(Unfortunately due to slow internet connection we aren’t able to post all of the pictures for this post. We’ll add them soon!)
We arrived in Marrakech and immediately realized we weren’t in Scandinavia anymore…stepping off the plane and into the passport control line, we felt a rush of energy and excitement (along with a wave of heat)! If Norway is where you go to slow down, disconnect, and relax, then Morocco is where you come to escape yourself and tune into the noises, scents, and arts of a historically rich and culturally vibrant atmosphere.
I (Catherine) have been wanting to visit Morocco for many years, and it was at the top of my list of places to travel this year. Prior to our travels some people warned us about visiting, claiming that it was unsafe to walk the streets, unsanitary to eat the food, and uncomfortable to interact with the locals (more of our thoughts on this below). However, a few of our close friends and family who have recently been here said the opposite, and we are SO glad that we listened to them instead.
We are using Marrakech as a home base during our time in Morocco – taking off for a few overnight trips elsewhere in the country – but bookending our visit with a few nights here on both ends (and one in the middle).
After navigating the narrow, busy streets of the Medina and arriving at our first riad – a traditional Moroccan house – we were shocked at the tranquility we discovered within the walls. Although it was set in the middle of the noise and chaos of the Medina, the courtyard and rooms in the riad were incredibly quiet and calm. This juxtaposition, we would soon learn, exists throughout the city in many ways.
We received a warm welcome from our hosts with mint tea in the garden – a Moroccan custom! and then we went back into the streets to survey the surrounding Medina and head for Djemma El-Fna (Marrakech’s main square).
Walking through the streets leads to a bit of a sensory overload… Colors from the work of artisans, coming in the form of paintings, carpets, woodworking, leather goods, and pottery. Scents from the spices melting in tagines, fresh melons sold on every corner, and juice from blood oranges squeezed into glasses. Noises from men playing drums and oboes, motorcycles rushing past, and donkeys hauling carts of produce. And the heat – oh, the heat! Winding through the souks in the midst of these things, all the while dodging out of the way of boys on bikes carrying eggs, tuk tuks filled with families, and donkeys balancing onions or oranges or textiles on their backs, proved to be quite the sport. We soaked in as much of the scene as we could without ever pausing for too long for fear of being pulled into a shop by someone insisting we buy their product. We learned from a trustworthy local tour guide that many of the shops in the Medina are not what they may seem to be. (Luckily, when driving through the villages in rural Morocco our tour guide showed us some cooperatives that sell goods that are handmade by women in the Atlas Mountains, and the profits go back to them as well as the community that helped to sell them.)
Some of the highlights of our time in Marrakech:
- Sipping mint tea in the courtyard during breakfast, after dinner, and in between.
- Getting a lesson from the cook at our riad on preparing traditional Moroccan tangines.
- Visiting the Bahía Palace and seeing the fascinating architecture, exquisite tile work, lovely gardens.
- Strolling through the souks at Djemma El-Fna.
- Going to Ben Youssef Madrasa – founded in the 14th century, this is a former Islamic theological school, one of the largest in North Africa.
- Eating couscous, lamb, beef, and chicken tagine, olives, melon, fresh bread, everything!
- Walking to Jardín Majorelle. Purchased by Yves Saint Laurent in 1980 to avoid destruction, this is home to beautiful desert gardens, the most stunning blue wall, and a museum showcasing traditional Berber artifacts.
It feels important for us to mention that we have felt safe and comfortable during our time in Marrakech. The locals have been warm and friendly and welcoming, and a few have gone out of their way to show this to us. On our first day here we bought a bottle of water from a shop on the street and accidentally gave the clerk too much money. He shouted and ran after us to return the extra change. Similarly, when I accidentally left my sunglasses on a table after breakfast, the kind woman followed us for two blocks to catch me to return them. These seem like trivial things, but we are grateful for the kindness and honesty of these strangers.