After too many months of not enough sun, John and I decided it was time to travel to a warm locale where we could soak up some vitamin D and broaden our cultural horizons (what a cliche) by not just sitting on a beach in the Canary Islands like we did last year, but by taking my aunt & uncle’s advice and heading to Marrakech for a few days. I’d been interested in Morocco since college, when I took a French class on North African literature (or something to that effect). Plus, I really like tagine, dates, and Moroccan mint tea, and the fact that Marrakech was just a 3 hour plane ride from Gatwick was icing on the cake (the very same moist, delicious cake our Riad served us for breakfast every morning).
Orange trees overflowing with heavy, neon fruit took refuge, tucked away in alleys, away from the chaotic souks (markets). We would have easily gotten lost, were it not for our iPhones’ maps steering us toward the general vicinity of our unmarked Riad. Riads are the budget-friendlier alternative to the lavish Marrakech hotels (and there are lavish Marrakech hotels) and definitely a step up from the hostels we used to stay in. Actually, thinking about being crammed into a tiny room with 20 strangers makes me a little nostalgic for traveling that way. I don’t miss it at all, but I also never thought I’d outgrow that sleep-as-cheaply-as-possible mentality (and modality). Read: I’m getting old.
Our little Riad was comprised of maybe 4 or 5 rooms, and we were on the ground floor, with the front door opening into the outdoor courtyard where we had breakfast (and where, a few stories up, I spent the second afternoon sleeping in the sunshine because some unwashed market strawberries ripped apart my insides the night before. It wasn’t pretty). But I’m getting ahead of myself.
This guy got a generous sample of my beef tagine, our first meal in the city. We arrived on Friday evening, around 8 pm, and took in about an hour’s worth of wandering the streets and eating a mediocre meal (surrounded by pleasant but dirty company – see above) before calling it a night.
On Saturday, we were pampered with a wonderful morning meal, complete with freshly-squeezed, pulpy orange juice and this weird fried flaky pancake thing that I smothered in cheese (for some reason they’re obsessed with Laughing Cow) and marmalade. First things first: we were going to get massages.
My aunt tipped me off to the Hammam Ziani, and TripAdvisor reviews promised a “middle of the road” experience between the dirt=cheap public hammams (bath houses) and a luxury spa. The owner welcomed us with a big smile and an adorable puppy, and we learned that both hosts were San Franciscan transplants. Mr. Ziani (if that’s his name) was meant to stay in California for six months, but ended up spending 16 years in the city and getting his education there before returning to Morocco (Casablanca at first) to open his hammam. I confessed that one of my big dreams is to do that very same thing: to go somewhere beautiful and stay far too long because you lose all sense of time in your little oasis. I think what I actually said was, “I want to go there,” but close enough, right?
The treatment (we splurged on the $35 package) involved sitting in a sauna for around 30 minutes, being scrubbed down with what felt like steel wool (“la gommage” indeed), going back into said sauna to open every single pore in my body, getting a luxurious argan oil massage (interrupted by fits of giggling – I’m ticklish and the masseuse thought it was hilarious), and being wrapped up in mud and plastic and left to bake in that sauna for another 20 minutes. And finally, rinsing all my troubles and grime away with buckets of warm water. John and I never do that sort of thing, so it was a worthwhile indulgence.
Afterwards, we sipped on cafe au lait on a rooftop terrace and decided to head back to our Riad for a nap (why not?), but not before I had the terrible idea of purchasing $2 worth (it was a lot) of strawberries and consuming half of them on the way home. Then, I washed the rest in tap water and inhaled them while reclining on some lounge chairs on our roof. We went out to dinner that night at a wonderful restaurant (cover photo, and below), and that’s when it hit me. I remembered this feeling from the past summer, when some dodgy lamb liver left me bedridden for the weekend (I haven’t been able to eat liver since, and I’m hoping strawberries don’t suffer the same fate).
I think I took that photo right before a gaggle of blond-haired, blue-eyed American girls took a similar shot, proclaiming the scene “so ethnic.” I managed to stifle a laugh and a cringe.
I’ll spare you the details of my malady, and instead just show you some pretty pictures from the Marrakech Museum – pretty much the only time I left our Riad on Sunday (for a maximum of two hours). The rest of the day was spent recovering, cursing myself for thinking I have a stomach that can handle anything, and uploading photos through our slow Wi-Fi.
Oh, we did go out to dinner (with another beautiful view) and I managed to choke down some complimentary teeny tiny olive tapenade sandwiches. At every restaurant, we got a little something extra, an amuse bouche of sorts, before our meal: that was the hospitality that characterized our entire trip, and one of my most treasured memories.
There’s more to come – on Monday we enjoyed a spectacular tour of Marrakech by a fantastic guide, and I’ll need to devote another few days to processing and then recalling that experience here. Stay tuned!