Marrakech Travel diary day 1
I am delighted to bring you guys the Marrakech Diary of Louis Mariette, as some of you already know, last week we brought you the hotel review of Riad Siwan in Marrakech and the interview to the owners of the hotel. Today Louis brings us his day 1 experience of his journey in Marrakech…
Day 1 – from the UK to Marrakech
“A whirlwind of last-minute mayhem as I drive my over-organized partner nuts, throwing my contents into a travel bag, barking orders of brushing the cat, talk to her and water plants. Going on a trip just wouldn’t be the same without a bit of chaos, it’s the adrenalin of excitement I shared with my siblings since traveling with them as kids on our regular trips from Africa to school in the UK. Now as a ‘responsible’ adult…nothing has changed!!!
At the airport, OMG my travel companion is arriving, shall I hide from her, wind her up, I know better through my scars the result with those sharp talons of nails of hers it’s not worth it, “Hi sis”
“What, Fly”, her nickname to me, a reference to me being a disgusting little creature! So glad, age hasn’t mellowed her. Big hugs, catch up on gossip as we dash off to check-in. I turn to her repeating our long-running standard joke mantra, “passport”? Her voiceless response; a pout of her lips & raising a single red nail talon. I look at her smug, I may be the stupid youngest of the family but she left her passport on the car roof many years ago as our parents drove us to the airport in Botswana in another of our travel chaos moments. This was, of course, a long-standing family joke.
The travel journal of a milliner – by Louis Mariette
If it wasn’t for the African kid who found the passport on the roadside, her journey would’ve been terminated, most likely to her delight as it was back to school.
The reason for the trip is research for her 50th, a potential location for all her family & friends to get together for a celebration. She always wanted a trip to this part of the world and I suggested this being one of my favorite long weekend destinations. I know this has all the hallmarks of a Wendy Mariette trip; exploring souks, lost in a plethora of mind-boggling avenues festooned with a riot of colors, foods & spices in the old medina…this is North Africa, Arabic life in all its splendor.
As part of the culture, souk life invariably becomes more than just a tourist destination. It is an integral part of local life that can involve the locals meeting through mosques, hammams and family dwellings. Quite literally, you can walk down an alleyway and get lost only to discover a little doorway and within it, artisans will be hard at work creating an assortment of items through a variety of skills such as wood carving, iron work, leather dying, and ceramics. Some of these crafts date back to a bygone era and yet interpret and can still be used in the modern world. As well as selling their wares, souk owners are an essential part of the local community with involvement in family and religious life.
As dyed leather lies drying on the pavement, quite literally taking over the whole area, look closer as this could be the beginnings of your future couture handbag!
This contraption of an unidentifiable machine is actually a modern version of a traditional technique of threading the rich embroidery around the edging of garments. It is far more economical on space as sometimes coming across the traditional method, there can literally be a thread running down a whole road.
For the culinary astute, the stalls are simply sublime for their endless variety of spices and herbs, some used for ailments and in hammams.
Quite literally you can see displays of food products and spiced powder pyramids stacked high for both visual impact and a method of economizing small space. But out of everything out there my top tip for all you ‘aspiring’ foodies is to flitter through the various stalls sampling different spices in search of your perfect blend of Ras el hanout which can vary from eight to eighty different spices!
We arrived in a profusion of noise and excitement in the center of the old Medina. I’d been waiting to see the expression on my sister’s face, her first-time arrival in Morocco. She looks at me quizzically and asks why the taxi driver is not dropping us at our Riad and why the porter is taking us there instead. It soon becomes clear to her that in this city, there is barely room for a car and in its place are donkey carts laden with supplies and exotic provisions. Even though she is a seasoned traveler, I think the charming chaos that now unfolds around her may have caught her somewhat off guard. We share a laugh as she works for a high profile bank, the cool efficiency of which could not be further from our current surroundings. A motorbike whizzes past stacked high with crates of produce. The passengers: a father and his children, not a helmet in sight.
Wendy turns to me “health and safety sweetie?” she giggles. After what feels like an eternity of being taken down nameless alleyways, we finally arrive at a small non-descript door. I look over to Wendy and smile to myself knowing exactly what she’s thinking, “Where on earth has he taken me?!” Unlike me, however, she hasn’t stayed here before and doesn’t know what I know about this establishment.
The door swings open and we are now at the beginning of our experience of the glory of Moroccan hospitality. We are welcomed by a handsome gentleman by the name of Khaled, who is the manager of the Riad. He puts his hands to his heart and welcomes us with the words “Chokran.” Wendy is clearly enamored by his charm. We step from the lanes of mayhem and enter Riad Azzar. Before us is an oasis; an emerald green plunge pool surrounded by banana foliage, jasmine, and other exotic species. But what sets this establishment apart from any other is the incredibly stylish and discerning taste of our hosts, whose interior design of this exceptional guest house is beyond chic. They are the owners of Riad Siwan, who I interviewed earlier in my diary. This is their original Riad.
We are offered a selection of rooms of our choice. We are taken to the first floor where a door within a door opens into a suite that is certainly fit for two princesses.
‘Traveling is not knowing what is behind the other side of the door, it can be full of intrigue, it could be full of twists. But like every epic journey, it’s the opening of the door that is the surprise, a gift from exotic far-flung lands to treasure close to the heart’
He then points us to our beautiful room complete with private veranda with sumptuous couch, plush hand embroidered cushions and a beautiful view overlooking the splendid courtyard. A tear of excitement and joy wells up in my eyes because this is the very same balcony that the Moroccan ladies welcomed my best friend Moyra and Mohammed when they got married. They stood with baskets of rose petals, which they scattered from the balcony when the guests arrived. This Riad holds such special memories and now I get to share the treasured time here with my darling sister. He graciously offers us a welcome offering of Moroccan fresh mint tea. Wendy, already in her flirtatious mode, looks at me and we both giggle simultaneously, “ Two Bombay sapphire gin and tonics please!!” Call us philistines but this our moment of joy.
No visit to Marrakech would be complete without really submerging yourself in the culture and staying within the old walled medina, dating back to the 12th century. These ancient walls have been here since the rule of the Almohad and Almoravid dynasty and were used as the ramparts to defend the city but to no avail. The homes here are like miniature Moroccan palaces with grand living quarters around a central courtyard of exotic scented botanical marvels. Traditionally, most have fountains or some form of water feature design. In Riad Azzar, one of the main relaxing features is the chairs surrounding the pool where you can relax and watch the birds swooping and dipping towards the water.
Riad, the Arabian term for a garden has many distinct features that make the experience so much more personal. Tiled Arabic script from the Qur’an with water features create a sense of calm, color from the bustling souk. Our room, with its luxurious balcony, was the perfect way to start our early mornings. It was the call to prayer as it carries over the wind that makes a visit to this Arabic country rich in culture, a truly magical and spiritual experience.