Country #93 - Morocco

The Shuks

This morning I had quite possibly the most beautiful breakfast of my life. Not only is my room in Dar Ayniwen stunning, but the house and grounds are as well. I had breakfast by the pool in a setup that could best be described as flawless. Breakfast was delicious and I especially enjoyed the Moroccan spin on pancakes. After finishing breakfast I headed up to my room which had already been made up in the short time I had been gone to eat. I was impressed! I grabbed my things and headed to reception to take the shuttle into the city. As it is about ten to fifteen minutes from town Dar Ayniwen offers a free shuttle both into town and to the airport. It was so useful and very much appreciated!

The shuttle dropped me off in the heart of the Old Medina. I had been mentally preparing myself for today but knew going in that Marrakesh was probably going to be pretty overwhelming, and it definitely was. My first stop of the day was the Koutoubia Mosque. It was huge from the outside but was unfortunately closed to go inside. From there I walked to the most hectic part of the city, Jemaa El Fna, the main square. It was definitely as crazy as I had anticipated! There were people everywhere and lots of people trying to sell you things. There were monkeys and people dressed in costumes and it was a lot to take in. From there I ventured into the Shuks, which are basically a bunch of small stalls arranged on top of each other where people try to sell you things. I wasn’t really looking forward to it but I knew that I had to try it!

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The Shuks were also as crazy as I had anticipated. I had to keep close watch on my things (this was true for the whole day, but especially in the shuks) and had to also keep track of where I was. It is very easy to get lost inside as it is literally like a maze. It was interesting to walk through but I was not a huge fan. From the guy who tugged on my arm against my wishes to try and get me in his shop to those who told me to “smile” it was not an overly enjoyable experience. I think it might be better if visiting with other people but I was mainly just concerned  with not getting lost or getting stuck in an uncomfortable situation.

After making it out of the shuks in one piece I then headed towards attraction that was a very stark contrast: Le Jardin Secret. Le Jardin Secret, or the Secret Garden, is a sanctuary in the middle of a crazy city. It was recently renovated to its former glory from complete destruction just a few years ago. It was really interesting to read about and to take the tower tour up to the top where you could see out over the city. The cost to enter is definitely worth it as it offers a place to relax for a bit before getting in the middle of Marrakesh again. The garden itself was beautiful and I really enjoyed my time there. It also offered a good example of a Riad, which is a common type of hotel set up when staying in Marrakesh that has a garden courtyard similar to that of the Secret Garden.

After visiting the garden I made my way towards the Marrakesh Photography Museum. It was a long walk through stalls but it was much more enjoyable as I wasn’t right in the heart of things. The museum was truly incredible. It was indoor / outdoor and the building it was housed in was stunning. The photographs were incredible and featured mainly old and historic shots of Morocco. After finishing the small museum there is a great terrace with a view of Marrakesh on top that is a nice plus! I had a great time learning more about Morocco through the museum and highly recommend it.

Once I finished at the Photography Museum I made my way back towards the center of town. This was the most enjoyable walk of the day as it was mostly residential and not stressful at all. Instead I was able to take in the beautiful architecture and enjoy the culture without someone trying to sell me something unnecessarily. I ate at a small but tasty place called Roti D’or. I had a shawarma wrap that was pretty good minus the fact that half of it was lettuce that I had to pick out after asking for no lettuce. It was still tasty though! It was a nice break with wifi in the middle of the day as I don’t have cell service in Morocco.

After lunch I spent the remainder of the day visiting some of the main tourist attractions of Marrakesh. The first was Bahia Palace. This beautiful former palace was very interesting to walk through, especially for the beautiful tile work. One of the most annoying things about the visit though, and something that I had been encountering throughout my time in Marrakesh, was the incredible amount of people attempting to take pictures. Pictures are fine and great. I take tons of pictures, and I ask people to take pictures of me quite often. But this was a whole other level. Like, I couldn’t walk two feet without walking in the middle of someone’s “model” shoot. Everyone seemed to be in Morocco for the perfect picture instead of actually appreciating what was there to see. I have been all over and this is the first place that this has really been noticeably detrimental to my experience in a city.

Anyways, Bahia Palace was great and did not take too long to visit. From there I headed to El Badi Palace, which was one of my favorite stops of the day. The former palace is massive! There were many interesting things to see inside. There were caves you could walk in, a terrace to look out over the city, and a giant pool in the middle. You could tell it used to be very grand and it was very unique to walk through and see all of the different parts. After finishing there I made my way to my last stop of the day, the Saadian Tombs.

The Saadian Tombs are tombs from the Saadi dynasty that are hundreds of years old, but are still amazingly beautiful. It was not a lengthy visit but it was definitely worthwhile to see all of the colorful tombs. The main room was definitely the highlight. It was so immaculate! After finishing at the tombs I walked back to where I was meeting the shuttle to go back to Dar Ayniwen. The shuttle was right on time and we were back to the Dar Ayniwen in no time!

When I got back I met with Stephane, the manager of Dar Ayniwen. His dad actually built the original house, and over the years he has added on and helped to make it what it is today. The property is truly incredible, and it was so interesting to learn about Stephane and his history (he went to University in the US) and also the history of Dar Ayniwen. It was very cool to learn that most of the items in the house were actually collected by his father when he traveled. Some of the items were so unique, like a Syrian wedding bench, that they probably belong in a museum instead of a hotel. The property is very eco friendly and is home to many animals. My favorite were the birds, which Stephane was inspired to start collecting after visiting a bird sanctuary in Florida. We had a really great conversation and it was very enjoyable to learn about such an incredible hotel.

I decided to eat dinner at Dar Ayniwen after a long day out and about in Marrakesh. I informed the kitchen a bit late so there weren’t too many options, but they did have vegetable kuzkuz available. I had never had it before so I gave it a shot, and actually enjoyed it okay! It wasn’t my favorite dish ever but it wasn’t bad and is not something that I can have everyday at home. After dinner I worked for a bit before going to sleep pretty early. It’s nice to not have a super early flight for once tomorrow so I will be able to get a good night of sleep. Marrakesh was pretty crazy but I’m definitely glad that I came and saw it!

93 countries down, 104 to go.

For more information on Algeria click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Dar Ayniwen click here.