After cramming a day of work into just the morning...we are off...DIA here we come. We started with a little escalator difficulty...Vickie:) Then the flight from Denver to London wasn’t terribly Exciting and maybe the most I have slept on a long flight! Landed in Heathrow and started our mad dash because we were a bit late for our next flight. We had to switch airlines and oddly enough, they only gave us boarding passes for the first leg of the flight...we just thought, well, when in Rome. Turns out this airline wont give you the other boarding pass if they know you aren;t going to make your flight. So a night in Madrid it was! After checking into our hotel, we headed out to make the best of our night.
We found our way to San Miguel Plaza and it was a culinary delight! The market was full of little food stands of all types of tasty treats, beers and wine....never a bad combo. We ate tapas at a little restaurant then wandered the streets of the square and shops before finding our way back for round two of tasty treats!
People were out and about, eating, drinking and being merry! All in all a good night!
The next morning we were up and at ‘em to get to the airport for take two of Morocco coming in hot! And this time...we were successful!
Our driver picked us up at the airport and it never fails to amaze me how the grand dance of traffic always seems to work in third world countries. The ebb and flow of pedestrians, buses, cars, motors (all stacked with four people on them) going all different directions and despite the chaos there is a bit of grace in the clutter. Whatever it is, it seems to work!
We pulled into the Medina (old part of town) and unloaded luggage into a push cart parked next to a Ferrari. Yeah...so apparently there is a bit of poverty mixed with some ridiculous wealth here too. We started winding through these crowded souks ( hallways that are marketers) no wider than 10 feet across with bikes, motos, push carts, people and cats. All of the pathways looked the same! Our guide kindly pointed out a green chest that indicated where to turn for our Riad (an old mansion converted into a hotel). Still not sure if he was leading us to our death or to our hotel...we followed blinding. After about 7 more twists and turns, there was Riad Dar Justo!!! We got the official tour and this place is beautiful! Sone walls with a central courtyard...two different patios with hanging lanterns, deep couches and covered spaces to enjoy the traditional Moroccan Mint Tea! We started it that and ordered our first round of Moroccan deliciousness! The vegetarian couscous, beet carpaccio and the Moroccan salad did NOT disappoint!
We then headed out to try and locate the Jamal El Fna as we were told it must be visited at least once during the day and once at night as they are two entirely different squares. So armed with our trusty map we headed out into the labrynth that is the souk. With a little help, we actually found it! We stepped out of the dark, crowded hallways into the square where the radiant sun beat down on us without a cloud in the sky. There was stand after stand of local juices, a Forrest of mint plants, locals dressed in traditional clothing expecting money for pictures, “snake charmers,” monkey owners, women in full burka trying to slap a henna tattoo on you, tourists, shops, carts, cars, horse drawn carriages, motorcycles and locals. The snake shcarmers take the fangs out of the snake mouth or sew their mouths shut and let them starve to death. The monkeys are stolen from their families when they are infants and raised in captivity or sold to Moroccans abroad who don’t know how to care for them. So, mostly we try to avoid these guys. There are rumors that organized crime is involved in obtaining these animals from the wild.
We decide to try one of the local juices I have heard so much about and we try a “free” sample. Then when we order...our juice is doubled in price because as we have read and just learned...nothing is free in Marrakech.
The burka’d women try to convince you to get a henna tattoo and grab your arm if you say no and start drawing and thennnnnn yo gotta pay for that too! One lady was every excited to share and compare her tattoo with Deeter. And it was weird because you had to be almost rude to many people in the market to say no, but as soon as you did...they would joke and laugh with you. Lots of people saying after while crocodile, no money no honey and maybe later! So, this square keeps you on your toes to say the least
The souks are full of dishes, bowls, tagines, clothes, lamps, lanterns, knives, toys, carvings...all so full of color and pattern its beautiful and overwhelming all at the same time. And of note...not one plastic bag was used or see!
We head back to the hotel because we have a scheduled hammam (traditional Moroccan bath) and massage. We start with the massages and then get thrown into a room all together and they keep trying to have the women be topless...well we finally won that battle and so with tops on...we start the “relaxing” process of laying on a wet stone shelf, getting scrubbed to within one single cell layer of remaining skin cells, mud masked applied and having women throw water on you in between all of these. We laughed a lot and were grateful we chose the relaxing hammam instead of a more traditional approach!
After recovering from our relaxation...we headed out to dinner. We had reservations at a roof top restaurant at the square overlooking the Katoubia Mosque where the sun had recently set behind. We walked in and there was a band playing which then transitioned into belly dancers...some with candles balanced on their head! Tricky Vickie did end up sanding with some of these ladies and they were all very kind.
We ordered a hodge lodge of food and ended up with a sampling of Moroccan salads (lentils, pinto beans, what seems like pick de gallo, picked cucumbers, pickled beets, what I referred to as perfumed carrots-still not sure what those really were). The main course then consisted of tagine chicken with lemon, tagine lamb, tagine beef, couscous and a vegetarian tagine. Turns out tagine is my new jam...gonna need to get one of these puppies home! Then dessert was a crepe type pastry and sliced oranges with cinnamon....also being added to the repertoire...very, very tasty.
We wandered through Jemma El Fna again at night and it truly was a different place. Musicians were playing everywhere, the juice carts hadn’t moved, but the square was covered with they metal lanterns, all lit up with candles glowing white and through the stained glass portions of the lanterns. It was a much more magical and enticing place in the cool of the night and we wandered for a bit and practiced our haggling skills before getting turned around in the souk’s winding hallways.
At long last, we wound our way back to our Riad and were able to stretch out for the night! It’s going to be a short night before our tour leaves in the morning!