All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and after a hard couple of years I wanted to get away for a few days to relax and unwind. Strangely it was easier to find a cheap deal to go to another country than to stay in England, so two weeks ago I flew to Marrakesh in Morocco with my friend, Justyna, who is also on my course. I have never been to Africa before so was very excited, and also a little anxious for our adventure. As our trip was only three nights/four days we read up before leaving to make sure we knew the do's and don'ts, and also where we wanted to visit. We may not have been there long but we certainly saw a lot. Too much to list, so here is a brief overview of our time in Africa.
Getting off the plane and stepping out in to the sunshine and a brilliant bright blue sky was amazing. We were giggling like school girls we were so happy. It was so warm. It was actually hot - although the the locals call this winter and were wearing coats and gloves. 30 degrees to me is not winter, in fact as an English person I barely even see that kind of heat in the summer! The first thing that hit me about Morocco was the colours, every building is a dusky pink, and it's all set against that beautiful blue sky. A complete contrast to the predominantly grey England we had been in a few hours earlier.
After a short car journey we met a man with a trailer, which he insisted we put our luggage in to and then we started a quick walk to the riad. We followed him through dusty alleyways through the Medina, trying to take in the sights as we went. We quickly learned rule number one of the medina, STICK TO THE RIGHT. Bikes and scooters have right of way through these seemingly pedestrian walkways, and if you hear one approaching it is your responsibility to move over to the right to make way for them. You soon get used it to, and find yourself automatically drifting right the very second you hear pedals of any sort. The many smells hit you too, from the fresh orange juice available on every corner, to the mint teas, to the strong incense.
We dropped our bags off and headed out to the souks and markets. We visited the Musée de Marrakech - the former Mnebhi Palace - and Ali Ben Youssef Medsersa - a 14thC Quranic learning centre - that afternoon. These are both located in the medina walls, and the peace and quite you experience within these places was so serene. Especially given just how noisy it was the other side of the doors. It truly was from one extreme to the other.
An example of the beautiful bright sky, and the dusky pink buildings. This was part of the Musée de Marrakech.
Colourful mosiacs are everywhere you look in Marrakech, this one was well over 6 foot square.
An impressive 14thC doorway at the Ben Youssef Medersa.
That night we made our way back through the winding streets and alleyways of the medina, through the souks and markets to a restaurant called Nomad. We sat on the roof terrace and ate an amazing meal accompanied by a cucumber martini, sitting high above the hustle and bustle of the market place. I think we were very lucky with our timing of the Morocco visit. To locals it was the start of winter, and cold, but to a Brit it was beautifully warm and sunny, and thanks to it not being their summer there were hardly any flies or insects, so we could sit on the roof terrace all evening without the fear of getting bit by mosquitoes.
The following day we headed to Jardin Marjorelle, which is/was owned by YSL. It also hosts the Berber Museum where we saw some amazing examples of jewellery and metalwork. The garden is full of exotic plants and cactus, and saturated with the electric blue colour so strongly associated with the area (and also happens to be my favourite colour). Once again, as soon as we entered through the main doors we were taken a-back at the serenity of the place thanks to trickling water and the cheeps of hundreds of birds.
The entrance to the Berber Museum is just through that doorway.
On our final day we visited the ruins of El Badi Palace, which translates as The Incomparable. The grounds are huge, and there was a screening showing just how incomparable the palace was in the former glory of its heyday. Hidden within the grounds was a photography exhibition, showing photographs of Marrakech in the 80s.
We headed off to watch the sunset at the Menara Gardens, these were established in the 12thC and are at the gates of the Atlas Mountains. There were hundreds of families, groups of teens and children gathered throughout the gardens, enjoying the grounds and the lake in the middle. We watched as numerous storks flew over, probably emigrating for their holidays, with the view of the snowcapped Atlas mountains in the background. We weren't there long enough to visit the mountains but they are definitely on the list for next time.
The snowcapped Atlas Mountains in the background at sunset.
We weren't in Morocco for very long, but we certainly managed to see a lot. Aside from the bright colours and warm smells, there was an overriding a sense of security. On the whole everyone we encountered was friendly and went out of their way to be helpful. Even wandering around the long dark windy alleyways at night we never felt anything other than safe and it struck me that you can't say that about such busy cities in England. I can't wait to return to Africa to see more and venture further afield.