a large lady scrubbed my skin off, before throwing buckets of hot water over me. None of the other 12 ladies spoke English but one knew a little French and was interpreter to tell me what to do next. A very interesting hour ended with all my clothes and wallet returned intact, and a towel provided to dry myself....but had wear my wet undies till they dried out.
On to the square which, being evening, was filled with a film festival, food stalls and smoke and delicious smells. Must eat here. Deep fried squid and prawns with a few chips, served on squares of paper. I found a fork, at the bottom, when I had finished. Water to drink, as this is a Muslim country and alcohol only served in hotels. Lots of very friendly locals, definitely the place to be.
Ah well, back to frozen England with just happy memories to keep me warm.
ps. why is my story always food orientated ?